No matter how many years you've been cooking, there are always new things to learn in the kitchen. When you're in the mood for some authentic-tasting Italian food, you might wonder how you can keep it healthy. Often, Italian food contains oil or butter, cheese, wine, and carbs such as pasta. When making dishes like Chicken Parmesan, Chicken Florentine, or even Chicken Marsala, we realized that there are actually plenty of ways to make them lighter and more Weight Watchers friendly.
Additionally, some Italian recipes call for specific cooking methods, so we also picked up on some tips that can make your time in the kitchen go by more smoothly when making these types of dishes. For instance, we discovered clever ingredient swaps, and creative approaches to help you be more efficient. After cooking many Italian meals that included chicken, we thought we would share some of the tricks we learned along the way. After all, why keep this information to ourselves if it can help you out? Next time you set out to make Tuscan Chicken or another similar meal, keep some of these tips in mind because they might come in handy.
1. Yogurt sauces can break if you’re not careful
When making a recipe such as Deliciously Light Baked Tuscan Chicken, it’s best to bring the yogurt to room temperature before you use it in the sauce. Otherwise, there's a higher chance that the sauce will separate. You can always add a teaspoon or so of cornstarch to the yogurt to give it some more structure. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to slowly incorporate it in so it can gradually mix with the other ingredients.
2. You don’t need to fry chicken in oil to get it crispy
So many comfort foods have you fry breaded chicken in oil to get it nice and crispy. However, that’s definitely not the healthiest way to go about it. The good news is that with dishes like Crispy Air-Fried Chicken Milanese, you can use your air fryer to achieve perfect results that are just as tasty.
Plus, you don’t need to have the guilt of using a large amount of oil in your meal. And hey, the air fryer is much easier to clean up, too.
3. Chicken breast is a zero-point food
Did you know chicken breast is a zero-point food? This is why we use it so often, but especially in Italian chicken recipes. Since you don't need to worry about it taking up points, it gives you the freedom to get creative with sauces and other ingredients in your dishes, ensuring that your meals are full of flavor. Sometimes, you can even use salted butter or other ingredients that you would typically replace with healthier substitutes because the zero-point chicken allows you to do so!
4. You can add vegetables to jazz up Chicken Florentine
Light Chicken Florentine is traditionally made with spinach, but you can also toss in some other greens to make the meal even more nourishing for the body. For instance, experiment with kale or Swiss chard. Or throw in some fresh arugula, which is healthy and brightens the dish's flavor. You can also chop up veggies like squash or carrots and sauté them. Then, place them on top of the chicken when you plate it.
5. A frying pan is a great replacement for a meat tenderizer
Don’t have a meat tenderizer to flatten your chicken breasts? No worries. There are other options that you likely have lying around your kitchen, such as an everyday frying pan. When you make Chicken Milanese, you can place the meat in a Ziploc or simply top it with plastic wrap before you use the pan to tenderize it. You can also use a rolling pin if that’s more comfortable for you! Just make sure to flatten the pieces until they are all relatively even.
6. Apple cider vinegar works as a wine substitute in sauces
In our version of Olive Garden Chicken Marsala, we use apple cider vinegar instead of wine. You might think that the dish doesn’t turn out as good with that ingredient swap, but you're mistaken! The apple cider vinegar provides the perfect touch of acidity to give you that comforting and nostalgic flavor in the sauce. You only need two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to accomplish the right acidic balance, which helps keep the dish healthy.
7. Cast iron skillets are handy for recipes that require both stovetop and oven cooking
When making Tuscan Chicken, you should make use of your cast iron skillet if you have one. Since the recipe requires you to brown the chicken on the stovetop first and then transfer it to the oven, you save time and clean up with a cast iron skillet. Since it works for both cooking methods, it's a win-win situation. Of course, this translates to other recipes, too, which is why we think cast iron pans are so brilliant.
8. Breading the chicken immediately makes the crumbs stick easier
Do you ever have trouble when you are breading chicken? It can get frustrating when the breadcrumbs fall off. We learned with Weight Watchers Chicken Parmesan that if you work quickly and coat the chicken as soon as possible, the bread crumbs adhere much better. If you allow enough time for the chicken to lose moisture, you won't end up with that perfectly crispy crust because of the lack of breadcrumbs on it. Panko topping is crucial for the texture you are looking for in the final product.
9. Salt draws out the moisture from zucchini noodles
With Chicken Marsala, it's vital that you remove any excess water from the zucchini noodles before you use them in the dish. Otherwise, your dinner turns out super watery, which isn't appetizing. Luckily, with the help of salt, you can easily draw out the natural moisture from the zucchini. Sprinkle the salt on the zoodles, allowing at least 10 minutes for it to do its job. Then, you can just dab a paper towel to absorb all the water the salt brings to the surface.
10. Making homemade tomato sauce is much healthier
We've found that tomato sauce is actually quite easy to make at home, and it ensures that your meal is healthier. Oftentimes, store-bought tomato sauces have preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients in them, causing the sodium and calories to be higher than necessary. With our Chicken Parmesan recipe, all you need is crushed tomatoes, onions, and garlic. If you brown the onion and allow the garlic to get aromatic, the sauce bursts with flavor and thickens over time.
11. You can thicken chicken broth with cornstarch to keep sauces low-fat
Traditional versions of recipes like Chicken Florentine often call for heavy ingredients such as cheese, oil, butter, heavy cream, and more. However, we learned that many of those ingredients are unnecessary, and you can create a similar-tasting sauce with different ingredients. Our Chicken Florentine still has garlic and parmesan but has lighter ingredients. You can create a rich sauce by thickening chicken broth with cornstarch and using low-fat yogurt to make it creamy!
12. Light Italian dressing is a quick and easy marinade
Olive Garden Grilled Chicken Margherita made us realize just how simple marinades can be. For this dish, all you need to do is marinate your chicken in a bowl with half a cup of Italian salad dressing, and it imparts a scrumptious flavor to the chicken. It also keeps it incredibly juicy inside, even with only 30 minutes to an hour of marinating time. Of course, we recommend using light Italian salad dressing to keep it on the healthier side!
13. Making your own spice rub is worth it
When making Baked Bruschetta Chicken, we create our own spice rub for the meat. This is, hands down, the best way to go about it for several reasons. First of all, you can experiment a little and change the amounts if you want a more pronounced flavor of herbs, such as dried basil or oregano. Also, it saves money since premixed spice blends can be pricey. At the end of the day, it doesn't take much time to create the rub, and it produces impressive results.
14. You can easily turn Chicken Piccata into Salmon Piccata
With capers and a citrusy sauce, chicken piccata is undoubtedly delicious. But you might not realize you can easily make salmon piccata or other types. The term “Picatta” refers to the sauce made with olive oil, lemon juice, and sometimes even butter. As you can imagine, the traditional version isn't very light. However, we realized that you can simply use broth, cornstarch, and citrus to create a sauce that's just as flavorful and much healthier. Light Salmon Piccata is only 1 WW point per serving!
15. Reheating the meals in the oven instead of the microwave is best
With meals like the Bruschetta Chicken, you might have some leftovers. We found that instead of taking the fast route and reheating it in the microwave, the oven is much better. Plus, it doesn't take as long as you might imagine. For instance, Bruschetta Chicken only takes 10 minutes in the oven if refrigerated. On the other hand, if you freeze it, it takes just over 20 minutes.