Pollo e Zucchini

Tonight’s dinner was like putting together the parts of a puzzle.  I have one guest who doesn’t eat meat but loves vegetables.  This time of year I would normally make eggplant for her, but one of my other guests is not an eggplant eater, and besides, we’ve had a lot of eggplant lately.  My other guest is a big meat-eater but not so fond of fish or vegetables.  Everyone at the table, however, eats pasta, and although my non meat-eater isn’t wild about chicken, she’ll eat it from time to time.

Tonight’s main course is a tender chicken breast which has been lightly browned, topped with sauteed zucchini slices and sprinkled with lots of freshly grated parmigiano cheese (courtesy of my mom, who just returned from Italy with a suitcase full of cheese).  The chicken is then lightly braised in a light tomato sauce made from freshly chopped summer tomatoes.  This dish is wonderful year-round, but like any other dish with tomatoes and zucchini, it’s much sweeter and better in the heat of summer.

The great part about this dish is that, like many Italian braised dishes, it provides you with a main course plus a wonderful sauce with which to dress pasta for a first course.   Tonight we’re having egg papardelle, lightly dressed with the buttery sauce from the chicken.

Because I’m using parmigiano on the chicken breasts, I’m putting a touch of butter in the sauce (along with a touch of white wine) for a sauce that’s subtle and refined–more northern Italian than southern (my neighbor Beppi’s Venetian influence at work here).

As an accompaniment to the chicken, we’re having a simple salad of green oak leaf lettuce, just picked this morning, dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Pollo e Zucchini

serves 4 – 6

6 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless

3 medium (around 6″ – 8″) zucchini, sliced into 1/2″ thick rounds

1 c grated parmigiano

2  c  fresh pureed plum tomatoes

1/2 c white wine

1 c chicken broth

4 tbls olive oil

4 tbls butter

flour for dredging chicken (I’m using Wondra)

salt and pepper to taste

basil leaves for garnish

In a broad nonstick skillet, heat half the oil until smoking and slip in the zucchini slices. Saute until golden brown and soft (about 5 – 7 minutes).  

Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and set aside.

Dredge chicken breasts in flour and set aside.

In a broad skillet, on medium heat, heat the rest of the oil and butter until butter melts. Gently slide in the chicken breasts and sprinkle well with salt and pepper.  Cook just until golden on one side.  Turn and cook lightly on the other side (for about a minute). 

Remove from skillet and set aside.   Turn heat to high and add wine.  Reduce for a minute, then add tomatoes and broth.  On high heat, reduce for about 2 – 3 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly.

Return chicken breasts to the skillet of sauce and gently arrange zucchini slices over them.   Sprinkle a generous amount of parmigiano over each chicken breast–this will be the glue that holds the whole thing together.  

Cover and simmer on very low heat for about 8 minutes, then serve.

Remove chicken breasts and drizzle with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil.  

Add 2 tablespoons butter to remaining sauce and toss in freshly cooked pasta, along with a couple of ladles of pasta cooking water.  There will be a light coating of sauce on the pasta–but don’t underestimate the intensity of the sauce–the fresh tomatoes, the butter, the flavor that the chicken imparts–it’s delicate and exquisite.  Sprinkle generously with lots of grated parmigiano.

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