Inspired by all of the warm-lighted, cozy and down-home, family-run Italian Cafes we seem to stumble upon when traveling about, below is a simple recipe for one of our favorite Italian chicken dishes along with three elegant chiantis to create an “Italian Cafe” meal at home during the cold month of January.
Chicken Piccata (taken and slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa)
4 split (2 whole) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 & 1/2 cups dried bread crumbs
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon halves reserved
1/2 cup dry white wine
Sliced lemon, for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound it out to 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
Mix the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper on a shallow plate. In a second plate, beat the eggs and 1 tablespoon each chicken breast first in the flour, shake off the excess, then dip in the egg and bread-crumb mixtures.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium to medium-low heat. Add 2 chicken breasts and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Place them on the sheet pan while you cook the rest of the chicken. Heat more olive oil/butter in the sauté pan and cook the second 2 chicken breasts. Place them on the same sheet pan and allow them to bake for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the sauce.
For the sauce, wipe out the sauté pan with a dry paper towel. On medium heat, melt 2-4 tablespoons of the butter and then add the lemon juice, white wine, the reserved lemon halves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and swirl to combine. Pour sauce over the chicken that has been finishing off in the oven, sprinkle with fresh parsley and garnish with a few thinly sliced lemon wheels.* Serve with whipped mashed potatoes and fresh crisp peas!
*When I first made the sauce for this dish I felt it was way too lemony and so over time I added less lemon and a little more butter which helped to smooth out the sauce into a more balanced tasting finish. And so, my advice is to experiment a little with the portions of lemon to butter to wine that suits your tastes the best.
Parmesan Smashed Potatoes* (taken from Ina Gartner’s Barefoot Contessa)
3 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. kosher salt
1 & 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Place the potatoes and 1 tablespoon of salt in a 4-quart saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer covered for 25 to 35 minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender. Drain.
In a small saucepan, heat the half-and-half and butter.
Put the potatoes into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix them for a few seconds on low speed, to break them up. Slowly add the hot cream and butter to the potatoes, mixing on the lowest speed (the last quarter of the cream and butter should be folded in by hand). Fold in the sour cream, Parmesan cheese, the remaining salt, and pepper; taste for seasoning and serve immediately. If the potatoes are too thick, add more hot cream and butter.
I have also included a recipe for Polenta below as a yummy winter warm comfort food that also goes well with the Chicken Piccata.
Polenta (taken from The Fine Arts Cookbook II, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 1981)
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
5 cups cold water
1 tsp. salt
1 & 1/2 cups very sharp cheese, grated
1 small jar pimientos chopped
1/2 tsp. pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp. oregano leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp. butter
Place corn meal in top of double boiler. Gradually add 1 cup cold water and salt and stir until blended. Cook over direct heat, stirring constantly until the meal is well blended. Remove from direct heat and place over boiling water in the double boiler. Add gradually 4 cups of cold water. Stir constantly until mixture is well blended and begins to thicken. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add grated sharp cheese, pimentos, pepper, and oregano. Cook until cheese is melted. Butter a deep casserole or soufflé dish and pour the mixture into the dish. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and dot with butter. Bake at 375 degrees F about 25 minutes or until golden brown.