It seems I am not the only one lax in my blogging duties. Some of my favorite sites are on indefinite breaks. Granted, I don’t have a truly good excuse, as I am not in the middle of opening my own restaurant, mourning the loss of my pet, or recovering from a difficult break-up. I’m more in the same league with Katie of Chaos in the Kitchen, who just wants to hang out with her kids, since my reason is that I’m pouty about not having my own kitchen. This, however, is all about to change! Starting July 6th, my table — of “From My Table to Yours” fame — will be relocated to Beacon Hill in Boston, MA. From those heights overlooking the historic city, the dirty river Charles, and the ivory towers of Cambridge, I hope to bring my cooking to a whole new level. Think: exotic cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen, game meats from Savenor’s, and guess what — a Whole Foods only a couple blocks from my front door! If I can just manage to keep my graduate student homework to a minimum, I can really get something accomplished here!
So, unlike my compatriots listed above I am not on a break from posting, I simply need another week to gather myself together and get back into the swing of things. To tide you over, I have a great recipe to share though I do need to make a confession. While my Cookbook Challenge was conceived with the absolute best intentions, I always suspected it might come back to bite me in the arse. The mission was to work my way through the massive collection of cookbooks I own so that I could at least say that I had tried several recipes from each one (and thus justify their purchase). Yet deep down I knew that I had a dark secret — I buy books faster than I can cook from them. Since the start of the challenge at the end of April, I have added five cookbooks to my collection, or seven if you count Ratio and The Flavor Bible in the count! No matter — I won’t let my own weakness for shiny hardcovers and glossy photographs lessen my dedication to (or enjoyment of) the Sisyphean task of the Cookbook Challenge!
Next up: Sweet Basil by David Becker. This book is particularly close to my heart since the restaurant Sweet Basil is located in my hometown of Needham, MA and is a favorite of mine. Inside the small establishment, corrugated tin walls flank an open kitchen from which steam clouds billow and giant white bowls of pasta emerge. Outside, crowds gather to await their tables, each couple sharing the burden of a mysterious brown paper bag. Those in the know, of course, are aware that the bags contain wine and beer, since part of the charm of Sweet Basil is their BYOB policy. And as Dave Becker confesses in the book, he’s seen wine harvested during the Reagan administration sitting on one table, with Schlitz in a can holding court at the adjacent one. It’s just that kind of place.
What I loved most about this first recipe is that it came out tasting just like it does at the restaurant. The characteristic flavors of bright lemon juice, pungent garlic and, yes, sweet basil, were all present and accounted for. Each bite came alive in my mouth – and each tastebud was singing in chorus: salt! sweet! sour! umami! (it’s true – it’s from the parmesan cheese). I would not call this recipe the “Best” unless it really was extremely good and the best I’ve tasted. Please make this. Go. Now. Cook! Or if you don’t cook, get yourself over to Sweet Basil on Great Plain Ave in Needham.
Chicken Scallopini with Lemon, Capers, and Tomatoes, from Sweet Basil the Cookbook [Printable Recipe]
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
3 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
8 cloves garlic, minced (about 1/2 cup – don’t skimp too much!)
1/2 c. white wine
Juice of 2 lemons
2 c. chicken stock
2 plum tomatoes, diced (about 1 cup)
2 Tbs. salted capers, rinsed (I used the capers in brine)
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
1/2 c. grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Cooked angel hair pasta for serving
Place the chicken breasts, two at a time, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap [or in a gallon-size Ziploc bag]. Use the smooth side of a meat mallet [or a rolling pin] to pound them to about 1/2 inch thickness. Arrange the flour in a shallow bowl. Season the chicken with a pinch each of salt and pepper, and then dredge generously with flour, coating both sides. Shake off the excess and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs. of the butter. When the butter melts, place the chicken in the skillet. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. Turn over and cook for 2 more minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate (it is not cooked through at this point).
Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the white wine and the lemon juice. Simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan for a few minutes until almost all the liquid is gone. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, and capers. Increase the heat to high, and bring the liquid to a boil. Simmer for 6 minutes, or until the liquid is decreased by about one-third.
Stir in the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter. Return the chicken to the pan and simmer for 2 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly and the chicken is cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with the herbs [and cheese] and serve immediately.