Saturday, January 10, 2015

Chicken Saltimbocca + Sauteed Spinach


A blustery week left me wanting for something to remind me of better days, warmer days, when not confined indoors. That led my wife and I to conjure some Italian dishes for the weekend that hearken to days walking the enchanted streets of Rome and driving the back roads of Tuscany.

First up was Rome.

The Romans, like most Italians, love their food simple and flavorful. To make it work, you need fresh, quality ingredients; cutting corners in the produce aisle will leave your Italian dishes wanting for some soul.

A classic dish adopted by the Romans is Saltimbocca, literally meaning "jump in the mouth." My Italian cooking was rusty, so I did a quick online recipe search to remind myself of the ingredients and steps. Luckily, my memories of wonderful summer days in Tuscany this past summer and training from a certain Chef Claudio, owner of Torre Guelfa in Figline Valdarno (highly recommended!) served me well and reminded me of the other tenet of Italian cooking - do it by feel, and the flavor will come through the simple ingredients. So I don't forget, I jotted down my notes for how to replicate this dish in the future, feel free to use for your own purposes!

Ingredients
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded with a mallet (can cheat at the grocery store with thinly cut breasts so you are ready to go without the mallet and pounding) - 4 pieces
  • Plate of flour (maybe 1/2 cup?), can mix in Italian breadcrumbs if you like the taste
  • Sage (buy a fresh package at the grocery store - give yourself 8-10 pieces)
  • Prosciutto di Parma, get the good stuff at the grocery store, you will thank me later
  • 2 pats of butter (each a tablespoon, basically a 1/8 of a full stick)
  • Olive oil
  • 3/4 cup of white cooking wine (or feel free to use some pinot grigio, orvieto, or other simple Italian white - rough measure is a typical glass of wine)

Instructions
  1. Lay out your chicken breasts, either from the package or pounded out flat with a mallet (note that you can also use veal for this recipe, same steps and cooking times)
  2. Spread out 1/4-1/2 cup of flour (and mix with breacrumbs if you like) on a plate; make sure your plate is big enough to lay down the chicken breast flat on the plate
  3. Work flour onto both sides of each chicken so it is lightly covered, spread it out flat to pick up the flour and flip to coat all parts
  4. Take 4-5 sage leaves, rinse to clean them, and chop them up into small rough pieces
  5. Sprinkle the sage pieces on the top of the chicken breasts (you can place the dusted chicken on a serving plate after coating from the plate with flour)
  6. Take the prosciutto di Parma and lay it across the top of each chicken breast on the serving plate
  7. Press in the prosciutto so it sticks nicely to the chicken breast, with the sage underneath
  8. Get the stove on med-high heat, can warm up while you finish dusting the chicken
  9. In a pan, pour in some olive oil and put in a pat of butter, let the butter melt down and mix it in with the olive oil
  10. Now, lay in the chicken breast, putting the side with the prosciutto & sage directly onto the pan so that you see the bare side up
  11. Let it cook for 3-4 minutes, until you see the sides of the chicken breasts start to show that it's cooked through
  12. Flip over the breasts and cook them for another 3-4 minutes, make sure that the chicken cooks through
  13. Remove the chicken breasts when they are done, place on a serving tray
  14. Now pour the white cooking (or drinking wine) into the pan and work in the remnants
  15. Let the wine reduce a little bit, then put another pat of butter into the pan and let it melt down to work into the sauce
  16. After the wine has reduced a bit, pour the remaining sauce over the chicken breasts on the serving tray
  17. Take the remaining sage leaves and place on top of the chicken breasts
  18. Ready to serve (recipe is good for 4)

The Romans also like to accompany their main courses with spinach quite often. For this dish, we just took a bag of spinach from the grocery store, get a pan warmed up with some olive oil with a little chopped garlic at medium heat, then work in the spinach until it is wilted and cooked through.

You are ready to eat like the Romans, as we did very well on a cold Friday night.

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