Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mi Famiglia - Southern Italian Dinner

I've only been to Italy once in my life, and I can barely remember the small town where I stayed on Italy's western, sunny coast.  I do, however, remember the food.  Obviously.  According to my Mom, my great-grandparents, Angelo and Sofia, emigrated to New York through Ellis Island from Sicily back in the early 1900s.  Even though like most Americans I'm a bit of a European mutt, I connect with the Italian side of my heritage the most.  I love the culture of following passion, the poetic language, and especially the simple, yet paradoxically complex, food.

Now that summer is upon us I can feel the pull of Southern Italy again.  I remember the lemon trees mostly.  Tart lemons, salty olives, spicy pepper, earthy rosemary.... these are the sights, smells, and flavors that make me think of Italy in summer.

For dinner, I decided to make a lemon-y, southern Italian marinade for chicken breasts, served with cauliflower roasted with green olives and bacon, and fresh bread.  Easy. Flavorful. Summer.

Combine 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil with 2 lemon rinds, a few bay leaves, a couple rosemary sprigs, a pinch of red pepper flakes for heat, and a tsp or so of cracked peppercorns into a pot.  Cook over moderate heat just until the olive oil starts sizzling and "frying" the other ingredients. Add a hefty pinch of salt and turn off the heat. Let the flavored oil cool slightly, then stir in the juice of your 2 peeled lemons and 1/3 cup water.

Once the marinade was cool, I poured it into a freezer bag and added 2 chicken breasts.  I let this marinate for about 2-3 hours.  Depending on what you're marinating, you don't want to let it go too long because the citrus will slowly "cook" your protein.  So, for example, if you want to use this on fish, I'd say marinate for an hour tops.  In case you're wondering, the "citrus-cooking-protein" thing is the rationale behind ceviche....

To cook, I heated up a saute pan, added my chicken breasts and some of the marinade, and cooked about 4min per side until they were cooked through.  Easy peasy.

I attempted to make a light sauce by adding some cream to the pan juices after taking it off the heat.  I should have known better.  The marinade/pan juices were wayyyyy too acidic and my cream broke in the sauce.  Still tasty, just not very pretty.  Oh well.  Failure breeds success.

Roasted Cauliflower with Green Olives, Bacon and Walnuts
I've mentioned it before, but I truly believe that roasting cauliflower is the best.  To give it that "Italian" flare, I decided to roast it with some green olives, bacon, and toasted walnuts. I'm sure this sounds like the strangest combination ever, but trust me, it was delicious!  Probably my favorite cauliflower side dish so far.  I would rather have used prosciutto instead of bacon, but I didn't have any, its expensive, and I'm on a budget.

Simply enough, I cut up the cauliflower florets, roughly chopped some green olives (real ones, not the kind with the pimentos), diced a couple slices of center-cut bacon, sprinkled on some salt and pepper, and tossed it into a 400F toaster oven.  Yes, I used the toaster oven.  Why?  Because it was a million degrees outside and the last thing I wanted to do was heat the apartment further by turning on the real oven.  The toaster oven worked just fine!  After plating, I sprinkled some toasted walnuts on top, and I think pine nuts would have been a comparable, or maybe even better, substitution.

I love love loved this dinner.  Light and refreshing for a hot summer night.  Pretty easy too.  I had a glass (or 2) of Sauvignon Blanc with this and the citrus notes really complemented the dish.  Boyfriend stuck with beer.  I guess white wine is just too girly for him :)

I'll definitely be using this marinade again, likely on fish next time.  Maybe halibut or tilapia... with roasted asparagus or maybe creamed kale from my CSA on the side?

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