Love at First Bite
This post is a love story. It started many years ago when I met one of my dearest friends, Tony. Tony and I were best friends for years when we were young, but we had a falling out and, unfortunately, drifted apart. I never forgot Tony and always deeply regretted the way our friendship ended. Fast forward twenty years: I pick up a phone and it is Tony on the other end! I guess he never forgot me either, and fortunately for us, he found me. We quickly made up for lost time and enjoyed many great conversations and meals before I lost him again, only this time to cancer. I loved to watch him cook. It was effortless and uncomplicated. It was amazing the way he would throw it together, and the results were always balanced and satisfying. One of my favorite dishes was his “Love Chicken”. As the story goes, his brother was having a date over for dinner and he needed to impress. Tony showed him how to make this dish and it was a huge success, making for a good date and a good time. “Love Chicken” always delivered. I have been meaning to share the recipe here for a while now, and when Tony’s birthday reminder popped up on my phone the other day, I thought it was time I did. Tony never measured anything when he cooked and when I make this, I don’t either. Like Tony, I stray from the recipe he jotted down for me, adapting it to what I have on hand and tasting and adjusting it frequently. One thing that is essential is good tomatoes. I have used everything from heirlooms to cherry tomatoes with good success. You will need about a half a cup of chopped tomatoes per breast to give you a starting point. Beyond that I am not including any quantities. You are going to have to make it to suit your own taste, so be sure to make plenty. The topping is also a perfect spread for bruschetta, so a little left over is not a problem. This dish is great for company or mid-week entertaining because it is easy and most of the work can be prepared effortlessly ahead of time. So here goes…
- Fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- Black olives, coarsely chopped (or olive tapenade)
- Shallots, thinly sliced
- Fresh garlic, chopped or very thinly sliced
- Fresh basil
- Good olive oil
- Good balsamic vinegar
- Red chilli flakes
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Boneless skinless chicken breasts (halves)
- Sliced prosciutto, one slice for every breast
- Mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼ inch slices (enough to cover all the chicken)
- Start out by making the topping that will be roasted over the chicken. I usually make it a few hours ahead of time so that the flavors can blend (but not too far ahead so that it doesn’t get mushy). To begin, combine the tomatoes, olives, shallots, garlic, basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red chili flakes, salt and pepper. Combine these ingredients in a bowl and set it aside. You can now prepare the chicken.
- Take the boneless skinless chicken breasts and trim them if necessary. Wrap each breast in a thin slice of prosciutto. Place them in a shallow baking dish with the seam down. There shouldn’t be much room in-between the breasts (so choose a dish that they will just fit into somewhat snugly, but don’t over crowd them). Cover the breasts with slices of cheese. Do not be tempted to use fresh mozzarella. The hard packaged type (like ‘Precious’ brand) works the best. You can do this ahead of time and place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook.
- When you’re ready, spoon the topping over the chicken and roast, uncovered, in a 375 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes (or until it’s cooked throughout). After plating, the remaining topping lends itself nicely as a sauce to be served on the side or spooned over pasta.
I was never really sure if Tony would have wanted me to share this recipe, but I don’t think he would mind. I hope if you enjoy it, and want to share it, you do so in the spirit for which it was intended… love.