Thursday, April 15, 2010

Old School Week--Chicken Saltimbocca, Pizza, and a Brownie Fail

Nick and I had been feeling rather old-school this past week. I was craving some of the recipes that first got us into cooking, I suppose because I was craving comfort and familiarity as a result of not feeling well. These meals are comfort food in the literal sense, but also in that they have sentimental value.

These are the kind of meals that we can make with a minimum of conversation, as we each basically have our assigned jobs. If that sounds boring, let me assure you that it is not--it leaves our brains free for talking about other things, and it's helped us develop a sense of teamwork and effortless cooperation that's useful in other areas of our lives.

Plus, when we make these meals, it reminds me of all the other times they were made, which were, for the most part, really good times. Like the time I was really worn out from school and work, and had asked Nick to make the dough before I got home so that we wouldn't have to wait for it to rise. What happened? He sliced off the tip of his finger on the blade of the food processor--see what I mean about having our assigned jobs?--he doesn't usually do that part. So I guess that wasn't a 'good time' for him, but it was memorable.

First up was Giada De Laurentiis' Chicken Saltimbocca. Now, this is not a traditional saltimbocca like
this one, and it might even be offensive to some purists out there. It is, however, delicious, relatively healthy, and fun to make.

We start by slicing chicken breasts in half and pounding them thin (the bunnies really hate this part). The breasts are then salted and peppered, topped with a slice of prosciutto, defrosted frozen spinach that's been tossed with olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

These little rolls of goodness are then pan-seared until golden, at which point chicken stock and lemon juice are added to the pan and simmered for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

The chicken is then removed to a plate while the sauce reduces. The finished dish is possibly good enough for casual company, and it's lovely when paired with any number of sides, from baked potatoes to pesto-tossed pasta. It's also delicious as leftovers, to which my spreading waistline can attest.

Speaking of expanding waistline, next up was pizza. We were having some friends over for dinner, and pizza sounded delicious and relatively stress-free. We've always used the Cooks Illustrated recipe for Pizza Margherita, although I have recently been tempted to use Jim Lahey's dough recipe. In this case, there wasn't time for a 24 hour rise, so we went with the classic.

The standard Pizza Margherita is simple and delicious, so we made a standard one of those. We also made a Margherita topped with prosciutto and black olives. For the other pizzas, we used the Cooks Illustrated dough, but went with different toppings.

I used a white pizza recipe from Epicurious and added some shrimp and chopped parsley for a scampi-esque flavor. My family used to say that the Margherita was the best pizza they'd ever had, but when I made this white pizza recipe a few years ago, they said that it was the new Best Pizza Ever.

The last pizza was a tribute to Nick's love for barbecue chicken pizza. We used barbecue sauce as the base and topped it with Jack cheese, grilled chicken, and crunchy bacon. It was all garnished with the chives that are growing so abundantly in our garden.

For dessert, I had decided to stick with the casual-fun vibe and make some brownies. I managed to get everything I needed in just one trip to the store, we were on time, the batter came together far, so good.

Nick tasted the batter and proclaimed it yummy, to which my response was, "It's yummy now, but brownies are kind of sort of on my
List of Things Leah Can't Make."

"Really? Now you tell me?"
"Ummm...yeah. Maybe today will be my lucky day."

Alas, it was not to be. I really should have listened to that little voice, 'That sure is a lot of batter for a 9-inch square pan. You don't like thick brownies. This won't work. You'll have dry edges and raw centers.'

Oh, little voice. You are so much smarter than I. Why do I not listen to you?

The center of the pan was downright raw, so I salvaged the edges, and it was Nick's bright idea to put them in some cute little bowls. They were topped with homemade coffee ice cream and Grand Mariner whipped cream, and disaster was averted. The brownies were rather tasty, but I felt that somehow the butter didn't meld with the chocolate, which was quite curious. These brownies are in need of a retry, and perhaps the second go-round will result in picture-worthy brownies, because belive me when I tell you that this was not a pretty dessert.

So. Lessons learned this week:
Don't get sick in April. It sucks.
When adding toppings to a pizza, remove the stone from the oven so that the oven doesn't get cold, resulting in less-than-perfect pizza.
Don't cook brownies in a small, square pan. It hasn't worked in the past, so why would it magically work this time?
Don't mess with romesco sauce while wearing a white shirt and think that you won't get any on the shirt. You will.
Do not eat all of the leftovers in the fridge. You will feel fat, especially when face-stuffing is combined with the sedentariness imposed by illness.

Question: Does this person have too much time on their hands, or is this a work of genius?

Chicken Saltimbocca
(Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis' Everyday Italian)

  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 10 ounce boxes of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 6 paper-thin slices prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Lay the chicken breasts out flat on a work surface. Insert a knife horizontally to the work surface into the thickest part of the chicken breast, and cut the breast in half, first one way, then the other. Or, you can butterfly the chicken and cut all the way through, rather than most of the way through. Pound the resulting halves of chicken breasts into thin cutlets so that you have 6 thin pieces of chicken.

Lay the cutlets out on a work surface so that the cut side is facing up. Thoroughly salt and pepper the chicken. This dish is best when it is very salty, so don't skimp on the salt, even though you may think that because prosciutto can be a little bit salty the whole dish is in danger of being too salty. It's almost impossible to make this too salty.

Squeeze the frozen spinach to remove excess water. In a small bowl, toss the spinach with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Lay one slice of prosciutto on top of each chicken cutlet. Spread an even layer of spinach on each cutlet, and top each cutlet with the Parmesan. Beginning at the short tapered end, roll up each roll up each cutlet and secure with toothpicks.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. Add the chicken rolls and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Add the broth and the lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, about 4 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a plate, and increase the heat to high in order to reduce the sauce to about 2/3 of a cup; this will take about 5-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, pour sauce over the chicken, and serve.

Pizza Margherita
(From Cook's Illustrated)


  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup water at room temperature
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar


  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  • Salt
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4 -inch slices and dried on paper towels
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil

For the crust: In the measuring cup, whisk the yeast to dissolve. In a food processor, process flours, salt, and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds. With the machine running, slowly add liquid through the feed tube. Continue to process until the dough forms satiny, slightly stick ball that clears the side of the work bowl, about 30 seconds. 

If dough is not the proper consistency, add more flour or water as needed. Divide the dough in half and shape into smooth, tight balls. Place on a baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with non-stick cooking spray and let rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

For the topping: In clean bowl of food processor, process tomatoes until crushed, two or three one-second pulses. Transfer tomatoes to fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Allow them to drain at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to release liquids. Just before shaping pizza rounds, combine drained tomatoes, sugar, garlic, half of the basil, and a 1/4 teaspoon salt in the bowl.

To shape and cook the pizzas: When dough balls have doubled in size, dust dough liberally with flour and transfer to a well-floured work surface. Press one ball into 8-inch disk. Using flattened palms, gently stretch the ball into a 12-inch circle, working along outer edge and giving dish 1/4 turns. Occasionally use the tips of your fingers to make divets on the surface of the dough--this will help it stretch.

Lightly flour pizza peel; lift edges of dough round to brush off any excess flour, and transfer dough to peel. Spread half of the tomato topping over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Slide onto pizza stone and bake until the crust begins to brown, about 5 minutes. 

Remove the pizza from the oven, close the oven door, and top the pizza with half of the cheese slices. Return the pizza to the oven and continue cooking until the cheese is melted and the dough is golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Spread half of the remaining basil over the top. Repeat with the second pizza. Cut into wedges and serve.

White Pizza
(Adapted from Epicurious)

  • Half of the dough recipe from above
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then coarsely chopped
  • 3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
Follow above instructions for making and forming the dough. Mix 2 tablespoons olive oil and garlic in small bowl. 

When you've gotten to the part where the pizza is on the stone, brush it lightly with some of garlic oil. Cook for 5 minutes until the dough looks like it's beginning to set, and remove from the oven. Top with mozzarella cheese and goat cheese, leaving 1/2-inch plain border. Crumble ricotta cheese over, then sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake pizza until crust is golden brown and cheese melts. Drizzle remaining garlic-oil over pizza. And sprinkle the basil over the top. Cut into wedges and serve.

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