Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Between Neighbors Part II: Zucchini Risotto and Chicken Piccata

The other day a neighbor from our block mentioned to me that she was going in for surgery last week to remove fluid in her chest.  This is the second time she's had the procedure done.  Before that, she's had treatments and finally surgery for breast cancer.  She's truly an amazing woman, and last time she went in for surgery, I meant to bring down a meal to help out, but got swept away in my own calendar.  This time I was determined to help out, and I was glad that she gave me the chance to do so.

It was especially fortunate (as I mentioned in my previous post) that our CSA box last week had some non-leafy greens in it: 2 medium heads of broccoli and three healthy looking zucchinis, as well as a small bulb of fennel, a bunch of radishes, and some fresh garlic.  (Yes, there was lettuce, but we're not going to talk about that right now.)

I was trying to think about a meal that would feed her family of five (including three teenagers), but that would still be somewhat healthy, not too spicy (because sometimes when you're recovering you just don't want a plate of enchiladas), but still flavorful.  I finally decided to make chicken piccata (the first non-veg meal I've made in quite some time, come to think of it), a zucchini risotto, and a bountiful salad (there's the lettuce), to get rid of some greens and radishes, and possibly the fennel bulb (which was too small to do much with besides put it in something else, anyway).

Chicken piccata was the first quasi-fancy dish I learned how to make entirely without a recipe book, so making it always makes me feel like a professional, especially when the wine hits the pan in the deglazing step. It occurred to me as I was cooking that it's been a while since I've made a meal like this for our family.  I mean, sure, I make dinner all the time ... we rarely eat out ... but the three-course fancy starch with meat protein and vegetable seems to make an appearance less often at our table these days.  I helped myself to some bits of the piccata and a spoonful of the risotto, savoring the creaminess on my tongue.   It was perfect.

Zucchini Risotto

6 c. vegetable broth or water
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1- 2 medium zucchini, grated or diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 c. (360 g) Arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
sea salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In the 2-quart sauce pan, bring the vegetable broth to a simmer. Keep it hot but not boiling.

In the 3-quart sauce pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over low heat. Add the onion and sauté slowly until soft. Add the zucchini and garlic and sauté over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes (you can also add the zucchini towards the end, about 2 broth additions before the cheese, but it's up to you). Add the rice and stir until the rice is translucent, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce temperature to low. Add wine and stir until almost absorbed.  Add the hot broth to the rice mixture one ladleful at a time, stirring frequently. Wait until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladleful of broth. Midway during cooking, add the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking until all the broth has been added.

Test the risotto to make sure it’s al dente, but not too hard. If it’s still a little crunchy, add a ladleful of water and continue stirring. When risotto is ready, remove from heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the cheese. Serve!

Chicken Piccata

boneless skinless chicken breasts (however much you need to serve your family)
flour (enough to dredge the chicken)
paprika, salt, pepper (enough to sprinkle generously into the flour)
olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan for each frying)
white wine (enough to deglaze the pan)
lemon juice (about the same amount as the wine)
butter (enough to take the bite out of the lemon-wine mixture)
capers (as much as you like)

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pan.  Dredge chicken in a mixture of flour, paprika, salt, and pepper.  Working in batches, brown chicken on both sides, and remove them from the pan.

When you're done cooking the chicken, pour some wine into the pan.  It should be about a 1/4 inch deep, depending on how big your pan is.  The wine will make a lovely sizzling noise and if you put your nose over the pan, you'll get to appreciate the wine vapors.  Add the lemon juice, and stir to combine.  Add the butter (perhaps 2 T., but start with less and add as you need to).  Once it no longer tastes too acidic, return the chicken to the pan.  You'll notice the sauce start to thicken and turn creamy.  Add your capers, make sure that the chicken is cooked through and that each piece has had a chance to swim in the sauce, and serve.
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