This is the view from Palazza Tour D'Eau where my sister, Geri, and her husband, Blair, are currently vacationing, in Carunchio, Abruzzo, Italy. Palazzo Tour D'Eau is a palace that was built in 1730 during feudal times and which was named for the French noble family 'Tour d'Eau' who went there from Marseille, France. The Palace was built on the highest spot in the town of Carunchio so that the Tour d'Eau family could dominate both the valley and the peasants. It was completely restored in 2002 and is now operated by owner Massimo Criscio as a culinary vacation spot, providing an authentic and unforgettable culinary vacation for those fortunate enough to stay there. Everyone works together, hands on. Cooking classes are at a basic level, starting from the 'mise en place', or preparation of all of the ingredients, all the way to the finished product. Each guest receives a complimentary apron and recipe book with American measurements and classes are held in English. Fun, family and friendship are emphasized as you watch, try for yourself, discuss and sip wines from the Palazzo Tour D'Eau cellars.
All week I`ve been gazing longingly at pictures my sister has posted on Facebook of what I think would pretty much be my dream vacation. Imagining myself waking in the morning to the sound of church bells that still keep time for the townspeople, seeing that spectacular Italian countryside view, filling my lungs with clean, fresh air and then cooking in a REAL Italian kitchen, has very much put me in an 'Italian' state of mind, making my options as to what I was going to make for dinner last night a little easier to decide on. Scanning my cerebral recipe file, Chicken Piccata piqued my interest. Chicken Piccata is a very simple, light dish often referred to as 'of the moment' because it only takes a few ingredients and goes together quickly, making it perfect for a weeknight meal.
I thought writing about Chicken Piccata would be fairly straightforward and, after reading all about Palazzo Tour D'Eau having been built during feudal times, I romanced about it being a pedigree Italian dish created for Italian nobility during the Rennaissance. Alas, the origins of Chicken Piccata are actually quite vague. Although the name is clearly Italian, it didn't originate in Italy but was most likely coined by Italian Americans during the 1930's. I couldn't find any 'authentic' Italian recipes for Chicken Piccata, but the preparation of the dish bares some resemblance to the Siciliian style of cooking with regards to the addition of capers and lemon. Every Chicken Piccata dish I have had, whether at an authentic Italian restaurant in New York City or a local chain like East Side Mario's, has been prepared basically the same way: thin pieces of chicken lightly battered and pan fried to a golden brown, smothered in a white wine, broth, caper, butter and lemon sauce. It's usually served with a starch such as polenta or pasta and some sort of vegetable on the side. Given the simplicity of the main dish, I decided on Pesto Linguine with sauteed brocolini on the side
I decided to start with my pesto sauce because the rest of the meal would come together pretty quickly after that. Pesto is a very simple and rustic sauce that originated in Genoa, northern Italy. There's not much involved here. Just five ingredients and a food processor. Most pesto recipes have a basil base but my husband finds pure basil pesto a little overwhelming, so I added equal amounts of fresh basil and baby spinach to my food processor along with 1/3 c. pine nuts. After pulsing the basil, spinach and pine nuts for a few minutes, I added 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese and 3 cloves of garlic and pulsed some more. I then scraped down the sides of my food processor before putting the lid back on and while the processor was running, drizzling in 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil. When the desired consistency was reached, I seasoned my pesto with a little freshly ground sea salt and black pepper and placed it to one side until I was ready to use it to toss in with my linguine.
Bringing a large pot of salted water to a bowl for my linguine, I then got started on my Chicken Piccata. The most integral component of any picatta is thin slices of meat, either chicken or veal, that are dredged in flour and then pan fried, so my first step was butterflying my chicken breasts, or cutting them in half, width-wise. I then placed the chicken breasts in a large zipper lock baggie and pounded them until they were 1/8 to 1/4 inch in thickness. I seasoned the breasts very lightly with salt and pepper and then dredged them in all purpose flour, patting to make sure they were completely coated, and then shaking off any excess flour. You don't want the coating on your chicken to be thick and gooey...it's suppose to be lightly battered. The chicken breasts were then browned in extra virgin olive oil in a hot skillet and transferred to a plate and set aside while I made the sauce. At this point I also added fresh, store bought, linguine to the pot of boiling water so that the pasta and the Chicken Piccata would be ready at the same time.
I like mushrooms with just about anything so, for those who know me, it's no big surprise that I added mushrooms to my Chicken Piccata dish as well. I sauteed my mushrooms in the same skillet as the chicken with a little olive oil and butter and when they were nicely browned, I added in broth, white wine and lemon juice, bringing that to a low boil and scraping up all of the delicious brown bits in the skillet. At this point, in another skillet, I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil and added broccolini seasoned only with sea salt and black pepper, and let them gently saute while I finished off the other components of our meal. When the liquid had reduced to about 1/3 cup., after about 4 to 5 minutes, I stirred in 2 tablespoons of drained capers and an equal amount of finely chopped Italian parsley. Lastly, I swirled in 3 tablespoons of butter. When the butter had melted, I added my cooked chicken breasts back to the pan to heat through. Once I drained my linguine pasta and tossed it with pesto sauce, I was ready to plate.
On the recommendation of my `wine guy`at my local liquor store, who has yet to lead me astray I might add, I paired our meal with a bottle of Talmonti Trabocchetto Percorino Coline Pescaresi (approx. $17). ` It`s a medium white with an attractive citrus and pear fruit flavour that has an intriguing nutty note in the finish, both characteristics that compliment the duality of Chicken Piccata sauce`, or so said my Wine Guy. This wine is made in the Abruzzo region of central-east Italy, where, coincidentally Palazzao Tour D'Eau and, by default, my sister and her husband are, so I figured given that's where my inspiration for this meal came from, I couldn't go wrong! After trying the combination, I have to agree with Wine Guy. (I also used this wine in my picatta sauce for continuity). Yes, the name is a mouthful, but it`s pretty easy to find in the Italian White Wine section and the price was certainly right!
Chicken Piccata with it`s heavenly buttery lemon caper sauce really couldn`t be easier to make and the thinness of the chicken breasts virtually eliminates undercooking while ensuring you don`t overcook either because once it`s browned, it`s done. This meal goes from skillet to plate in under 15 minutes, requires ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry and it`s equally impressive when entertaining as it is simple when preparing homecooked comfort food during the week. It`s origins may remain cloudy, but one thing is crystal clear: Chicken Piccata with Pesto Linguine and sauteed broccolini topped with shredded parmesan on the side is easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!