Cheese and Tomatoes Turn Savory in this Mid-Winter Winner

Chicken / January 31, 2014

Only 16 degrees this morning. 16! Do you hear me? Yes, it has been well established that Southerners are wimps when it comes to weather. You hearty folks up in the northern states are definitely laughing your suspenders off at our folly. We declared a state of emergency over just 2 inches of snow and a little ice (although it only takes a little to make things just plain nasty!) while you plow through mountains of the white stuff,  still arriving early for church.

Let’s face it. We are Oscar-worthy when it comes to drama, and this gave you a little smile to move the frigid muscles on your face to smile. So we are even.

Not that it makes any difference, but we didn’t go out to dinner last night for the same reason – TOO DANG COLD. And all I could think about was Summer, and how much I wished I was biting into a beautiful ripe tomato; their juices dripping seductively off my chin, the saltiness of the seeds tingling my tongue and the sweetness reminding me why they are a fruit and not a veggie. With that in mind, one of my favorite summer quick foods is grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. Made with savory and sharp cheese that takes the yum factor off the charts, I live for every gooey, delightful bite as I crunch through the butter seared into the side of each piece of thick, billowy bread.

Hey, why not try this in a savory dish? I have a huge brick of English cheddar in my fridge and even a lackluster Roma tomato, shipped to me from heaven knows where in the middle of winter, could benefit from a little slow simmering and Italian seasonings. And so, after staging all my ingredients, blotting my chicken dry, and piling the cheese on a plate (sure, I snuck a shard or two that came off the side,) I started in. Boy did it come together quickly and easily. You have to add this to your week-night repertoire. In hindsight I’m glad I made it exactly the way I did. I decided against spiking it with garlic, or trying to enhance the cheese sauce with another bit of color or herb. I wanted my meal straight up.

This was a winner and I would serve it to friends at a party in a heartbeat. It’s pretty, packed with flavor and texture, warm and satisfying, and just the thing while watching the mayor of Atlanta apologize for their lack or storm-savvy, while cow-towing to a bunch of furious, Mercedes Driving parents. Awesome.


Chicken and Tomatoes Sautéed in Brown Butter and Oregano over English Cheddar Mac-n-Cheese

Prep time 20 minutes/Cook time 25
Makes 4 servings


Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless large chicken
breasts, cut down the middle to
make four portions
3 large Roma tomatoes cut into ½
inch cubes
½ t dried oregano
¼ t dried basil
4 T salted
butter 2 T
canola oil Salt
and Pepper
1 C rough chopped flat leaf
Italian parsley
½ to ¾ C chicken broth
1½ C grated fine English
Cheddar 2 C milk
2T flour
Salt and Pepper
1 ½ C of elbow macaroni


Direction:

  • Fill a large pot with 8 cups of water, add salt, and bring to boil. Then reduce to low and keep covered.
  • Preheat a saucepan over medium heat and add the butter and oil and let butter melt. Pat the chicken breasts dry, and place in the hot oil/butter. Season with salt and pepper. Let sear on the first side for about 2 – 3 minutes, until browned on the one side. You will see the butter begin to brown slightly. That’s a good thing. Turn the chicken over and let it sear for about it minute then add the tomatoes, the oregano, a little more salt and pepper and stir until the tomatoes are incorporated into the oil mixture. Add the broth. Reduce heat to medium low and when the steam stops, cover with lid. (Leave a little gap on the side with the lid askew. You don’t want it completely covered.) Let it simmer while you cook the pasta and make the cheese sauce, about 10 minutes or so. About 2 minutes before you are ready to plate the meal, add ¼ C of the parsley over the top. Don’t stir in, just let it sit on top so the flavors can meld.
  • For the cheese sauce. Take a saucepan and preheat over low heat, and drop in 2 T of butter. When it is melted add the flour and whisk vigorously for about 45 seconds on low to cook out the flour taste. Pull off the stove. Add the milk and whisk to incorporate. Place back on the heat, and raise the heat to medium and whisk until it barely begins to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Again, taste it. It will need more than you think. Add the grated cheese, whisk until melted. Cover and set aside.
  • When you start the cheese sauce, get the water back to a boiling, add the pasta, and let cook all the way, about 7 minutes or so. Drain and add pasta to the cheese sauce and stir. Reheat carefully if at all. You don’t want it to burn or get pasty and thick.
  • To plate, cover the bottom of a pasta place with about ½ C of the macaroni and cheese mixture. Place a chicken breast on top of that. Ladle over the top the tomato and broth mixture. Cover with the remaining parsley to garnish.


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