Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That’s all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you’ve got a feast for family or friends. That’s the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
As the days get warmer, the idea of standing in front of a hot stove for long periods of time gets less and less appealing. My goal for the summer months is minimal cooking time with maximum flavor.
The French bistro classic chicken paillard is perfect for this time of year. For this dish, chicken breasts are pounded thin, so they cook in less than five minutes. Top the chicken with a little bacon to yield a lot more flavor with just a little extra cooking time. It doesn't take much extra work to add a peppery salad of arugula and crisp vegetables.
Still, to be honest, I was feeling somewhat lazy in the chopping department when creating this dish. You could certainly chop everything with a knife as usual, but I used the slicing side of a box grater to make effortless, paper-thin pieces of radish and long, wide ribbons of cucumber. Top it all with toasted almonds, Parmesan and a lemon-bacon vinaigrette and you have dish that will make you feel like you’re at a sidewalk café.
In choosing a wine, I wanted something that would complement the bacon and toasted almonds, but also be refreshing enough to work well with the lighter salad components and citrusy vinaigrette. My first thought was a Chardonnay with a little oak. Unfortunately, the one I sampled alongside this dish had too much oaky flavor, and the vanilla and spice notes overwhelmed the food.
My next idea was for a Lambrusco—to me, nothing says summer more than a glass of this fizzy Italian red. It pairs so well with sliced meats like salumi and can be wonderful with bacon. The bottle I chose was dry and rich, with deep, savory blackberry flavors. Delicious on its own, it, too, dominated when sampled with the chicken. A rosé version might have worked better.
My hopes now rested with the final option at hand—a bottle of Soave Classico, a white from northeastern Italy’s Veneto region that is often described as having an almond note. Made predominately from Garganega grapes, Soave Classico comes from more select vineyard sites than your average Soave. The Classico zone comprises hillsides—those in the east around Monteforte d'Alpone, where Prà is located, are made up primarily of volcanic rock—that get more sun exposure than the surrounding plains, enabling the wines to achieve fuller, riper flavors.
Prà's Otto bottling did not disappoint, offering notes of ripe citrus, peach, crisp apple and savory mineral. It was certainly refreshing, and while it was light-bodied, it had enough texture and complexity to complement the smokier flavors in the dish to create a perfect summer pairing.
Pair with a refreshing white, such as Prà Soave Classico Otto 2013 (88 points, $17).
Total time: 50 minutes
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Approximate food cost: $28
1. Cook bacon in a large pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Maintain the heat at a moderate temperature (perhaps frying the bacon a bit slower than usual) to render out as much of the fat as possible, about 7 to 10 minutes. Once the bacon is crispy, remove the strips from the heat and set aside. Strain the remaining bacon grease from the pan, allow it to cool and reserve for later.
2. Lay chicken breasts in between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Pound the chicken breasts with a meat mallet until between 1/3-inch and 1/2-inch thick. Set aside.
3. Whisk together the lemon juice and the 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Pour one-quarter of the mixture over the chicken breasts and allow them to marinate for 5 to 10 minutes. Reserve the rest of the mixture.
4. Lay almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet (alternatively, make a packet out of foil) and toast them very lightly in a toaster oven, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. (Note: You can also buy previously toasted almonds for convenience.)
5. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in the large pan used for the bacon. Add the chicken breasts to the pan and cook through, which should only take about 2 minutes per side since they are so thin. Set aside.
6. Add the reserved bacon fat to the lemon juice and olive oil mixture. (Optional: Also adding a few bacon strips directly to the mixture will amplify the flavor.) Whisk together until the mixture emulsifies. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
7. Toss together the arugula, radishes and cucumber. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss until lightly coated. (Note: If there is more vinaigrette than needed for this dish, serve extra on the side or reserve for another use.)
8. To assemble, place a chicken breast on each plate and mound some of the salad mixture on each one. Garnish with almonds, Parmesan and bacon strips. Serves 4.