Monday, September 15, 2008

A Dinner to Join The Seasons

It's a confused time of year. It's still summer by the calendar. The weather is still warm and sunny and summer doesn't officially end for a week . Still, people have fall on their minds. The apples are pouring into the farmer's markets and the tweeds and plaids are showing up in the clothing catalogs.

The apples may be making their appearance, but the tomatoes of summer are still in abundance. It is in celebration of this strange convergence that inspired my dinner.

I decided to use the new apples and pears in an original chicken dish that was inspired by two sources. The first was that episode of The Cooking Loft reviewed a few posts ago. Alex Guarnaschelli made flattened chicken breasts with a marmalade sauce. I decided to make flattened chicken breast of my own, but I would make a totally different fruit sauce. My sauce was inspired by a fruit and red wine jam I saw in this most recent issue of Food & Wine. Their version had apples, pears, quince, and figs simmered in red wine and finished with hazelnuts. I removed the quince, added a caramelized onion, and simmered everything in apple cider and a little cider vinegar for tang.

I kept summer going with a side dish of a tomato gratin. I think all of my blogging friends can take credit for inspiring this one. I have seen plenty of great roasted tomato gratins around the blogs in the past few weeks. I suppose the closest one to the one I made was the one from We Are Never Full, which used sliced tomatoes. I sliced mine as well.

Sorry this is such a bad photo. I just couldn't seem to photograph this nicely.

I was a little irked when I went to the Food Network website looking for some precise cooking times for Guarnaschelli's chicken. The recipe has been removed. In fact, there are hardly any recipes available for her show. That knocks her down a few points in my book. I had to do some guesswork. Fortunately, the chicken breasts didn't end up overcooked or undercooked.

I liked the sauce, although the flavor was slightly sharper than I expected it to be. I am thinking of making this for my next dinner party, but I want to try some variations. I will mix the cider with brandy, add some sage, and reduce the amount of orange peel (I thought it was a little overpowering). I was surprised that Kevin liked it, but he did, so that's a ringing endorsement of the recipe. I was half expecting him to scrape the sauce off the chicken after one bite. He's not a lover of pears or apples and I was afraid he might find the tang of the vinegar to be too much for him.

Flattened Chicken with Fall Fruit Sauce
6 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts
1 Tbl butter
3 Tbl olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, sliced
2 Bartlett pears sliced
8 figs, quartered (Yes, I used figs again!)
4 cups apple cider
2 Tbl cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
Zest of one orange
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Heat butter and 1 Tbl oil in a saucepan over low and add onion. Cook until soft and brown. Add cider, orange peel, fruits,and bay leaves. Simmer for about 90 minutes or until the liquid has totally reduced down and the fruit has reach a thick jam-like consistency. Add hazelnuts.

Meanwhile heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add chicken breasts skin-side down. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil and place a heavy, cast-iron skillet on top. Cook for about 20 minutes or until skin is nice and brown. Flip over and cook 5 minutes more.

Serve chicken breasts topped with fruit sauce.

The Short (dis)Order Cook's Tomato Gratin
2 pounds plum tomatoes, sliced (plums were the best looking ones at the farmer's market that I could afford)
6-8 garlic cloves
2 Tbl fresh thyme
1 handful fresh basil leaves
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup panko
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used a mix of romano and parmesan)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Film a 9"x13" pan with cooking spray.
Mince garlic cloves with salt and thyme to make a paste.

Mix together the cheese and the panko.
Put a layer of tomato slices in the bottom of the pan. Spread half of the garlic paste over them. Scatter the basil leaves over them. Cover with one more layer of tomatoes. Spread the remaining garlic paste over them, scatter the remaining basil leaves, and then cover with the bread crumb and cheese mixture.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until cheese topping takes on a nice, toasty brown color.


Darius T. Williams said...

Don't worry about the pic - this sounds divine...I love a good fruit sauce.


Adam said...

That fruit sauce sounds like it totally rocks. It's a mix of summer and fall, and I bet works wonders with the chicken. I'm going to have to try something like that :)

Aren't picky eater endorsements great?

Maria said...

Nice fruit sauce!! Love the joining of seasons!

noble pig said...

Love the Fall sauce! I bet it was delicious! Thanks for the idea!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Darius - Thanks. Food photography is sadly not one of my talents.

Adam - All I can think is how nicely this fruit sauce would work wonders for pork chops!!

Cathy and Maria - thanks for the comments.

Heather said...

I love flattening the chicken breasts. Then it's like picatta (but with any sauce). YUmmy sauce!

Lo said...

Oh, yum.
Nice use of what's readily available... and thanks for the inspired sauce idea. Might also be nice with some duck breasts!

Bellini Valli said...

Wonderful recipes to get us in the mood for the changing season.

Emiline said...

I don't know what to tell you. This dish sound really, really good. Definitely perfect for fall.
Do you have quince?

We don't. So I don't know if I like them or not.

Dee said...

meat is almost impossible to photograph well. especially at night.

the fruit is a great touch with the chicken. i remember a lychee chicken dish a friend cooked up once - amazing!

chicken's like the new black - goes great with everything :)

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Lo - Ooh. Duck breasts would be awesome.

Heather - Flattening really does wonders for the texture. I'm so into doing this now. It also give such beautiful color to the skin.

Val - thanks

Em - I didn't have a quince. I do'nt think I've ever eaten one. I guess I wasn't feeling adventurous that night. The figs were adventurous enough I guess. ;-)

Dee- It's a good thing chicken breasts are so easy to dress up and go well with everything since it's one of the few proteins Sir Pickypants and I agree on.

I love the idea of lychee sauce.