Cucina Valentina

Cucina Valentina

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Chicken Marsala with Tomato Basil Spaghettini

This is one of my favorite dishes.  I've tried it at every Italian restaurant I've ever been to and, after dinner, even gone so far as to prod chefs to divulge their secrets. Over the years I've assimilated the information gathered to create my own version.

When it comes to tenderizing meat, do yourself a favor and use a tin can. Lay the breasts down some wax paper, cover the meat with plastic wrap and pound away. As long as it's a relatively new can it will have a rounded rim at the bottom which works much better than a mallet and will not splatter microscopic shards of raw meat all over your kitchen.

I am not a fan of dredging, in fact, as a lifelong dieter, I try to avoid white refined flour whenever possible. (Naturally this goes out the window when it's time to make pizza dough, I am Italian, after all.) Instead of dredging I simply sprinkle a little flour onto both sides of the breasts. The end result is the same. 



Sear the flattened breasts over high heat so they develop a nice, golden brown crust, but only a couple minutes per side. Don't worry that the chicken is raw in the center. You want it to finish cooking in the sauce.





I am passionate about olive oils, especially the flavor infused variety. Whether it's the dead of winter and there are no fresh herbs around, or you just have not been to the market, flavored olive oils are a wonderful way to get the essence of fresh herbs into your dish.

For this recipe, sage is the perfect choice. If it was spring or early summer, I would fry a few leaves in the pan to infuse the butter and oil before adding the chicken, then use them as garnish later, but my sage has withered due to a few cold nights.

Sage infused olive oil is the perfect alternative.



I prefer cremini mushrooms for this dish as they are firmer and hold up better than white. Rather than slice, I quarter them, as I really like to savor that earthy mushroom flavor.

Normally I would use red bell pepper in this recipe for its inherent sweetness, but, as you will learn, I rarely follow guidelines or recipes exactly. Certain ingredients are interchangeable, and I always go with what looks best at the time.

Today the yellow peppers simply looked better than the red. They were plump and a deep golden yellow. I couldn't resist.

Oh, how I love garlic! I honestly feel more is better - always. I use an entire head of cloves in this dish, leaving them whole (huge cloves I will slice in half). As they roast in the sage oil then simmer in the Marsala they become soft and sweet in the center, their sharp bite giving way to a creamy, delicious mildness.

I want to mention the beef base here, as it is an important ingredient that gives this Marsala its richness. Use the paste that comes in a jar, not the powder, and you will want to go easy when initially seasoning the breasts, as the paste is definitely salty.

As I mentioned earlier, I try to stay away from white refined anything, including pasta. Even when I make my own pasta, I try to use at least half whole wheat flour. Whether it's penne, rotini, spaghetti, linguini and fettuccine, I feel the whole wheat is toothier, and just more satisfying.

This simple pasta is an easy accompaniment to the Marsala.  Toss in some basil, tomatoes and Parmesan, and the reserved pasta water turns it into a delicious sauce.



 Chicken Marsala

4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded 1/2" thick
1//2 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 large shallots, sliced
1 head garlic cloves, whole, peeled
2 T butter
4 T sage infused olive oil
2 T flour
1 t rubbed sage
1 t thyme
1 T tomato paste
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t beef base
1/2 - 3/4 C Marsala wine
1/2 C chicken broth
1/2 C heavy cream 
2 T fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese

Place breasts on wax paper, cover with plastic wrap and pound with the rounded side of a tin can until you achieve a 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle both sides with sage, thyme, salt, pepper and flour.

Melt 2 T butter and 2 T sage olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear chicken until golden brown on both sides but not cooked though, roughly 4 - 6 minutes per side depending on the size.  Transfer to a plate and tent with foil.

Add remaining 2 T sage olive oil to pan and swirl until hot. Add vegetables and saute until starting to soften. Clear a space in the center of the pan and add tomato paste, beef base and lemon juice. Stir with wooden spoon until melted. De-glaze with Marsala, reduce heat to medium and cook until vegetables are tender and garlic cloves are beginning soften. Add chicken broth and heavy cream. Stir to blend. Add chicken and juices. Nestle breasts into sauce, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15 - 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan cheese and serve with spaghettini on the side.

Whole Wheat Tomato Basil Spaghettini

8 oz Spaghettini
10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Cook pasta in generously salted water according to instructions.  When done, drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Add tomatoes, basil (fresh or tube), Parmesan and pasta water. Toss to combine.

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