Caprese salad, typically made with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, deserves much more respect than it gets. It's such a staple on American restaurant menus all year round that we've become used to seeing it served with tasteless, dry, out-of-season tomatoes and sad, wilted basil.
It's a far cry from the in-season version, made with perfectly ripe, juicy summer tomatoes, fresh, vibrant basil and milky fresh mozzarella. The only dressing these beautiful ingredients need is a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil and maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar, along with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt. Heaven, pure and simple.
The combination of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella is such a natural that it's made the leap from salad to many other dishes. Chop that caprese salad into bite-size pieces and toss it with hot pasta and you have a wonderful main course. Stuff it between a couple of slices of rustic bread and grill it until the tomatoes are hot and the cheese is appropriately oozy and lunch is served.
You can even top a burger with a slice of tomato, fresh mozzarella, a few big basil leaves and a generous slathering of mayo, mixed with a little minced garlic — you've given a delicious Italian spin to an all-American meal.
This week, I'm taking advantage of this iconic flavor combo to turn sautéed chicken breasts into a light and lovely late summer meal.
Slices of mozzarella, coated in pesto (homemade or store-bought), are stuffed into chicken breasts and sautéed in a large skillet until browned. Cherry tomatoes, garlic and balsamic vinegar are added to the pan, which is popped into a hot oven for a short time, just enough to allow the chicken to finish cooking and the tomatoes to soften and release enough juices to form a brightly flavored sauce. Once the skillet is out of the oven, the dish is finished with a shower of chopped fresh basil.
All this meal needs to round it out is a green salad, some crusty bread and perhaps a nice glass of wine.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.
Chicken Caprese Skillet
Note: Simple, but packed with flavor, this easy skillet dinner, loaded with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella-stuffed chicken breasts, tastes like a bite of summer. Round out this meal with toasted garlic bread and a crisp green salad. From Meredith Deeds.
• 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
• 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 4 (1/4-in. thick) slices fresh mozzarella (about 4 oz.)
• 2 tbsp. pesto (store-bought or homemade)
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
• 3 c. cherry tomatoes
• 1/4 c. water
• 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
• 1/4 c. chopped basil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut a pocket in each chicken breast by making a horizontal slit along the long edge, being careful to not cut through to the opposite side. Season the chicken breasts with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.
Spread some of the pesto on top of each mozzarella slice and insert 1 slice of cheese into each chicken breast pocket. Press edges of chicken together to seal.
Heat oil in an ovenproof 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breast and cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes a side. Transfer to a plate.
Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, water and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to release all the brown bits, for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until just beginning to soften. Remove from heat and add the vinegar.
Nestle the chicken breasts in the tomatoes and place skillet in the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken breasts are cooked through. Garnish with chopped basil and serve.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories395Fat20 gSodium570 mg
Carbohydrates9 gSaturated fat6 gTotal sugars5 g
Protein44 gCholesterol120 mgDietary fiber2 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, 6 medium-fat protein.