Mar 23, 2010

Lidia In Her Prime: At Home

We foodies who are not of Italian heritage all wish, deep down, that we had an Italian mother... for the food. Great home made meals are always the best and each nationality and culture has its gems. But if I had to choose a genre of mom's home cooking to grow up enjoying, rather than having been born into it, I'd definitely go Italian.

Hand-made pasta. Great seafood. Such simple cuisine that, arguably, does the best job of any type of cuisine in the world of highlighting the freshness and simplicity of its ingredients as opposed to morphing them into something they are not. That's what Italian cooking is to me.

Kansas City has lots of Italian restaurants and its most well known Italian restauranteur is Lidia Bastianich, whose crossroads diner, Lidia's, I reviewed in one of my first-ever postings for Napkins. I was disappointed then and have returned at least three times since that review, leaving each time with varied levels of disappointment.

The trick to Lidia's, I've stated, is to give in and go with the pasta trio sampler. The pastas are super-fresh, the variety is nice, and the ingredients are always simple, but classic and well executed. It just never disappoints. For whatever reason, despite being a fairly expensive place, the service is always borderline incompetent and detracts from the meal experience. And straying from the pasta sampler yields mixed results at best.

So last night, we brought Lidia's into the home, figuratively speaking, making one of Lidia's longstanding menu items: Sauteed Chicken with Olives, Capers and Roasted Lemons.

This is a delicious Italian meal that takes chicken and bathes it in a delicious, rich buttery sauce which is cut by the salty brine from the olives and capers and the bright citrus of the roasted lemons. It's amazing how each time I have it, I feel like I'm eating something set before me at a restaurant. It just has that restaurant-meal-feel about it.


  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 lemons, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Two 5-ounce bags baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
  • Four 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 1/2 cup pitted green Sicilian or Spanish olives, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

  • Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil on the parchment, then arrange the lemon slices in a single layer. Drizzle the lemons lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until the lemons begin to brown around the edges.
  • In a deep medium skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with the flour, shaking off the excess. Cook the chicken over high heat, turning once, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the olives, capers and stock and bring to a boil. Cook over high heat until the stock is reduced by about two-thirds, about 5 minutes. Add the roasted lemons, butter and parsley, season with salt and pepper and simmer just until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute.
I omitted the spinach preparation steps from her recipe above because for our meal, we did the spinach in a slightly dressed-up way. Here's how I did it:

John's Sauteed Spinach Recipe

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bag pre-washed spinach
1 Spanish or white onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp sherry cooking wine
3 tbsp toasted pine nuts

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. When melted, add the onion and let cook, stirring frequently, three minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and sautee until fragrant.  Add spinach and mix in with the onions with tongs. Once spinach begins wilting, push it to the side, exposing the hot part of the pan and add the broth, quickly mixing with the spinach so it absorbs. Add the sherry, raisins and pine nuts. Toss until well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately with the chicken.

We served our chicken on the side, but next time I'd do what the picture shows and put it on top (possibly omitting the raisins which are better when the spinach is eaten on its own), so the spinach can take on the flavors from the chicken and its sauce, and to keep it warm. Served on the side, it was tasty but cooled off pretty quickly. 

A short list of ingredients, bold Italian flavors, a clean, simple dish; just like my fictitious Italian mom used to make.


abruce said...

That looks and sounds delicious!!

Anonymous said...

What did ya do with the bread crumbs?

KCNapkins Guy said...

Good question, Anonymous. Answer: NOTHING! It's an error in the recipe - nothing is said about what to do with them. And I didn't actually incorporate them at all. I say just leave 'em off!

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