CHICKEN CAPRESE ON A BED OF VEGETABLES

“I am one of those who has no trouble imagining the sentient lives of trees, of their leaves in some fashion communicating or of the massy trunks and heavy branches knowing it is I who have come, as I always come, each morning, to walk beneath them, glad to be alive and glad to be there.”
Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems

Mid-February has finally arrived. For months I have been browsing seed catalogs and dreaming of a lush green vegetable garden. Last summer I had many requests for cucumbers and my grandmother Hilda’s pickle recipe, so this year I will be growing extra cucumbers and dill. Though, to me, tomatoes are the shining jewel of summer. There is nothing that even compares to that first bite of a garden tomato, still warm from the sun!

Whether you are a novice or veteran gardener, here is your reminder to start your seeds in the house now. This time of year I take advantage of every window sill and put out a table in our mudroom for trays of seeds. I start my annual flowers (zinnia, marigolds, cosmos, morning glories, petunias, and four-o-clocks) along with broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and tomatoes (everything else gets started in the ground). 

You can tell that I am dreaming of summer with this recipe share. Trust me, you are going to want to add tomatoes and basil to your garden when you taste this mouth-watering dish. Incidentally, basil and tomatoes are wonderful companion crops and thrive when planted together. Therefore, it makes sense that they are so delicious when combined. Nature knows what it is doing! 

I grow a wide variety of tomatoes, but the past few years I have grown Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes (which I used in this recipe). It is an heirloom variety and gets its name from its deep color and sweet and complex taste. My husband John is not a fan of fresh tomatoes (he prefers them in sauces or sun-dried) and he will even eat a few Chocolate Cherries fresh off the vine. I like to harvest them when they are still slightly green and a tad bit sour. I sprinkle on a little pink Himalayan salt and I am a happy woman!

Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes, oh my!

While this chicken can be grilled (and finished later with the caprese toppings) I like to brown it first in a pan and then finish in the oven so the juices soak into the bed of vegetables. If you are not a fan of poultry, you can substitute steak or fish. If you are vegetarian a large portabella mushroom cap makes a delightful substitute. For the starchy carb watchers, you can replace the potatoes with cauliflower, broccoli, or even Brussels sprouts. Olives also make a great addition to this dish.


CHICKEN CAPRESE ON A BED OF VEGETABLES

*4 pieces of chicken (I used boneless chicken breast, but if you prefer dark meat use thighs)
*3-4 cups of chopped Yukon Gold Potatoes (I prefer yellow potatoes because I don’t have to peel them and they are soft and buttery)
*3-4 cups of fresh Green Beans
*1 cup of fresh chopped basil
*1 cup of mozzarella cheese (I used fresh mozzarella which can be found in most deli sections of the supermarket. You can also use shredded or sliced, or a combination)
*1 cup of fresh tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes)
*I cup of mushrooms
*2 Tablespoons of olive oil
*2 Tablespoons of butter
*Tablespoon of minced garlic
*Tablespoon of chopped onion
*4 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
*1 Tablespoon of lemon

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a baking dish drizzle the potatoes and beans with olive oil and salt and pepper. Start roasting the vegetables (approximately 15 minutes). When the 15 minutes are up, set aside.

While the vegetables roast, season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Add 1 Tablespoon of the oil to a pan and brown the chicken (5 minutes per side at medium heat). Once the chicken is browned, add to the top of the roasted vegetables.
In the pan that you browned the chicken, add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Saute the onion, garlic, and mushrooms until soft. Add the balsamic vinegar and simmer until slightly reduced. Add the lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for a minute.

Top the chicken with the cheese, basil, tomatoes.. Pour the balsamic reduction over the chicken and bake for 20 minutes (until chicken is no longer pink in the middle). Serve and enjoy!

While this chicken would make a romantic feast for Valentine’s Day, it is so good you may want to be selfish and keep the leftovers for yourself. However, one thing you do not want to forget is to add tomato, basil, and green bean seeds to your shopping list. While there have been rumors of a seed shortage, there appears to be a plentiful supply in local shopping venues. If you do not have a large area to garden, tomatoes and basil do well in pots.

I wish you well as we enter the final stages of winter and get ready for spring gardening.  Make sure that you get outside to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us and eat your vegetables!


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