Herb-garlic chicken and basil-parmesan polenta cakes with home-made tomato sauce.

 

I get to ‘visit’ Italy from my kitchen quite often. A third of all my childhood friends were Italian and I learned from some of their moms and grandmas by helping in their kitchens. After school, I often watched my neighbor, La Nonna, make traditional Italian dishes from scratch and I loved being her little apprentice. Among others, I learned the tricks of a great tomato sauce. I only use fresh tomatoes in this recipe for a sauce that is chunky, rich, and with a touch of sweetness. I always make a big batch and refrigerate some for later!

Ingredients 

Tomato Sauce

  • 4 large Roma tomatoes, peeled,
  • seeded, and cubed (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 basil leaves
  • Tomato Sauce (Make ahead)

 Polenta

  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups yellow corn grits (or polenta)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Herb-Garlic Chicken

  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary,
  • chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preparation

Tomato Sauce

Place 2 tomatoes in the blender with red pepper, cumin, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Blend until smooth and set aside. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until tender and translucent; add garlic and additional 2 tomatoes (chopped) and sauté for 3 minutes. Add sauce from the blender, reduce the heat to low; add fresh basil leaves and season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Cook for about 30 minutes, until sauce has reduced and thickened. Remove the pan from the stove, cover with lid, and let stand for 15 minutes.

Polenta

In a deep, large pan bring salted water to a boil. Stir corn grits gradually and reduce heat. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is very thick. Remove from heat; add basil and parmesan cheese (drizzle with olive oil, optional). Spray a deep-rimmed baking sheet and pour polenta over tray, spreading evenly at ¾” to 1”. Let it stand for 15-20 minutes or until polenta has cooled down. Use a 2-inch round cutter to cut rounds of polenta or slice with a knife to make even squares. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in sauté pan or skillet at medium-high heat. Sear both sides of each round working in batches, if necessary. Set seared polenta on a platter.

Herb-Garlic Chicken

Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk first 5 ingredients in small bowl to blend; gradually whisk in ¼ cup olive oil. Season marinade to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Place chicken in large re-sealable plastic bag and pour marinade into the bag. Seal bag; turn to coat and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour*

*Chicken can be chilled and marinated overnight

Heat oil in a large, oven-safe sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken for 5 minutes; turn over and cook for 3 minutes. Add lemon juice. Transfer pan to oven and bake until chicken is cooked through, 9-12 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter and let it rest for a couple of minutes.

  Serve chicken with a few polenta cakes and top with chunky tomato sauce. May be topped with shaved parmesan cheese and/or garnished with fresh basil. Mangia!

LITTLE TRICKS THAT HELP IN THE KITCHEN:

Tomato-peeling made easy. Blanche your tomatoes! Remove the stem core at the top of the tomato. Using a paring knife, make a light incision in the form of a cross on the bottom, and drop in boiling water for about 10 seconds. The skin will peel right off!

Brine Chicken. To get a moist and juicy chicken breast, brine your chicken before cooking. Immerse chicken in a solution of salt and water and refrigerate for 1 hour.

 DID YOU KNOW?  Polenta cakes love the grill. They work great as a side for barbeques and they are kid-friendly too!

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