It's easy to feel flustered during the course of the day, which is why dinner should be about finding comfort and balance. Spend a leisurely night at home with a classic Italian entrée and a fresh salad -- and enjoy the beauty of its simplicity.
This menu is about finding perfect equilibrium: Acidic lemons brighten the piccata's savory sauce; vinegar cuts the salad's rich feta; smooth, velvety pasta complements the crunch of cucumbers and sunflower seeds; and sweet cantaloupe mellows the intense saltiness of the capers. Tonight, let these clean, balanced flavors negate the effects of your hectic day.
2 large lemons
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 small shallot
Half of a small cantaloupe
3 ounces feta
6 big basil leaves, plus more for garnish
Shelled sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 tablespoons capers
Couscous or angel hair pasta, cooked
We're assuming you have salt, black pepper, flour, olive oil, chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, and unsalted butter. If not, be sure to add those to your list, too.
1. Juice the lemons. Cut one lemon in half lengthwise. Trim the ends from one half and cut across into thin slices about 1/8-inch thick; set aside. Juice the remaining half and whole lemon to obtain about 1/4 cup juice; set aside.
2. Prepare the chicken. Trim and pound the chicken breasts until 1/4-inch thick. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Place 1/2 cup of flour into a shallow dish or pan. Coat each breast with flour, and shake to remove excess.
3. Cook the chicken. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Cook half of the chicken breasts in the skillet without moving them until they're lightly browned on the first side, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Turn and cook until the second side is lightly browned, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and keep it warm in a 200° F oven, or cover with aluminum foil. Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add remaining chicken pieces and repeat.
4. Make the sauce. Mince the shallot. Using the pan in which you cooked the chicken, sauté the shallot in the leftover oil and browned bits remaining in the pan. Once the shallot becomes translucent, add 1 cup of chicken broth and the lemon slices. Allow to cook until lemon slices are well-softened.
5. Prepare the salad. While that cooks, cut cantaloupe and cucumber into 1/2-inch chunks and chiffonade the basil. Toss cantaloupe, cucumber, basil, and crumbled feta in a medium bowl. Mix equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar (about 1/3 cup each) together in a small bowl, then drizzle over the salad, tossing to coat.
6. Finish the sauce. Chop the parsley. Drain the capers and add them to the sauce along with the reserved lemon juice, and allow to reduce to concentrate flavors. Remove pan from heat and swirl in 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter until it melts and thickens the sauce. Swirl in the parsley.
7. Plate your dishes. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately over a bed of couscous or angel hair pasta. Sprinkle basil, sunflower seeds, salt, and freshly ground pepper on top of salad, and serve.
Photos by James Ransom and Linda Pugliese
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