Skillet Gratinate of Zucchini and Chicken
This traditional dish is a hit with the Bastianich family and will certainly a bit with your family too. Enjoy!
- step-by-step directions
Skillet Gratinate of Zucchini and Chicken
- For the Chicken and Zucchini
- 2 pounds boneless chicken breasts
- 3 small zucchini (approximately 1 pound)
- 1 cup flour or more (for dredging)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or more (to taste)
- 3 tablespoons soft butter
- 1 cup summer tomato sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon peperoncino
- 1 cup white wine
- 12 small fresh mint leaves (shredded)
- 3/4 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 cup vegetable broth or stock (if needed)
- For the Summer Tomato Sauce:
- 8 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 cups onions (finely chopped)
- 1/3 cup garlic (finely chopped)
- 2 teaspoons salt (plus more to taste)
- 1/2 - 1 teaspoon peperoncino
- 8 large branches of basil
- If the chicken breasts are whole, cut them in half. Trim off any bits of fat, skin or tendon. Flatten each breast half with a mallet (or the flat bottom of a heavy pan) to an even thickness, about 3/4-inch.
- Trim the stem and blossom ends of the zucchini and wash well. Slice across the squash on a sharp angle, creating long ovals, 1/4-inch thick. You should have about 20 pieces at least 3-inches long, and a few shorter pieces from the ends.
- Put 3 tablespoons of the olive oil into the skillet, tilt to coat the bottom and set it over medium heat.
- Toss about half the zucchini pieces in flour to coat well, pat off any excess, and lay them into the pan. Keep the heat moderate and let the pieces caramelize slowly for about 4 minutes. Turn when the edges are nicely browned on the underside; fry for about 2 minutes on the second side. With a slotted spatula, lift the pieces to a plate or tray (no paper towels are needed here) and salt lightly. Fry the remaining zucchini ovals in the same way and salt them. While frying, monitor the heat, keeping it high enough to brown the zucchini but not let it burn.
- When the zucchini are done, turn off the heat but leave all the oil in the skillet.
- Before starting on the stovetop gather all of your gratinate and sauce ingredients so they are handy to the stove.
- You should have at least 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet (add a bit if needed). Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and set the pan over low-medium heat.
- Salt the chicken pieces lightly, flop them in the dredging flour to coat on both sides, and pat off excess. When the butter is just beginning to sizzle, arrange all six cutlets in the pan. Cook them gently for a minute and a half, and then turn them over: they should be very lightly colored, with no browning.
- Maintain the gentle cooking while you assemble the gratinate.
- Sprinkle the chicken again with salt (using 1/2 teaspoon total for the dish).
- Spread a heaping tablespoon of tomato sauce on top of each cutlet.
- Arrange the zucchini slices on top of the sauced chicken, overlapping the ovals so each portion is neatly covered. Use all the zucchini.
- Now raise the heat a bit and begin to develop the sauce.
- Sprinkle the peperoncino onto an open hot spot where it will sizzle and toast briefly.
- Drop the remaining butter, in small pieces, in between the layered cutlets.
- After a few seconds, pour in 2/3 cup of the wine around the cutlets and let it heat briefly, 10 to 20 seconds.
- Spoon the rest of the cup of tomato sauce into the pan (not on the chicken).
- Bring to a simmer, and then drop the mint into the sauce all around the pan.
- Give the pan a gentle shake, or two, to mix and emulsify the sauce ingredients.
- Finally, sprinkle two tablespoons of grated cheese evenly over each zucchini-topped mound.
- At this point, the sauce should be about 1/3-inch deep in your pan or even higher, coming well up the sides of the chicken cutlets. If not, pour in the rest of the wine and as much hot broth or stock as necessary. Raise the heat again to bring the pan sauce to an active simmer.
- Finishing in the oven (This part is optional. You can do it all in the skillet): Place a rack in the center or upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
- When the sauce is simmering, place the skillet in the oven. (Put the handle in front and the food in the back).
- Bake for about 10 minutes - and have thick pot holders or dry towels in hand before you touch the handle or the skillet! Then open the oven and check the pan.
- Right on the rack; give the skillet another gentle shake. There should still be plenty of sauce and the cheese should be lightly colored. If the sauce appears syrupy, or close to evaporating, add more herb water, stock, tomato sauce or wine to raise the level.
- Bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked and tender and the grattinata top is deeply and evenly browned. If the cheese layer still appears too light, raise the heat in the oven as high as possible (turn on the broiler if it is top-mounted) and bake briefly until it is as dark and crispy as you like.
- Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, handling it with plenty of thick cloths. I carry it right to the dining table where it makes a beautiful presentation. While on the table, leave the cloths covering the hot handle. With a large, angled spatula, lift one portion of chicken and zucchini gratinate onto a dinner plate, then spoon over some of the sauce.
- For the Summer Tomato Sauce: Prepare the tomatoes for sauce, and mix all the pulp and strained juices together.
- Initial sauté: Put the oil in the saucepan, add the onions and 1 teaspoon of the salt, set over medium heat, and stir well. Cook and soften the onions for 7 minutes or so, stirring frequently and adjusting the heat to make sure they don’t brown.
- When the onions are wilted, golden and translucent, push them aside to clear a space in the bottom of the pan. Drop in the garlic in the “hot spot,” spread the bits and let them caramelize slightly, for a minute or more, then stir them together with the onions. Pour 2 tablespoons of water into the pan, stir everything well and let the vegetables cook and soften for another minute.
- Adding the tomatoes and seasonings: Pour the prepared tomatoes into the saucepan (slosh out your tomato bowl with a cup or two of water, and pour in those juices too). Sprinkle in the peperoncino and another teaspoon of salt and stir well to blend the seasonings and sautéed onion and garlic into the tomatoes. Finally, push the “bouquet” of basil branches into the pot; pressing them down with a spoon until they’re completely submerged.
- Cover the pan, raise the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat down so the surface is just bubbling gently, and cook covered. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat to maintain the slow perking.
- When the tomatoes have cooked thoroughly and broken down, after 30 minutes or so, remove the cover. Raise the heat slightly, so the perking picks up a bit and the sauce begins to reduce in volume. Stir now and then, more frequently as the sauce thickens, to prevent scorching. Don’t rush — it will take an hour or more of steady slow cooking to concentrate the tomatoes.
- When the sauce is no longer watery and has the consistency you like, remove the pan from the heat. Taste it and stir in salt if needed. Let it cool and, before using or storing, pull out the basil branches, shaking them over the pot to get every last bit of sauce.
- The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week or in the freezer, in a properly filled and sealed container, through the winter.
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