A recipe from the heart of Tuscany.
Tuscany stretches from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It encompasses notable cities, medieval towns, hamlets, art museums, some of the finest restaurants, resorts and modern spas. The diverse landscape ranges from sandy beaches to mountain chains and fertile plains. But the most notable thing about Tuscany other than the fact that there is where my ancestors and my Dad was born and where I still have family, is the food. It is simple, intriguing and memorable. It is surprisingly exquisite in its simplicity.
½ CUP ALMONDS – roasted
1 LEMON – juiced and zested
6 HEAPING TBS MASCARPONE CHEESE – divided
4 LARGE BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS – skin on
4 TBS OLIVE OIL – divided
2 FENNEL BULBS
SALT AND GROUND BLACK PEPPER
2 TBS WATER
¼ CUP CHICKEN BROTH
1 LB FRESH SPINACH
½ CUP DRY WHITE WINE – your favorite
PREHEAT OVEN TO 425º
Process the roasted almonds in a food processor until roughly smashed. Combine 4 tbs of the mascarpone with the almonds. Add the lemon juice and zest and mix all together until well combined.
Working with one side of the chicken breast, try to pick up the skin from the breast without tearing it. Do not completely remove it from the chicken, just loosen it. Slide a heaping teaspoon of the mascarpone paste into the space under the skin and smooth it out but not too close to the opening or all will be lost. Repeat with each breast. Save any of the leftover cheese paste to use later in the sauce.
Add 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy-duty nonstick pan. Place over medium heat and when the oil is hot add the breasts to the pan, skin side down. After a few minutes, when the skin has browned nicely, turn to cook and seal the other side. When that side has browned lightly, place the pan in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked.
Meanwhile, cut the fennel bulbs in half lengthwise and then into log slices. Place the fennel into a medium pot with 1 tb of olive oil, salt and pepper, to taste, and the water. Cover and let simmer 7-10 minutes, just until the fennel is tender. Do not overcook to a mush.
When the chicken is cooked, remove from the oven and place the chicken on a plate to let rest. Return the pan to the heat, add the broth, wine and cook down quite a bit. Finish the sauce by stirring in any remaining mascarpone paste and the remaining 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese. Combine all and let simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
When the fennel is cooked, season it with a little more salt and pepper, to taste and add the spinach. Allow the spinach to wilt and cook down. Serve the chicken with the fennel and spinach on the side and the sauce drizzled over and around the chicken.
NOTE: this dish works well with mashed potatoes. However, with some Crusty Italian bread it might just be enough with a green salad.