Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chicken, eggplant, and polenta with roasted-red pepper sauce

Now, I've got to admit that with this one, there is a story. Once upon a time, after an evening of black-and-white silent movies accompanied by a live organist at a tiny little theater in Salt Lake City, we were off in search of something to eat. Now, I'm not gonna' lie to you, we weren't in exactly the hippest part of the valley, so our chances of finding some amazing place were probably low. Undeterred, we continued down the dodgy little lane, and there it was. Sitting on the side of the road, a rather dumpy little place boasting Greek, Mediterranean, and Persian food. Sounded promising, even though one of our group had spent several months on a cruise around the world with a Greek captain, so they had lamb and pasta every night (needless to say, she was a little sick of it). Inside, the decorations were tacky, Egyptian-themed, and seemed to have too many artificial flowers for a small building. The local clientèle had us convinced that this was a mafia hangout. However, we were inside and committed, so we sat down and perused the menus.

Then the fateful moment came: the waitress explained the daily special. I've been smitten ever since. I have tried to recreate this recipe multiple times, the only catch is, that event in the shady part of town was so long ago, I don't really remember how it tasted, but I still have fun playing around with this recipe.

I hear polenta isn't hard to make, but I just use the store-bought stuff because it eliminates one extra step in the multi-component meal. The hard thing about this recipe is you have to do about three things at exactly the same time right before you serve, but I have faith that you can do it.

Again, the recipe makes enough for a party (8 people), so adjust as needed.

Chicken, Eggplant, and Polenta with Roasted-Red Pepper Sauce

  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chopped or minced garlic
  • oregano, to taste
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 8 chicken breasts
  • 2 large eggplants
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 packages pre-made polenta
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling and sauteing
  • feta cheese, for garnish
Remove the gree stem from the peppers, and cut them into 3-4 large, flat segments. Coat with a little olive oil. Place them on a hot skillet or grill, skin-side-down, for a few minutes until the skin is black and charred. Remove from heat. To help loosen the skins before peeling, place the peppers in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or foil, and let sit for a few minutes. When they're cool, peel off the skins and place the flesh in a blender or food processor with the tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, some salt and pepper, and a few good glugs of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Stir in the cream. This step can be done in advance, and the sauce can be placed in the fridge if you're going to do this earlier in the day.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken breasts in a roasting pan, coat with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for about 10-12 minutes, until they have a nice, golden crispiness to the tops. Pull out of the oven and cover with the red pepper sauce.

Switch the oven to broil. Slice the eggplant into 8 slices each. Heavily salt both sides of the slices, and let them sit out for a few minutes. This will draw out some of the water and allow them to stay a little more firm when roasting. Wipe off the salt with a paper towel, and brush with a little olive oil (the eggplant absorbs the olive oil very easily, so just don't pour it on and expect to spread it around: use a brush). Lay them out on a baking sheet, and top with some pepper and Parmesan cheese. Broil them until the cheese is crispy and you have a crust on the top, just a few minutes! After you pull them out, quickly replace with the roasting pan of chicken and sauce to heat it up. This is the tricky part: keeping everything hot until you serve.

Meanwhile, cut the polenta into slices. Saute a little on both sides until warm in a pan on the stove. When they're ready, put a few on a plate, then top with a slice or two of eggplant, then one of the chicken breasts with plenty of sauce. Top with some feta, and serve immediately.

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