Thursday, August 25, 2011

Recipe: Chicken and Polenta with Arugula, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese

I chose tonight's recipe partly because I had leftover arugula that I needed to use and partly because I hadn't made it in a few years and wanted to try it again. I had a late night cooking session tonight because my mother is out of town and my dad has been working late for the past few nights, but despite my uncertainty about how long it was going to take to cook and whether it would still be hot (and not overcooked) when my dad got home, everything worked out and the dish was a success (and much better than I remember it being the first time I made it). This chicken dish combines parmesan-and-garlic-seasoned polenta, wilted arugula, sweet sun-dried tomatoes, and tangy goat cheese, with a splash of balsamic vinegar to create a vibrant, flavorful dish.

Serves: 4
Prep. time: Approx. 1 hour to prepare and chill the polenta, and 20 minutes to do everything else
Cooking time: 20-30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy - Moderate

  • Polenta, chilled and cut into cubes
    • 2 cups chicken broth/stock
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 cup polenta (I use a quick-cooking boxed brand)
    • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced (I cut the slices in half so the pieces are more bite-size)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 
  • 2 shallots, chopped (I used green onions, but shallots are preferable)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth/stock
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 lb. arugula (I use 3 or 4 big handfuls of baby arugula)
  • 2 to 4 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Fresh or dried basil, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Crumbled goat cheese (soft and mild)

For the polenta: In a medium pot, combine 2 cups chicken stock and 3 minced garlic cloves, and bring the mixture to a boil. Slowly stir in the polenta and stir until the mixture is thick (follow package instructions; should take 3-5 minutes). Add the Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Spread the mixture out in a greased, rimmed baking sheet or pan and set aside in the fridge to cool for about 1 hour. Once the polenta is chilled, cut it into 1-inch cubes and set aside.

To assemble the dish: Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and, once hot, add the chicken slices and sear them on both sides until they are mostly cooked through. Add the shallots and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer to reduce (I reduced by about half—about 5 minutes—and spooned out some of the excess stock so the chicken mixture wasn't swimming in it. Make sure you keep it about 1/2-inch deep in the pan—it helps cook the chicken, while keeping it moist). Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook the mixture for about 2 minutes. Add the polenta cubes and toss the mixture, letting the polenta soften a bit in the remaining chicken stock for about 2-3 minutes. Reduce to medium-low heat and add the arugula, tossing to mix it with the rest of the ingredients (the chicken stock should be completely gone by now). Add balsamic vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper; toss the mixture again. Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid for a few minutes, allowing the arugula to wilt a little more. Serve sprinkled with goat cheese and an extra drizzle of balsamic vinegar if desired.

This dish is tangy, sweet, and complex. The chicken broth helps soften the chilled polenta and keeps the chicken pieces moist as they cook. The sun-dried tomatoes add a sweet bite to the dish and they're complemented by the creamy, tangy goat cheese. Slightly wilted arugula adds color and a peppery taste that marries with the sharp, flavorful balsamic vinegar that so nicely soaks into the polenta and chicken. This dish is packed with strong flavors, but they balance each other and create a rich, yet still light, meal.

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