Friday, January 6, 2012

Recipe: Chicken with Spinach-Parsley Rice and a Lemon Cream Sauce

This dish is bursting with fresh, clean flavors—tart lemon, fresh baby spinach and flat-leaf parsley, creamy fontina cheese, and velvety cream. After days of cold weather, rain, and snow, we finally got a bit of a break today, and this dish, which I'd consider more of a spring or summer meal, was the perfect thing to highlight the little bit of warm weather we got today. Simple white rice gets a kick with the addition of a pesto-like mixture of baby spinach, Italian flat-leaf parsley, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and a handful of fontina cheese, and it pairs nicely with lightly seasoned chicken breasts and a delicate lemon cream sauce. Crisp, clean lemon flavor, from both the juice and zest of the fruit, is the highlighted flavor in the dish and really gives it a great pop of flavor—use the real thing, not the bottled stuff, because it'll taste so much nicer.

The sauce was served on the side

Serves: 4
Prep. time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking time: Approx. 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Food processor

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut in half, and pounded out to about 1/2-1 inch thickness
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Dried lemon peel, to taste (not necessary, but it's great on the chicken)
  • Olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of a pan)
  • Butter or margarine (just a pat to add to the pan with the chicken)
For the rice
  • Approx. 1 cup long grain white rice (makes about 3 cups cooked)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice from one lemon (about 3 tbsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup baby spinach (be sure to pack it down to fit in more)
  • 1 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley (be sure to pack it down to fit in more)
  • Approx. 5 oz. fontina cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
For the lemon cream sauce
  • 2 tbsp. dry white wine (cooking wine)
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream
  • White pepper and salt, to taste (the white pepper will ensure the sauce stays a nice, solid white color)

Cook the rice according to package instructions (for me, it's cooking rice in 1&3/4 cup salted water with a tbsp. butter)—this should take about 20 minutes. In the meantime, add the ingredients for the rice "pesto" (olive oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic, spinach, and parsley) to a food processor and pulse to blend. After it's well-blended, add the grated cheese and pulse to blend, then set aside. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper (I sprinkled mine with dried lemon peel too) on both sides. In a large pan, heat a little olive oil and butter over medium heat, then add the chicken and cook until done, turning occasionally to evenly brown it. While the chicken is cooking, heat the lemon juice, zest, and white wine for the sauce in a small pot over medium heat. After about 2 minutes over heat, gradually whisk the heavy cream into the mixture (do this very slowly). Season with salt and white pepper and reduce to low heat. The mixture will thicken to a certain degree, but it is naturally a thinner, more delicate sauce. When the rice is done, fluff it gently and pour the spinach and parsley mixture into it, then gently toss the rice to evenly coat it. Serve the rice alongside the chicken and drizzle the sauce over both. A sprinkling of Parmesan cheese works well with the dish.

This dish is full of lemony flavor, which really brightens it up and wakes up your senses. The light sauce adds flavor to the simply-seasoned chicken and it pairs well with the rice. A small baby spinach salad with a light dressing (and oil-and-vinegar dressing would be perfect) would go well with this, along with any sort of white wine.

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