When it came time to “categorize” this recipe, I was really torn. It’s not American, but sort of. It’s not Italian, but sort of. The only thing I knew with any certainty was that the “parent” category was Chicken. One scrumptious bite and all doubt flew out the window – the Italian influence screamed loud and clear. If they don’t bake chicken like this in Italy, they should! With a side of butter pasta, it would be awesome. (Hind sight twenty-twenty and all – next time a little spaghetti or penne pasta is definitely part of the presentation).
The original recipe was one I had picked up at Taste Of Home when I was struggling with changing our eating habits after receiving a diagnosis of borderline Diabetic Type 2 a few years back. You know me, I had to play with it just a bit, so how Diabetic-Friendly it is in its current presentation is beyond me. One thing is certain, it’s healthy – packed with fresh vegetables and very little oils.
The original recipe was titled 30-Minute Baked Chicken. I find those titles amusing. Sure, the chicken bakes for about 30 minutes. However; that time-frame does not include slicing, chopping, mixing and layering before it is popped into the oven to bake. And my rendition adds a few steps, so a more reasonable timetable would be about 45 minutes. That’s still reasonable although far from a “quick” weeknight meal.
The original recipe did not including browning the chicken before baking, used zucchini as the only squash, the yellow tomatoes were not-existent and Parmesan Cheese was purely optional. As if Parmesan is ever optional! Beyond that, the core recipe remains in tact.
Okay, so I guess those are some big changes. I like the golden hue of chicken that has been browned before baking. This is especially true of chicken this is to be cooked in sauce. Although the chicken is “baked” in the oven, in reality the dish more closely resembles braising than baking.
I like the idea of two different squash for additional flavor and the yellow tomatoes against the red tomato sauce lends greater visual depth. After all, the whole dining experience begins with the senses of sight and smell. The aromas of different ingredients dancing together in the air and the beauty of the presentation tantalizes us long before the complex tastes of a dish ever crosses our eager lips.
This recipe (in its altered state) was on the menu earlier in the week as a midweek supper, but something went awry. Unlike crock pot suppers, when forgetting to thaw out the chicken is no big deal, for a dish that is pan seared and then baked, chicken that isn’t frozen is an all-important “must”. Since we already had all the ingredients on hand, I decided to put off the baked chicken dish until the weekend. After all, Saturday was dedicated to family time anyway, with an early showing of Star Wars, a stop for Hot Chocolate and warm cookies and a short walk through the downtown area. As a people watcher at heart, I love downtown with its interesting characters. Unfortunately, today there was a light misty rain and everyone on the street was bundled up, heads covered as they rushed to their destinations. We did the same, forgoing lunch at a street-side cafe. It was far too cold for street-side dining anyway. Besides, we weren’t all that hungry, still feeling satisfied by the cookies and cocoa. Lunch would have only postponed supper, and honestly I was anxious to get into the kitchen. An early supper meant more time in the evening to relax, unwind and spend time with my fellows.
Saucy Chicken Bake with Vegetables
1 medium onion, sliced into slivers
4 to 6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, fresh ground
Olive oil, just enough to coat skillet
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 medium yellow neck squash, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, including liquids
3 or 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 Cup Small Yellow Tomatoes, split length wise
1 Cup Small Yellow Tomatoes, split length wise
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
Warm Bread for soaking up the juices
Heat oven to 450 degrees. While oven warms, heat a little olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until almost smoking.
Peel onion and cut into slivers. Sprinkle onion evenly over the bottom of a casserole dish large enough to hold the chicken and all the veggies.
Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Brown in the skillet until lightly golden, about 3 minutes or so per side. Place browned chicken over onions.
Cut ends from squash and discard. Slice squash into rounds and scatter over chicken. (A mandoline will make quick work of slicing, keeping the squash uniformed in thickness).
Wash mushrooms, remove stems and pat dry. Slice mushrooms about the same thickness as the squash. Layer mushrooms over squash and chicken.
In a large glass measuring cup (about a 4-cup) combine the garlic, canned tomatoes, basil and oregano. Gently stir to blend and pour over chicken and vegetables. Spread out to cover everything nicely.
Cover tightly with foil. Bake chicken for 30 minutes or until juices run clear. Remove from oven, uncover and scatter the yellow tomatoes over the top, cut side down. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and return to oven to continue to bake until tomatoes just begin to blister and the cheese melts, about 8 to 10 minutes longer.
To serve, plate chicken with as much of the vegetable toppings as possible still in tact. Spoon additional juice over the chicken, taking care to include the wonderful, soft onions.
Go from Pan-Seared to lushly baked in about 45 minutes. This chicken flavorful chicken with wonderful aromas will set your mouth to watering in no time.
Step by Step Photos to illustrate the ease of this incredible Italian sensation.
Note: My package of breasts contained 5 large, plumb breasts. I plan to cube the leftover chicken to make a flavorful Pasta-Chicken soup.
Have a great weekend everyone!