Melissa Clark’s latest book “Dinner in French” (Clarkson Potter 2020) is a winner.
The latest in a long line of books created by The New York Times’ Melissa Clark, “Dinner in French” is surprisingly weeknight-friendly. Veteran Francophile Clark, who spent her childhood summers in France, makes these dishes in her Brooklyn kitchen. The book could not be better timed for those of us whose summer travel plans for 2020 included La Belle France. In it, we can find all kinds of favorites—old and new—that can make us think for a moment that we’re there. Practically nothing is easier to prepare than this Gallic take on Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts. Briefly marinated in Olive Oil, Lemon zest, and lots of garlic, they emerge from the saute pan in all of 6 minutes.
We paired Melissa’s Paillards with a perfect Caprese Salad.
Last summer in Europe, Andrew and I were introduced to our first fruit-forward Caprese salads. Melons and Peaches were paired with juicy tomatoes, fresh basil, and, of course, the inimitable creamy-richness of Burrata. Mozzarella at its ooey-gooey best. And we were nowhere near Italy. Instead, we savored the cheese in both Portugal and Spain. Burrata is now an International ingredient. We loved the fruit and tomato combination. While perusing this month’s crop of magazines, we were inspired to make today’s version. We would use this year’s exceptional crop of juicy, irresistible fresh cherries.
The secret ingredient here is something you can use all summer.
Like Burrata, Aceto Balsamico di Modena or Balsamic Vinegar is another one of those ingredients that swept into popularity. For a while, it was on everything from salads to strawberries. Balsamic only arrived in the US only 50 years ago. But Balsamic itself dates from 1046 AD.
Ironically, it was first used as a disinfectant. Its reputation was further enhanced as it had a reputation as a miracle medicine. It was said to cure everything from sore throats to labor pains. By law, Balsamic may only be made in Modena and Reggio in Italy. The vinegar itself is made from sweet white grapes—Trebbiano for red and Spergola for white—that are boiled to a syrup. Using copper cauldrons over an open flame, the water content is reduced by over 50 percent. The resulting syrup is put into wooden barrels. Aged balsamic vinegar is added to the new. The ‘youngest’ vinegar is aged 3 to 5 years, middle-aged is 6 to 12 years old and the most prized of all is at least 12 and up to 150 years old.
Making Balsamic into a great syrup will enliven any summer salad.
We’re assuming you do not wish to spring for 100-year-old Balsamic. It will run you $237.12 for 2.39 Ounces on Amazon. Instead, you can take a cup or bottle of Balsamic and reduce it yourself. 1 cup can be reduced to just ¼ cup in about 12 minutes. That’s enough for our Cherry Caprese. Far better to reduce a larger quantity, say 24 ounces down to 8 oz. Put in an 8-oz squeeze bottle and squeeze away all summer. This will be by far the best Balsamic you’re ever put on a salad. It’s rich and robust, both sweet and tart. Here are the recipes, followed by some other summer salads worthy of your attention.
Melissa Clark's Chicken Paillards
This staple of weeknight cooking, the Boneless Skinless Chicken breast, is greatly enhanced by its garlicky, lemony marinade.
- 4 (6 to 8 oz.) Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, halved.
- 1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided.
- Step 1 Marinate the chicken:
- Step 2 Place each chicken breast half between two sheets of parchment paper. Use a mallet, a rolling pin or a cast iron skillet to pound the breasts to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Repeat until all the breasts have been flattened.
- Step 3 Season the chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper. In a bowl, combine the lemon zest, garlic and olive oil. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Alternatively, you can marinate the chicken in the refrigerator, covered, overnight.
- Step 4 Melt half the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken breasts, half the garlic slices, and cook until the chicken is golden brown and tender, about 3 minutes a side. Transfer the chicken to warm serving plates and tent with foil to keep warm while you cook the remaining chicken breast and garlic. Serve the chicken along with the Caprese Salad
Cherry Caprese Salad
Wait til you taste how the season's cherries are paired with traditional Caprese ingredients to make a sweet and tart version of the classic.
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 8 ounces Burrata cheese
- 1 pound fresh dark sweet cherries (about 3 cups) or 1/2 lb. each tart red and dark sweet cherries pitted
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Step 1 In a small saucepan bring balsamic vinegar to a simmer over medium. Continue to simmer, uncovered, about 12 minutes or until thick and reduced to 1/4 cup. Let cool.
- Step 2 Drain and pat dry Burrata. Cut cheese in half. Spread over the bottom of the platter. Arrange cherries, tomatoes, and basil on cheese. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon balsamic reduction and olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes and ground black pepper.