What’s with this weather? We should still be making warming soups to ward off the chill of spring showers, and instead I already have my herb garden planted and growing nicely.
We were having guests last weekend and I wanted something easy, that I could do ahead, and definitely not hot. A salad perhaps? But good summer salad vegetables aren’t ready yet, so I was leafing through some of my old cooking class recipes. I came across a Sicilian style chicken salad that seemed perfect.
Any time Sicilian cuisine is mentioned I think “citrus” because all sorts of citrus, especially oranges, grow wild on the island. And a little spice is always welcome to a Sicilian as well.
It’s not unusual in several regional Italian cuisines to serve warm main course food on a bed of greens that then become slightly wilted. Arugula works perfectly here; the slightly bitter taste is the perfect foil to the sweet and spicy dressing.
You can do the chicken and peppers ahead a bit and let set up to an hour or so, or refrigerate. Then heat them in the oven to warm back up. The asparagus could roast at the same time. Bring the dressing up to a simmer and you have a perfect main course for guests, and all you’d need to go with it is good crusty bread to soak up the juices.
Sicilian Springtime Chicken Salad
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, cut into 1/2” strips
4 plump cloves of garlic, peeled
1/3 cup good fruity olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 ½ lbs. chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
Finely grated zest of one large orange
¾ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 lb. asparagus, tough stem ends snapped off
2 tbsp. honey
1 big pinch crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 tbsp. additional olive oil
4 cups arugula
A good sized chunk of pecarino romano or asiago cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a shallow baking pan, toss the pepper strips and garlic cloves with the olive oil. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring a time or two. Lay the chicken breasts in one layer on top and brush with some of the oil from the pan. Mix the zest and juice of the orange with the additional orange juice and pour over the top. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and roast until the chicken is tender, about 15 minutes more.
Meanwhile, on a baking sheet, spread the asparagus in one layer. Brush with the 2 tablespoons additional olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the same oven for about ten minutes. Set aside.
Remove the chicken, peppers and garlic to a platter and tent with foil. Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a saucepan and add the honey and pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer and let it bubble gently for about five minutes.
Slice the warm chicken breasts about ¼ thick. Toss the arugula with a couple of tablespoons of the dressing and put on a platter. Arrange the chicken breast slices, the peppers and garlic, and the asparagus on top. Drizzle with a bit more of the dressing. Pass the remaining dressing at the table, and pass the cheese with a grater to be added by each guest as desired. Serves four very generously.