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Friday, July 19, 2013

Quanto Basta and Italian Chicken with Pine Nut Gremolata on a Bed of Peperonata

 Italian Chicken with Pine Nut Gremolata on a Bed of Peperonata

Quanto Basta and Italian Chicken with Pine Nut Gremolata on a Bed of Peperonata
by Victoria Challancin

In Spanish we say "al gusto," in French it is "au goût," but in Italian, it just rolls off the tongue with a rippling "quanto basta,"  or "qb" for short.  Basically, it just means "to taste," or more poetically, "as much as is needed."  Once you are confident using your ingredients, then you simply add whatever is needed in whatever quantity works for you.  How simple is that?  And that probably sums up the way most of us cook, unless we are baking perhaps.  

When I teach my classes designed to teach Mexican cooks who mainly work for foreigners to cook international food, I can't just say to them the equivalent of "qb."  I have to provide a recipe with exact quantities, which I often find online simply because it is so easy to do so.  Once they understand the ingredients, then they can add their own "toque mágico," or magic touch.  Recently for just such a class I chose an Italian Chicken with Pine Nut Gremolata which I paired with Peperonata.  The basic preparation of the chicken in this dish comes from, but the peperonata comes from my heart.  QB.

What exactly is peperonata?  It is a simple, rustic dish probably of Sicilian origin, eaten with bread as a way to use local, readily available ingredients.  Call it a stew, a side dish, a pasta sauce, or whatever you like, it remains a staple in Italian cooking.  Its versatility knows no bounds as you can add or subtract to it endless.  QB.  I chose it as a base for a simply prepared chicken which is topped with gremolata, the lively traditional condiment which always accompanies osso bucco.  Gremolata is another of those "qb" recipes which adds a fillip of flavor to practically anything.  For example, I used it in the following:
Gremolata is extremely versatile and can be made with different types of citrus.  Just make sure you add some raw garlic, zest, and a chopped fresh herb such as parsley, basil, or mint.  The pungency of the garlic lightened with the brightness of the citrus and rounded out with the freshness of the herb combine to make a condiment which enlivens anything from chicken to fish to vegetables of all sorts.  And it is easy to make.  QB, of course.

 Italian Chicken with Pine Nut Gremolata on a Bed of Peperonata

Cook's Notes:  While the original recipe placed the chickens atop tapenade, I decided to make a peperonata using the beautiful local bell peppers that are so abundant here in San Miguel.  It worked beautifully, but so would have the tapenade!  This pretty dish was simple to prepare, full of flavor and Mediterranean bounty.

Recipe:  Italian Chicken with Pine Nut Gremolata on a bed of Peperonata
(Recipe adapted from

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts halves
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (Italian herb mix--or use a bit each of dried oregano, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Peperonata (see the following recipe)
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
Juice and grated zest of 1 fresh lemon
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil, divided
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Optional garnishes:  Additional basil, green onions, tomato and lemon slices

Brush chicken with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with the dried herbs, salt, and pepper, coating all sides evenly.  Add remaining olive oil to a large skillet placed over medium heat.  When hot, add the chicken and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through, turning to brown both sides evenly.  Remove chicken from pan, keeping warm.

In the same skillet (do not wash skillet) add the prepared peperonata and stir occasionally over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.  

Toss together pine nuts, lemon zest and basil in a separate bowl, then reserve.  Slice each chicken breast crosswise into thick slices.  Arrange attractively on serving platter or individual plates atop the peperonata.  Sprinkle with the pine nut mixture and serve immediately.  May be garnished with additional fresh basil, green onions, tomato and lemon slices, if desired--but it could be gilding the lily!


Cook's Notes:  This is such a flexible recipe that you can change it easily to suit your taste--I doubt I ever make it the same way, but because I had to write a proper recipe for the cooks, I wrote down one way I like to prepare this dish.   Basically, you use these simple ingredients in the amounts you want--quanto basta, in Italian--as much as is necessary.  Dry?  Add more oil.  Bland?  Add more garlic (my answer to everything).  Extra kick required?  Add more chile flakes and more black olives.  Other ingredients you might consider adding:  chopped dried figs, potatoes (Marcela Hazan does this!), extra dried oregano or rosemary,  bay leaves, parsley,  use all fresh herbs instead of dried, mushrooms, eggplant (very common), capers, sliced fennel bulb, However you serve it, do serve it room temperature!

Other Uses for Peperonata
  • Put it atop crostini with or without cheese
  • Use it as a vegetable side or vegetarian main dish with a creamy polenta
  • Add it to an omelet
  • Mix it with other cooked vegetables such as green beans, potatoes, cauliflower, asparragus
  • Use it as a filling for crepes with cheese
  • Use it as a pasta sauce
  • Top it with cheese and coarse bread crumbs, bake it, and call it a "casserole!"
  • Serve it simply with just some good crusty bread, as Italians often do
  • Put it on a green salad
  • Mascarpone or crème fraîche make a nice addition if using it as a pasta sauce
  • Add it to cooked Italian sausages
  • Make a sandwich using peperonata and whatever other ingredients you want:  tuna, salami, basil, cheese, sliced turkey, bacon
  • Serve it with steak
  • Of course, peperonata goes perfectly on any antipasto plate
  • Serve it with grilled or baked fish
  • Mix it into a bowl of cooked white beans
  • Use it to stuff crimini or portobello mushrooms topped with melted cheese
  • My friend Oscar places it in foil with a piece of fish on top and bakes it, which sounds lovely to me!

Recipe:  Peperonata
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)
Serves 6 to 8

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 to 6 bell peppers, mixed colors, in strips or 1/2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 can cubed tomatoes with juice (of course you can use fresh if they are nice!)
Large pinch of chile flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs, crumbled
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half
alsamic or red wine vinegar to taste, 1 to 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped parsley or basil in chiffonade, or a combination of both

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add onions; cook stirring for 7 to 8 minutes or until soft.  Add garlic, stir, and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the peppers, salt, and pepper.  Stir, cover, and cook until soft, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Add tomatoes, chile flakes, dried herbs, olives, raisins, and 1 tablespoon vinegar.  Cook for 2 to 3  minutes.  Chef for seasoning, adding more vinegar if necessary.  Garnish with parsley and/or basil.  Serve room temperature--or slightly warm.

Parting Shot:  Berber Spices, Marrakech:

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


Nancy said...

When I was first learning to cook I found it intimidating to cook agusto, but now I only ever stop to measure when sharing on the blog. This recipe is one we would devour! The Peperonata sounds so good and so many great uses too. I love your plates -- red:)

Joan Nova said...

My kind of food - flavor from top to bottom and lots of color! And I love the way you styled the photo.

Eha said...

Just learned a valuable lesson! If Vicki has posted: read that before making your next meal! Uhuh, had chicken thighs for lunch AND all the ingredients for this recipe . . . Both 'sides' of the meal + the 'lesson' on peperonata oh so useful to keep - thank you! Yes, for a long time after becoming a novice cook after my first marriage I too measured everything to the closest 1/4 tsp: one lives, one learns :) !

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I wonder what the phrase equivalent is in Chinese because my mother's recipes are usually all to taste! And I agree quanto basta really rolls off the tongue easily! :)

Hotly Spiced said...

I would like to cook this. It looks like a fantastic family meal and I love your blue dish - just gorgeous xx

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

This is such a colorful dish that has to be loaded with flavor. I know that everyone that attends your classes has to leave happy.

CQUEK said...

This looks so scrumptious

Gold For Runescape said...

This really is this kind of colorful dish that has to be full of flavor. I understand that that will visits your own classes has to leave happy. runescape gold

Alexander Melvin said...

Nice blog..! I really loved reading through this article... Thanks for sharing such an amazing post with us and keep blogging...Spices are used as a seasoning, adding flavor and color to a dish. I always used to buy spices online from good brands.