March 20, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: Snow still flies, yet seeds know what season it is

By Anne Mahle

Can you feel it? The clocks have shifted forward, the days are longer and it's light into the evening a little later. Like a rhythmic clock that chimes every season on the season, my body begins to crave greens and lighter foods.

I turn my gaze to the garden, snow-covered though it may still be, and begin to dream about what will be if it's a good Maine summer – the signs of green, the burgeoning vines of peas and green beans, the warm, juicy tomatoes.

This garden musing doesn't last long before I'm thinking about how to do a little gardening even with the cold temperatures and snow. Planting seeds in my indoor makeshift window boxes and the mini-greenhouse out in the garden is the obvious first. The early shoots are beginning to appear even as snow falls and freezing rain keeps us indoors. The seeds know it's time and are popping up one by one.

So as I wait for my homegrown micro-greens to fill out enough to snip with a tiny pair of scissors (because someone might not be patient enough to wait for a full-blown row of baby greens; as a matter of fact, I'm quite sure this is how micro greens began – due to impatience rather than culinary trendiness), we'll buy more kale and spinach. Add it to smoothies, eat it in salads and cook it in myriad ways – because that's what our bodies crave.

And we'll pair it with bright, light-tasting meals that are astringent and sour and pair well with dark and bitter greens.

Meanwhile, before those golden days of greens from the garden arrive – and they will – I console myself with just the dreaming.

PARMESAN-CRUSTED CHICKEN BREASTS WITH CAPER AND OLIVE PAN SAUCE

3 chicken breasts, sliced in half horizontally; about 6 to 8 ounces each

2 tablespoons canola oil (maybe more)

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup corn meal

PAN SAUCE:

2 tablespoons capers

3/4 cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 tablespoons at the beginning and 2 tablespoons to finish)

1/4 cup white wine

3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice; juice from about 1 lemon

2 tablespoons water

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Beat the egg in a large flat bowl or sided platter. Combine the Parmesan cheese and cornmeal on a plate. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, dredge the chicken breasts in the egg and then the cheese and cornmeal mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and gently place some of the chicken in the pan.

You will need to do them in two or three batches; it's better for there to be a little space between the the pieces rather than to crowd them in the pan. After 3 to 5 minutes on one side, turn and pan-fry 3 to 5 minutes on the other side. Transfer to a clean platter. Repeat as necessary, adding more oil if needed.

When the chicken is done, wipe out the pan and return it to the stove over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter, the capers and olives, and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the white wine and bring to a simmer. Reduce by half. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, water, pepper and butter, and whisk gently until the butter is incorporated.

Taste for salt and then spoon over the chicken breasts. Serve immediately.

Servings: Four to six

(Continued on page 2)

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