Lemon-thyme chicken with marinara sauce & roasted chive potatoes

Here’s a slightly involved recipe that I built over a few days with the aim of having something fresh and light to beat the Houston heat. It succeeds.

First, some backstory. Our first effort to find fresh and healthy groceries in this new city led us to Central Market, an organic store owned by local supermarket chain H-E-B. It’s a lot like Whole Foods, with possibly slightly lower prices on some goods. But it also carries the company’s local grocery brand, so you have to be careful what you pick up to make sure it’s got the nutritional and sourcing guidelines you seek.

We picked up loads of citrus and fresh herbs, inspired both by the recent trip to Italy and the warm climate that we now live in. (I’ve been squeezing fresh orange juice in the mornings, and it’s a real treat.) I also grabbed a can of San Marzano tomatoes, which chefs claim bring a special taste to Italian sauces.

To give it a try, I made a homemade marinara sauce to top off chicken breasts stuffed with lemon slices and fresh thyme. I made some chive oil on the side and drizzled it on oven-roasted potatoes.

I know it sounds involved, but it’s a really basic meal. It may take some time, but it is easy and I thought the end result was worth it.

Let’s take it piece by piece. For the chicken:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Start by slicing 2 chicken breasts in half horizontally most of the way through so that you can butterfly them open and stuff them. Place 4 thin lemon slices and 1 tsp. fresh thyme in each breast and close them back up. Salt and pepper the outsides.

2. Whisk 1 egg to create a wash and dip each of the stuffed breasts in it. Then place the breasts on a plate of bread crumbs (Panko, a Japanese kind, are my preference) to bread them. Lightly fry these in a touch of olive oil to create a crust and then place them in an ovenproof pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

3. Remove from the oven and make sure the chicken is cooked all the way through (you should be able to tell just by looking at it). Top with a couple tablespoons of marinara sauce, recipe below.

Okay, for the marinara sauce:

1. Slice 1 onion and 3 cloves of garlic and saute them in a skillet with 1 tbsp. of good olive oil until the onions are translucent and the garlic starts to brown slightly.

2. Add 3 tbsp. fresh thyme with the stems removed and stir until you can smell the thyme. Savor the moment.

3. Pour in a 28-oz. can of peeled tomatoes and let the mixture simmer for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and break up the tomatoes with your cooking spoon.

4. When it has reduced to a sauce consistency, salt to taste, add 1/2 tsp. sugar to balance the acidity if needed and throw in 1 tsp. crushed red pepper if you want heat. It’s ready!

And for the roasted potatoes:

1. Wash and cut up 2 lb. of potatoes (your choice) into big bite-size chunks. Dry thoroughly, lay out on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper (no salt yet.)

2. Bake for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees (sticking to the same oven temp as the chicken for convenience), and remove when the skins have caramelized and a fork goes through the potatoes easily.

3. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with chive oil, which is simply 1 bunch of chopped chives, blended with juice from 1/2 a lemon, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 c. olive oil. Use a food processor and slowly pour in the oil to let it emulsify with the chives and lemon juice, just as you would for salad dressing. Let the oil sit for an hour before using it. Straining out the chives is optional.

If you read through to this point, you’ll see that this recipe is a lot simpler than it may seem at first glance. And the result is an impressively layered flavor experience that is perfect for warmer weather.

Quick note: The lemon slices, after baked, are totally edible and mellow. Don’t fear. And I tossed pasta with the rest of the marinara sauce for a second meal (pictured below). Ciao!

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