There is much to be said for eating with the seasons and eating seasonal produce. I’m a big fan of it. As the weather gets colder you can’t help but crave deep pots of rich, red wine stew, creamy lumps of mash potato and hot warming bowls of curry. But at the same time, every now and then, when the evening looks depressingly like the middle of the night and you stand perched by the radiator letting the heat soak into the small of your back, you just want to evoke a bit of that long forgotten sunshine and warmth.
I’m not suggesting you should find some frozen strawberries or crack out the barbecue. But using a few store cupboard ingredients you can create something that sings of sunny days and Mediterranean seas.
This Italian Chicken does just that. Yes it does include vine tomatoes, which are technically out of season here. But in my mind never completely are in season here, because our English tomatoes will never match those baked under the blue skies of Italy. The rest of the vibrant flavour is found from that good old staple the tinned tomatoes (never to be knocked), lemons and basil (of which a supermarket basil pot grows on my windowsill for months with no trouble).
This recipe isn’t completely mine, I ripped a page out of a magazine many years ago and have no idea where it came from. Whether I still follow the original is another thing – below is how I throw it together – and you really can throw it together. The photo was taken many months ago when the sun really was shining and I had a glut of courgettes in the garden. It is also delicious with wilted spinach, a crisp salad or any green vegetables for that matter. No need for extra starch, it is more than filling enough with the cannellini beans (in fact you might find you have too much bean mixture – don’t fear it makes delicious left-over beans on toast!).
2 chicken breasts
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
400g can of cannellini beans
400g can chopped tomatoes
Some cherry tomatoes on the vine
Fresh basil leaves
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees. Fry the onion in a little oil until soft, then add the garlic and fry for a few minutes more.
Put the onion and garlic in a square baking dish, add the canned tomatoes, beans, a splash of water and season. Stir around then nestle the chicken breasts on top, but slightly pressed into the mix. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the foil, lay the vine tomatoes on top and put back in the oven without the foil for about 10 -15 minutes until the chicken is cooked and the tomatoes are soft and roasted. To serve place a chicken breast on top of a pile of the tomato and bean mixture, grate over some lemon zest and tear over some basil leaves.