Last night, I had some chicken breast in the fridge that I had to do something with, along with some baby spinach and a nice wedge of Parmesan. As I was thinking, this image of sliced, pan-fried chicken smothered in cream sauce on a bed of fettucini suddenly came floating up to the surface of my mind.
Before I knew it, I had recreated a night at the Olive Garden.
How did this happen? It was as if I had taken a trip on the High School Nostalgia Express. Maybe I was subconsciously channeling those commercials that have been airing on television lately for the Olive Garden cooking school in Tuscany. The one where they presumably teach students how to make American Chain-Restaurant food in middle of the rolling Tuscan hills.
Because Chicken Florentine is really American. As American as apple pie. You’ll never find it in Italy. It is interesting to note though that, historically speaking, the origins of “Florentine” preparation trace their roots back to Florence-born Catherine de’Medici and her legendary merry band of French cooks. What made a dish “Florentine” was not the spinach, but the white sauce that her French cooks made: the besciamella, or béchamel.
It’s anyone’s guess how spinach got involved in all of this.
But just because Chicken Florentine might find its roots more in Hoboken than Florence, that doesn’t necessarily make it bad. In fact, on a cold spring night, it’s pretty darn good.
God bless the USA!
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup of flour
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of white wine
2 packed cups of baby spinach
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan
A healthy pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound of dried fettucini
How to prepare:
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
2. In the meanwhile, pat the chicken breast dry with paper towels. Sprinkle each breast liberally with salt and pepper on all sides. Dredge them in the flour, and shake off any excess. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it is shimmering. Add the chicken breasts to the pan in a single layer. Pan-fry them until they are golden-brown on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer them to a plate while you prepare the rest of the dish.
3. Your water should be boiling by now. Add the fettucini and boil them until they are al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside if it is done before all the other elements.
4. While the fettucini is boiling, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the white wine to the pan, stirring to scrape up and dissolve any of the browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add the spinach and the garlic. When the spinach has wilted slightly, add the cream, Parmesan, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Simmer the mixture, stirring often, until the sauce has begun to thicken. Adjust the seasoning carefully (the cheese should add a fair amount of saltiness).
5. Cut each chicken breast into half-inch slices. Mound a quarter of the fettucini in a warm pasta bowl. Top the fettucini with a sliced chicken breast and spoon a quarter of the sauce on top. For a little brightness, you could serve the bowls with a nice, fat lemon wedge to squeeze.