Racing down South School Avenue last Wednesday afternoon in my usual rushed, breakneck fashion, desperate to make it to the old bus depot, the bank, the dry cleaners, hot yoga and back home to start dinner, all before 7:30 – hello, yes, welcome, this is my life – I was all atwitter about picking up the contents of my first CSA box of the season. Several months back, I’d signed up alongside my gracious brother-and-sister-in-law to split a share in Wynn Family Farm’s CSA Program 2010. At the time, I didn’t really know what I was getting into; horror stories from our good friends in Montana about their local CSA program (turnips – and only turnips – for three months straight!) left me with a bleak, uneasy feeling.
But my first glimpse at the colorful bounty of my CSA share, along with Candye Wynn’s confident, calming demeanor, immediately put my nerves at ease. There was tender asparagus. There were farm-fresh eggs. There were ruby red strawberries. There were nasturnums – picture perfect, edible flowers! And that was only the beginning. Wild arugula, two bags of fresh field greens, green elephant garlic, and a pound of fresh side pork (an uncured, un-smoked bacon) rounded out my claim. It was like Christmas! But with no tree! In May! At the old bus depot!
Hubby and I slowly ate our way through our share for the remainder of the week. Strawberries on my breakfast yogurt, side salads with dinner, fresh side BLTs for lunch, Sunday omelettes – we enjoyed incorporating all this fresh, local food into our normal meal routine. By Sunday night, only a few things were left, and I made sure to put them to good use.
I’d experimented with the elephant garlic earlier in the week with a similar chicken sauté. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what elephant garlic was – is it garlic? Is it an onion? A reckless Google search (I’m perfecting those, by the way) informed me that elephant garlic is, in fact, more closely related to the leek than ordinary garlic. Its flavor is a muted version of garlic’s pungent, spicy bite – sweeter, milder and more delicate. Oh, and insanely delicious. Be sure to keep your eye out for it at the Farmers’ Market.
I also had some asparagus left over from our share, which I thought would be the perfect accompaniment to this chicken dish. I’d used green beans in my previous trial run; they suited just fine, but this asparagus added an even better, more sophisticated spin.
Of course, this dish is a very loose culinary translation of the classic chicken Marsala. A fortified wine with origins in Sicily, Marsala is mainly used in cooking, for both savory and sweet dishes (remember my heady zabaglione?) Chicken Marsala is traditionally a simple Italian chicken dish, with mushrooms and onions in a rich, sometimes creamy sauce. Tasty? Yes. Room for improvement? Absolutely.
To amp up the flavor of the sauce, I added a couple of spices that are regulars in my kitchen repertoire: paprika and cumin. Add in warming cinnamon and lemony thyme, and the spices’ flavors take the sauce to the next level. To give some texture to the sauce, I switched out the traditional mushrooms for sweet dried cherries and briny kalamata olives, and added some orange juice to bring in a pleasant – but subtle – citrus flavor.
Consider this recipe just the foundation to your meal – the chicken is tender, the sauce is complex, and the overall flavor is simply mind-blowing – just add your own flair! Serve this chicken dish over your favorite pasta or your favorite green vegetable, or cut up the chicken, increase the amount of sauce, add some potatoes and serve it as an unexpected stew. As I always say, the possibilities are endless. Enjoy!
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Spiced Chicken Marsala
4 boneless chicken breasts, patted dry
1 green elephant garlic bulb (with shoot), thinly sliced
2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cinnamon stick
4 springs of fresh thyme
1/2 c. orange juice
1 1/4 c. Marsala wine
1/3 c. dried cherries
1/3 c. pitted kalamata olives
olive oil, salt and pepper
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of each chicken breast, and cook over medium heat until lightly browned on both sides, about 7 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate and cover with foil.
Add the sliced elephant garlic bulb, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, until it begins to soften. Add the spices (paprika through cinnamon), and sauté for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the orange juice and Marsala, and turn the heat to medium high. Gently scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any brown bits.
Add the thyme, cherries, olives and chicken back to the pan. Be sure to scrape any juices from the chicken plate into the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat to medium low, cover, and cook for about 12 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium high and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Serve over pasta, rice or your favorite vegetable.
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Laura Hobbs is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her author page or visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.