Cooking For Others: The Naked Cook

salad ready to go, my outfit not so much
EVENT: Eating avec A/C
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
PARTY SIZE: 5
TYPE: Casual Summertime Dinner
MENU: Squash Chips with Balsamic and Basil Drizzle; Panzanella Salad with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette; Lemon-Garlic Roasted Chicken Breasts; Iced Basil Green Tea

A few times over the course of the last few weeks, as New York City humidity has neared 100%, I’ve found myself slaving over my small kitchen’s open flame in nothing but a tank top and underwear. This sounds attractive in theory, and perhaps if it was an apron alone, there would have at least been something classically erotic about my situation. But I assure you, there is nothing less appealing than splattering oil on bare, white legs as you sweat not just the heat but also guests who are moments away, and you debate whether or not it’s better to put on some shorts or burn the chicken.

Even as a practiced weeknight entertainer, the lack of control over life, schedule, and happiness that comes with a full time job, often leaves me, well, late. Thus was the case a few Wednesdays ago when I found myself, shopping bags in hand, racing up my three-floor walk-up, throwing a pot of water on to boil, and peeling off all of my clothes for fear of fainting into the flame.

Summer had a way of creeping up on us slowly this year, and it wasn’t until this past week that I began factoring the heat of preparation into my menus. Usually when it’s warm, if I’m cooking for just myself or a girlfriend or two, I’ll whip up a quick salad and call it a meal. But with a coffee table full of guests—guys and gals alike—it feels like kind of a poor excuse for dinner to just serve up a variety of tossed raw veggies, no matter how interesting or delicious. My solution: panzanella.

Making a salad out of carbs is an easy way to convince bigger eaters (cough cough, men) that their side dish is not a salad at all. This particular version was packed with farmers’ market-fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. More refreshing yet, I was able to toast the bread in the oven at the same time as my chicken cooked, minimizing the active work over the fire and the time my apartment would also be roasting. I let both come down to room temperature, giving me time to cool off with some of Caitlyn’s Iced Basil Green Tea, open a window, and put on some clothes.

From my kitchen, where salads get dressed even when I don’t, to yours,

Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

*(Neurotic Post Script, from Cara: I still bear a scar on my right thigh from draining/spilling a pot of pasta water while wearing only a bikini, circa 2003. Be careful when cooking less than fully dressed!)


**Recipes**

Panzanella Salad with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette
Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients
1 large loaf ciabatta or other rustic Italian bread, sliced
2 small cucumbers, halved, and sliced
2 large plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped (or you can use cherry)
1/2 lb buffalo mozzarella or buccacini, roughly torn into pieces
1 cup basil leaves, roughly torn
salt to taste

For the vinaigrette:

Double this recipe.

Preheat the oven to broil.

In a food processor, combine all ingredients for the vinaigrette. Pulse to combine.

In a medium mixing bowl, toss together the cucumbers, tomatoes, and mozzarella with the vinaigrette. Set aside.

Slice the bread into large rustic pieces. Lay them flat on a rimmed baking sheet and brush each slice with olive oil. Place on the top rack in the oven and toast until dark brown, but not burned.

Allow the bread to cool enough to handle. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Add the bread and basil to the bowl and toss together with the rest of the salad mixture.

Serve immediately along side the chicken.

Lemon-Garlic Roasted Chicken Breasts
Makes 4 Servings
Ingredients

4 large chicken breasts, bone-in skin on
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 garlic clove, pushed through a press
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the zest, lemon juice, butter, garlic, and salt and whip together.

With clean hands, rub the butter mixture underneath the chicken’s skin so there is a thin layer. Repeat with each breast. Leftover butter can be reserved for another use.

Coat a over proof skillet with a thin layer of oil and brown the chicken over medium-high heat, starting with the skin-side down. Once both sides have been browned, place the chicken in the oven and cook until the breasts are cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Allow chicken to rest for another ten minutes or so under a sheet of foil. Serve warm or room temperature to allow you and your guests to cool.

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  • Frankie

    I'm such a fanatic for your blog, guys. It just gets better and better. I want to know more about that date with the French cusine dude! Foto please! If you don't want him can I have him? And how do you make basil green tea?