Friday, September 03, 2010


We were going on a picnic, and I had a sudden desire for sandwiches. I never really make sandwiches, except for grilled cheese and BLTs and—lately—these, none of which are terribly picnic-ready. So I plugged “sandwiches” into Food Blog Search and almost immediately stumbled across this recipe from Simply Recipes. I was intrigued by the lemony zucchini-ricotta spread, enlivening what would otherwise be a standard chicken-breast sandwich. It sounded so fresh and summery that I had to have it immediately, despite the fact that it didn’t exactly seem to fit the picnic-portable criteria.

It’s rare that I decide to make a recipe more difficult, but the original recipe called for roasted, skinned, boned, sliced chicken breasts. This would be a great use of leftover chicken if I had some on hand, but I didn’t, so rather than roasting, I decided to grill—if you can call using the George Foreman “grilling.” A plain chicken breast sounded totally boring, so I decided to crib from one of my old recipes and make a simple lemon-garlic-olive oil marinade. Basil also seemed like a good addition for maximum summeriness, and I threw some into the ricotta mixture. Both of these were excellent improvements on my part, I think. The sandwiches turned out quite deliciously, perfect for a warm August evening on the grass, and I've already made them a second time since. They weren't even as hard to transport as I'd feared, although it helped that the picnic was just a few miles away from our apartment, so we were able to eat them within 45 minutes of making them. I even managed to make these leftover-amiable (not exactly downright friendly; you still need a big lunchbag to tote all these containers around) by storing the toasted ricotta-smeared bread, chicken, and tomatoes in three separate sealed containers in the fridge, briefly reheating both the bread and the chicken in the microwave the next day, and then assembling them.

One tip: This calls for a full container of ricotta, and there always seems to be extra zucchini spread left over, at least when I make these—perhaps I don't spread it on as thickly as intended, or maybe my bread is just too small. But not to worry! Spread on crackers or small toasts, this stuff makes excellent crostini just on its own. You might even try it as a dip.

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt, plus extra to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound total)
2 medium zucchini, shredded
15 ounces ricotta cheese
½ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
4 5x4-inch pieces focaccia or ciabatta bread, halved horizontally
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced

1. In a large zip-top bag or a large glass bowl with a lid, mix together the lemon juice (note that you’re going to need lemon peel later, so you may want to zest that lemon before you squeeze it and set the peel aside [it will do OK in a small airtight bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to use it]), garlic, ¼ cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken breasts, make sure they get thoroughly coated with the marinade, and let them marinate at least one hour and no more than 24 hours.

2. When ready to make the sandwiches, mix zucchini and salt in a colander set over the sink. Let stand 15 minutes to drain liquid from zucchini, then rinse, drain, and squeeze zucchini (wrapping it in a kitchen towel works well) to remove as much liquid as possible.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and sauté 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. While it’s cooling, combine the ricotta, basil, Parmesan, and lemon peel in a bowl and then stir in the zucchini. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Preheat the broiler. Arrange the bread pieces cut side up on baking sheet. Broil bread just until lightly toasted. Spread ricotta mixture generously over each piece, then broil until ricotta mixture is heated through and beginning to brown in spots, about 4 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, grill the chicken.

6. Top 4 bread pieces with tomato slices, then with chicken breasts. Cover with remaining 4 bread pieces, ricotta-mixture side down.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes, plus 1-24 hours marinating time
Leftover potential: OK, if sandwich components are stored separately.

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