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Summer in winter: Enjoy the warm tastes and colors of summer

In the middle of winter, summer can seem like a very long time away. As you read this, you're probably hearing of record snowfall somewhere, possibly right where you live.

It's only natural for many home cooks to want to combat the chilly surroundings by cooking foods that are robust and warming, including thick soups, slow-simmered braises and stews, deep-dish apple pies and other pastry-based desserts. And dishes like that do go a long way toward comforting us during the cold months.

But people also crave variety. So, sometimes it's a good idea to take a more psychological approach to overcoming the tiresome effects of winter. How about changing the mood around your table and in your home by switching things up and occasionally preparing foods that feel like summer?

I'm not saying, of course, that you have to go on a treasure hunt for rare ingredients that are out of season. Thanks to modern agriculture and efficient shipping, supermarkets today always have a selection of vegetables and fruits that seem kissed by warm sunshine. And I'd like to share a recipe that highlights exactly those kinds of ingredients. It is for roasted chicken breasts stuffed with yellow and red bell peppers served atop a sweet scallion sauce.

Bell peppers are typically a summer crop if you grow them yourself. But you can find them year-round in just about any supermarket, often in a variety of colors besides the typical green ones. I especially like the ripened, sweeter yellow, red and orange varieties, any combination of which will taste delicious and look beautiful in this recipe; and you could also use green bell peppers if one or more of the other colors aren't available. Scallions, or green onions, are another perennial supermarket staple, and another name they go by expresses the warmer months with which they are associated: spring onions.

Precooked - the peppers by roasting under the broiler, the scallion greens by briefly boiling - to make the textures tender and their flavors sweeter and milder, these warm-weather vegetables are then rolled up inside pieces of flattened chicken breast, which are then browned on the stovetop and quickly finish cooking in the oven. Sliced before serving on top of a simply made sauce of sauteed scallions flavored with rice vinegar and sherry and enriched with a little butter and cream, the vegetables form a brightly colored pattern on each plate as cheerful as a summertime bouquet.

I hope you'll give this easy recipe a try very soon, then go on enjoying it throughout the progression of seasons.


Serves 4

4 large boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswise in half

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra as needed

Kosher salt

Freshly ground white pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

2 bunches scallions

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

4 tablespoons dry sherry

1/2 cup (125 mL) heavy cream

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the broiler.

Coat the chicken breast pieces with a little oil. Place 2 pieces, spaced apart, in a large, heavy-duty plastic bag. With a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy small saucepan, gently flatten the pieces to a thickness of 1/4 to 1/3 inch (6 to 8 mm). Repeat with the remaining pieces. Lightly season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.

Place the yellow and red bell peppers under the broiler and cook, turning, until their skins are completely charred. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel off the charred skins. Cut each pepper into 8 pieces and remove the stems, seeds and veins. Set aside.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and fill a bowl with ice cubes and water. Cut off the green parts of 8 scallions. Immerse the 8 scallion greens in the boiling water for about 15 seconds, then remove them with tongs or a wire skimmer and transfer to the ice water. Drain and set aside.

Place 1 scallion green and a piece each of the yellow and red bell peppers lengthwise on top of each flattened chicken piece. Starting at a narrow end, roll up to enclose the vegetables and securely tie each piece closed with 2 lengths of kitchen string.

Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).

Heat a large, heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot enough to swirl easily, carefully turn the skillet to coat its bottom. Add the chicken breasts and cook, turning occasionally, until evenly browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and cook the chicken for 15 minutes longer. Remove from the oven, use tongs to transfer the chicken to a plate, and cover with foil to keep warm.

Cut the remaining scallions in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil. When it is hot enough to swirl easily, add the scallions and saute, stirring continuously, for 1 minute. Add the vinegar and sherry, and cook until reduced in volume by about two-thirds, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cream and simmer, stirring, until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low and, a little at a time, add the butter, whisking continuously. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon the sauce into the centers of four heated serving plates or a heated platter. Snip off the strings from the chicken breasts, cut each piece crosswise into 4 to 6 slices, and arrange them attractively on top of the sauce.


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