Cooking at the Cove: A molto bene Italian repast

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Chicken with veggies and Italian enhancements is followed by light, versatile meringues. Karen Schneider / For The Forecaster

This is an easy Italian meal that’s not only lighter than a pasta-pumped-up version but includes plenty of veggies. There’s zucchini and carrots in the flavorful Italian-inspired sauce for the main dish, corn in the polenta and a lovely gathering of fresh, green, crunchy textures in the lemon-struck salad.

Karen Schneider cooks and writes in the village of Cundy’s Harbor. You can reach her at [email protected]

These spring flavors combined with succulent chicken on the bone and followed by crisp meringues make for a wonderful weekend meal that won’t leave you feeling weighed down. The gluten-free dessert is yummy as is, or you can play with different flavors and enhancements such as chocolate sauce, citrus curd, fresh berries, toasted coconut or whatever suits your fancy. This dinner will give you just enough energy for a brisk walk, where you can delight in the sight of fresh green sprigs and listen to the music of peepers and songbirds. Isn’t it grand just to be alive on a fine spring day in Maine?

Italian Chicken and Vegetables

1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 bone-in chicken thighs (2 1/2 pounds, skin removed)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, including juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded Parmesan for garnish

On a sheet of waxed paper, combine flour, salt and pepper. Roll chicken in mixture to coat evenly. Reserve flour.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy skillet with a tight-fitting lid, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown for about 5 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate.

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Add onion, garlic, celery and carrots and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pan and add stock, tomatoes, wine and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Stir in reserved flour (cornstarch can be substituted) and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, then add zucchini and simmer another 20 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and zucchini is tender-crisp.

Serve over polenta and garnish with Parmesan. Yield: 6 servings

Polenta with Corn

1 1/2 cups coarse-grained polenta
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn
4 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

In a large heavy saucepan over high heat, bring 6 cups water to a boil. Slowly pour and whisk in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and polenta. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently until polenta reaches the consistency of thick porridge, about 40 minutes, adding more water if polenta gets too thick.

Stir in corn and cook for 3 minutes, then stir in butter and cheese until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Yield: 6 servings

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Peas & Asparagus with Lemon Dressing

2 cups fresh or frozen peas
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces
2 cups pea shoots
Zest and juice from 1 medium lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a large saucepan three-fourths full of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add peas to boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, scoop out peas and set aside.

Add asparagus to the pot and cook for 3 minutes or until tender. Drain asparagus and place in ice water, then drain again and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss asparagus, peas and pea shoots with lemon zest, juice and olive oil. Season to taste. Yield: 6 servings

Meringues

4 large egg whites
1 pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (or flavoring of your choice)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

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In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or with a portable electric mixer, combine egg whites, salt and cream of tartar. Whip on medium speed until egg whites are opaque and just holding their shape.

Increase speed to medium-high and add sugar one tablespoon at a time. When egg whites form stiff, glossy peaks, whip in flavoring.

To shape meringues, scoop two tablespoons of egg white onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until crisp but not browned, about 30 minutes. Turn off oven and allow to cool completely in the oven. Yield: 6 servings

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