Nearly everything you need to know about my childhood can be summed up
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in a John Mellencamp song
(Well, not quite everything)
Iowa is quiet and simple. In the summer, it bursts with ripe tomatoes and happiness. In the winter, the sprawling cornfields rest under blankets of snow. There is space here, plenty of it.
Room to grow
At different times in life, I've often thought about moving to one of my favorite places I've visited. Key West with the beach only a bike ride's distance away? Incredible sunsets every evening. Or maybe San Francisco with all it's hills, endless cafés, and farmers markets
It would be as lovely as it sounds, yes.
But I know it wouldn't be mine
Have you ever eaten a homegrown tomato fresh from the vine? Plump with time, love, and rich midwest soil? Have you ever taken a bite out of it, letting the red juice run down your chin? Brought it home and turned it into a BLT for dinner?
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This week as I worked in the garden, I couldn't help but think. We grow where we're planted, and I'm thankful I was
— — —
My husband and I will always have roots in Iowa. A place whose rhythm is announced by the arrival of its seasons.
Not to mention road trips, church potlucks, and RAGBRAI. State fairs with funnel cakes, sledding down hills on trash can lids. Rhubarb season. Sitting on bleachers with wool blankets on our knees, cheering for our hometown team. Cicadas singing on summer evenings
We can't see how deep our roots are buried
But we can feel them
When the season shifts, ever so slightly, as it's shifting now. We know summer has just begun.
The skies are bright later and later, the birds chirp outside the kitchen window, and the first hints of humidity are in the air. With farmers markets, bare legs, neighborhood BBQs, night walks, summer dresses, garage sales, and lemonade stands
The first tomato harvest will be here before we know it
But not quite yet
As ironic as it may seem given what I love to do, they're often a challenge at our house. I have a feeling they may be your occasional problem as well. The never-ending question of, “What can I make for dinner that’s wholesome and quick-ish?”
I’m not in the camp that sells quick cooking. I hope the recipes featured here are fairly straightforward, but I'd be remiss to sell them as such because I think the process is part of eating well. Great, or even good food, simply doesn’t come without putting in some effort
We have to eat, and whole foods keep us feeling our best. Certainly, everyone is short on time for one reason or another, but it’s real food that sustains us. It’s wellness and community and conversation and necessity, and none of them come fast
Maybe they don't include a homemade sourdough whose process spans a few days, or a beautiful Buddha bowl with lots of different recipes tucked inside a recipe. Those are the things that feed creativity and help us enjoy the art of cooking, but they’re not people’s every day (regardless of what our Instagram feed leads us to believe)
So what if we made it our goal to have dinner on the table, something that's fresh with at least one veggie? It’s a responsibility, and it’s not always beautiful, but we’re doing the work, and that process truly matters
This skillet chicken is a wonderful weeknight dinner.
Slightly more involved than the usual, but the payoff is definitely worth it. The chicken and tomato sauce are started on the stovetop. While they’re baking in the oven, it's just enough time to toss a salad, slice some bread, and open a bottle of wine.
It’s a straightforward meal that’s ready from start to finish in about an hour. A recipe with a big personality, although the number of ingredients is rather small.
To make the most of them, everything is cooked in stages, allowing the flavors to build in the skillet.
Pancetta goes in first, sautéed until golden and crisp. Next, the chicken is seared in the rendered fat. Tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, and capers follow; cooked down into a sauce in the very same pan, awash in a mix of chicken drippings, pancetta fat, and olive oil. All of these flavors season the chicken as it bakes. As a final touch, chunks of fresh mozzarella are melted on top, dissolving into milky
Warm, well spiced, just creamy enough, ready in an hour, and wholesome. Dinner is served
~ Adapted from Dinner by Melissa Clark
Skillet Chicken Swimming in Spicy Pizza Sauce
- 3 ½ lbs bone-in chicken thighs, or an assortment of chicken pieces
- 2 tsp fine grain sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 oz pancetta, diced (or bacon)
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped fine
- 1 Tbsp capers, drained
- ¼ tsp red chili flakes (more or less depending on your tolerance for heat)
- 1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes
- 3 ½ cups ripe tomatoes diced (or two 13.5 oz cans diced)
- 1 large sprig fresh basil + chopped basil leaves for serving
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella, torn into 1" cubes
- Pat the chicken dry and season with a pinch of fine grain sea salt and a grind of black pepper
- Over medium-high heat, add a glug of olive oil and give it a minute or so to heat up
- Add the pancetta
- Cook, stirring frequently until it's well browned and crisp (~ 3 minutes)
- Using a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate
- Add the chicken to the skillet and sear, turning the pieces only occasionally, until it's well browned on all sides (~ 10 minutes)
- Transfer them to a large plate
- Pour off all but 1 Tbsp of the oil in the skillet. Add the garlic, anchovies, capers, and chili flakes to the skillet; sauté for 1 minute.
- Stir in all the diced tomatoes, the basil sprig, and a pinch of fine grain sea salt, along with a grind or two of fresh black pepper
- Cook, breaking up the tomatoes with a spatula until the sauce has thickened somewhat (~ 10 minutes)
- While the sauce is cooking, heat the oven to 400° deg F
- On a baking sheet, add the cherry tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil
- Return the chicken to the skillet, transfer the skillet to the oven, and cook, uncovered until the chicken is no longer pink (~ 30 minutes)
- On a separate rack in the oven, add the cherry tomatoes
- Remove the cherry tomatoes from the oven and set aside
- Remove the skillet from the oven and scatter the mozzarella over the chicken.
- Turn on the broiler, place the skillet under the heat source, and broil until the cheese is bubbling (~ 1 to 3 minutes) ** Note: watch it carefully
- Garnish the chicken with the roasted tomatoes, browned pancetta, and basil before serving