INDIAN SUMMER DINNER
Traveling on the road always brings me several pangs of guilt. The ideas of being an absent husband, an absent father, a bloated, gluttonous hotel room lout after too many days of self medicating with restaurant meals and an overly free hand with the mini-bar scotch… They all come together in a sort of dull toxic swirl that feels like selfish homesickness mixed with Jim Morrison in the bathtub before he died, but even more like a week of gas.
Happily, I’ve been home a lot more recently and even had time away from the office and with family. Which made this latest trip short, and for the most part, extremely tolerable. Still, the idea of leaving after such a nice productive period of avoiding work altogether was a bit daunting. Knowing that I was going to spend several days eating airport chicken tenders that taste a little of bird but mostly like depression, I wanted something that tasted like my house. In this case, it’s the sort of clumsily named but oft requested Summer Dinner.
My wife calls it summer dinner because we eat it in the summer (shocking stretch of logic, I know) when the heat makes you not want to eat like a complete hog or even turn on the oven, less you further scorch the air in your house. But also because tomatoes are at their peak right when you want it. And great garden tomatoes make everything better. Basically, summer dinner is my own sort of crude chicken Milanese—a pounded, breaded cutlet topped with a vinegary salad of greens, tomatoes and some Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s simple. It’s quick. But more importantly, it’s extraordinarily satisfying in a way that quick meals seem to have a corner on when they’re done well and you’re craving them.
So, upon her request we ate Summer Dinner in early Fall. My tomatoes are long gone, but my wife was there, and my little girl, and even my parents. It was a meal of deep fulfillment, and not strictly in a caloric sense.
This is something I started making when I worked at an Italian joint and the two brothers who owned it would eat this constantly, but usually with veal. After hours and hours on their feet creating, smelling and tasting the braises, pastas, antipastos, sauces and small, light pizzas that were arguably the best Italian food in the state, all they really wanted was a little fried meat salad. There’s something to be said for that.
2 boneless, skinless pieces of chicken pounded to about ¼ inch thick (thighs are my favorite but you may need a couple extra depending on how big they are)
A stale baguette worth of breadcrumbs
About a pound of greens or arugula
1 diced shallot
Put the diced shallot in as much vinegar as you want to dress the salad and set aside. Slice your tomatoes in half and salt them. Season the cutlets with salt, pepper and thyme then dredge in the flour, egg and breadcrumbs till they’re adequately breaded. Heat a good ¼ inch of olive oil in two frying pans and fry the breaded chicken cutlets till they’re dark brown, crispy and cooked through. While you’re frying them, dress the greens with olive oil, salt, pepper and the shallot vinegar. Put the chicken on a plate, top it with the greens, tomatoes and shave several pieces of parmigiano over the top. Pine nuts are also a good addition. Eat.