From the moment that I finished the first chapter of A Year in Provence several years ago, Peter Mayle became one of my favorite authors. His easy-to-read stories, mostly set in the south of France, comically detail the slow-paced, provincial lifestyles of the local French town-folk in a drastic contrast to those of the many tourists and vacation homeowners who have arrived from fast-paced cities and high-stress jobs.
When I finished reading A Year in Provence in what I assume was record time, I moved right on to Toujours Provence, Hotel Pastis, Encore Provence, Chasing Cezanne, and every last publication by Monsieur Mayle that I could find, courtesy of Amazon.com (and you know it has them all.) After breezing through his entire collection, I only have one grievance: he doesn't write quickly enough to keep up with my insatiable appetite for his books! Try as they may, and many do try, nobody writes books about living in Provence like Peter Mayle. So Pete, can I call you Pete? No? O.K. Mr. Mayle it is. Mr. Mayle, if you're reading this, and we all know that you are a closet Peanut Butter and Julie fan, please, please never stop writing.
In addition to the aforementioned comical aspect of his books and the eloquently described surroundings, I love Peter Mayle's books because they are filled with pages and pages discussing nothing but food. Good food. French food. I have never become so hungry reading as I have during the feast-related portions of his collection, which seem to occur on just about every other page. The French are know n for their culinary skill, and I really think that the author's talent for bringing the regional cuisine of Provence to life through his writing is partially responsible for my love of Provencal cuisine.
This simple, yet colorful and flavorful salad is a perfect representation of something that might be served at a Provencal summer lunch, the kind that lasts several glorious hours. Full of typical regional ingredients like basil, tomatoes, artichokes, and capers, which are mixed with warm chicken and a simple balsamic vinaigrette, this salad is light and healthy, but very satisfying. The flavors tend to improve the next day as the ingredients mingle, so make sure to prepare an extra big batch. Bon Appetit! Here are my extra tips for preparing this healthy Mediterranean-inspired meal:
- Instead of grilling the chicken, you can also roast it in a 400F degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or you can simply use about 6 cups of shredded rotisserie-style chicken.
- It is best to add the chicken to the rest of the salad while it is still warm, and I've found that this aids in absorption of the vinaigrette and other flavors.
- Feel free to use your creativity when building this salad. Kalamata or nicoise olives, feta or goat cheese, hearts of palm, and lightly toasted nuts would all make nice additions to this dish.
- This salad will keep, tightly covered and refrigerated, for 2-3 days. The vinaigrette will keep for up to 1 week, also covered and refrigerated.
- If you cannot find sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, simply rehydrate dried ones in a solution of hot water, and then toss them with some olive oil.
Provencal Grilled Chicken Salad
For the salad
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes, drained
3 ripe Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 cup drained canned artichoke hearts, quartered
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
For the vinaigrette
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 Roma tomato, diced
2 tablespoons minced red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, toss the chicken and the onion with the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken over medium-high heat until cooked through, about 7 minutes per side. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, grill the onion for about 4 minutes per side or until slightly charred but still crisp tender. Roughly chop the onion and place it in a large bowl. Slice the grilled chicken breasts on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Add the chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, tomatoes, artichokes, capers, and basil to the bowl and toss to mix.
Prepare the vinaigrette: Combine the vinegar, red pepper, tomato, onion, garlic, capers, and basil in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.
Add 1 cup of the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with extra fresh basil.