i love the flavors of italy, and find that i'm most open to exploring dishes from that country than from any other. i think the reason is that italians don't seem to be rigid with their culinary traditions...they are open to exploration, and i find that encouraging.
this is a dish i've had several times in various restaurants over the years. i've seen countless recipes for it here and there, and have even cooked several of them. however, my take is simple and light, which is what i love about cooking with lemon and basil. i hope you enjoy it as much as i do!
ingredients for the risotto:
1.5 cups arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
ingredients for the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup panko bread crumbs
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
a meat pounder
in a small pot heat the chicken stock and the saffron over low heat. you just need to keep it warm throughout the cooking process.
in a large pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat (it's better if this is lower than you think it should be...so if you are unsure, turn the heat down) add the onion and some salt and sweat the onions until they are glassy. add the rice and stir until it smells nutty, then add the wine. stir until the liquid is incorporated, and then add 1/2 cup of the stock. stir and let the liquid plump the rice. continue adding the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, until all but 1/2 cup is incorporated. (be sure to stir the rice regularly, and don't let it get too dry...the more you stir it, the more the starches will break down, which is what makes that beautifully creamy sauce.) once there is 1/2 cup of stock remaining, add in the cheese, stir, and then the last 1/2 cup of the stock. turn off the heat and let the residual heat help the rice absorb the remaining stock.
while the risotto is cooking...
trim the chicken breasts of any fat and tendons, and then using a sharp knife, slice them in half lengthwise so that you have two very thin chicken pieces. place one piece between two sheets of plastic wrap, and then pound with the meat pounder until it is very thin. remove, sprinkle with salt and pepper and then set aside. repeat with the remaining three pieces of chicken.
in a small shallow bowl mix the panko, lemon zest, basil, parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper together until well-blended. break the egg into another shallow bowl and whisk well. dredge the chicken first in the egg, then in the panko mixture. make sure that each piece of chicken gets an equal amount of the lemon zest and the basil.
heat olive oil (about 2 tablespoons to start) in a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. place two of the chicken pieces into the pan and cook until lightly browned on the first side, then flip and cook until browned on the second side (because of how thin they are, they will likely not need more than 4 minutes a side...but test their doneness by seeing how they bounce back when you poke them). repeat with the remaining two chicken pieces.
serve over the risotto, and sprinkle with more basil and cheese to taste. enjoy!
this dish is my take on a classic...there are ingredients here that aren't commonly used (or at least weren't until recently) in italy...like panko. but i find that making things the way i think they taste best means i'm always happy with my food, and i'm sure you will be too. the chicken is simple and clean. the risotto is steeped with the exotic flavors (and colors) that saffron imparts...they would be good separate, but are excellent together.