One of my all-time favorite dishes illustrates how, using the right combination of ingredients, simple dishes can be outstanding. It is a dish I discovered while traveling in Italy and it is made using just four ingredients.

The dish, in essence, is lean beef seared on a grill and topped with fresh arugula. The meat is pounded so thin that a four-ounce serving will cover an entire dinner plate. The accompanying arugula is dressed with just enough olive oil and lemon juice to make the greens glisten. Italians heap this salad on so generously that it hides most of the meat under its tangled mound.

The combination of flavors in this dish and the contrast of cool salad over sizzling meat make a perfect pairing. In France, meat pounded until thin and grilled this way is called a paillard. The French prefer using veal, while I make this dish with a chicken cutlet. Pounding it vigorously to a uniform thickness assures that it cooks evenly. A touch of cooking spray or a light brushing of oil over the cutlet prevents it from sticking to the grill or drying out.

For the salad, French cooks pile on mesclun, a colorful mixture of baby greens. I prefer using arugula, which Europeans call rucola, roquette or rockette. Like broccoli, it contains indoles - phytochemical compounds which, according to some laboratory research, may play a role in fighting cancer.

Many stores carry baby arugula. If it's not available at your market, regular arugula torn into bite-size pieces is equally delicious. Chill the greens, use the best olive oil possible and serve it promptly, as arugula wilts quickly. This minimalist dish will delight with its simple yet bold flavors.

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Grilled Chicken with Arugula and Lemon Vinaigrette

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Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 4 packed cups baby arugula leaves
  • 2 packed cups baby spinach leaves
  • 6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut into 4 pieces
  • Cooking spray, preferably olive oil

Directions

  1. Heat grill to medium-high heat. If using a ridged grill pan indoors, set over high heat until very hot.
  2. In large mixing bowl, combine arugula and spinach. Cover and refrigerate.
  3. In small bowl, whisk lemon juice and salt until salt dissolves. Add ground pepper and whisk in oil until combined. Set dressing aside.
  4. One at a time, place each piece of chicken breast between two pieces of wax paper. Using the flat side of a meat mallet (or bottom of a small, heavy skillet), pound chicken until evenly 1/8-inch thick. If chicken pieces are thick, turning over several times may be necessary. Coat chicken lightly on both sides with cooking spray. If desired, season lightly with salt and pepper.
  5. Grill chicken until white in center, turning it once, about 3 minutes each side.
  6. While chicken grills, pour dressing over greens. Using tongs, turn until well coated. To serve, place one piece chicken on each of 4 dinner plates. Mound 1/4 of salad on top of each.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
170 calories
5 g total fat
1 g saturated fat
4 g carbohydrate
27 g protein
1 g dietary fiber
390 mg sodium