I’m lucky to have friends with second/vacation homes and I’m always thrilled when they invite me to visit. It’s great to bask in the sun by the water or walk the trails, hang out on the patio, check out the lovely local shops and count the stars at night. And with any luck, I will receive the most coveted invitation of all: my friends will offer me to cook.
Cooking for a crowd – or anyone, for that matter – is something I never tire of. I live alone, and not only do too few of my friends live in my neighborhood, but many consider my house in upper Manhattan to be too big to dine in regularly. So I don’t cook for others as often as I would like.
It feeds my fantasy of having a well-equipped kitchen in a rambling country house that is regularly overflowing with visitors. When they arrive, I will always have a simple and elegant lunch waiting for them. Breakfasts may very well include pancakes. And dinners can be many things, but will likely involve a trip to the farmers market to find what’s good.
I also have an alternate fantasy of living in a midtown Manhattan townhouse (or at the very least, a classic six) with a cook’s kitchen and possibly an outdoor room where I host frequent parties and a lounge weekly. The guests are eager to accept my invitation, and no one is complaining about the subway ride or suggesting we meet downtown instead.
With the fulfillment of either fantasy still a long way off, a guest chef gig at a friend’s house and the occasional entertainment at my house will do. My friend Jessie’s recent weekend visit provided such an opportunity. I knew that since she was visiting, she would want to eat out (New York = restaurants), but since we had busy schedules, having lunch at my place would save time on the day she arrived.
I decided to serve a couscous salad with lemon-soaked grilled chicken from “Raising the Salad Bar” by Catherine Walthers, published by Lake Isle Press. It met my easy and elegant quotient, and also felt a bit special, not something she would eat every day.
I marinated the chicken the night before and the salad was easy to make the next day. I replaced the Israeli couscous with Fregola, put the chicken breast halves under the broiler to grill, and timed everything so that the mixed salad was cooled and ready to eat by the time Jessie arrived. It is also an easy preparation in advance; refrigerated leftovers brought to room temperature were just as good as when the salad was freshly made.
I never cared much about food, cooking, or entertainment as a kid, but over the years they have crept up on me and have now become some of my greatest pleasures. A busy parent with small mouths to feed daily might suggest that it’s precisely because I don’t have to do it every day, and can more or less choose when and what I cook, that it brings a such joy. That may be true, but whatever the reason, if you want to please me, come over to my house for dinner.
Click here for the printable recipe.
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise 2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Juice of 3 lemons, zest reserved
1 pound of Italian couscous (Fregola Sarda)
5 cups of chicken broth
½ cup minced Vidalia onion
8 ounces baby spinach, washed and dried 6 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Juice of 2 or 3 lemons Pepper
½ cup grated Asiago or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Chopped shallots for garnish
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1. In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the garlic, salt, pepper and parsley, then squeeze the juice from the lemons all over. Add the reserved rinds, mix with the chicken mixture and let marinate for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade and lemon zest.
2. Preheat an outdoor grill to high heat. Grill the chicken breasts over high heat, with the grill lid open, for about 7-9 minutes on one side. Do not move the chicken for at least 5 minutes, this allows the sugars to crystallize and form a nice brown crust. Flip the chicken and cook for another 5 minutes or until cooked through, 160° on an instant-read thermometer.
3. Cook couscous in chicken broth according to package directions. When al dente or just firm to the bite, remove the couscous from the heat and drain, leaving some of the starchy broth in the pan. Immediately add the onions and mix; then add the spinach and mix, and finally, add the oil. Keep stirring the pasta to help it cool faster and stop the cooking.
4. When the couscous is cold, add the garlic, parsley, juice of 2 lemons and pepper. Test the flavor and add salt to taste, add extra lemon juice if needed. Transfer the salad to a serving platter and top with a sprinkle of grated cheese; garnish with green onions.
5. Serve on or alongside grilled lemon-soaked chicken and garnish with thin slices of lemon.
ITALIAN COUSCOUS is a large grilled couscous the size of tapioca pearls made with durum wheat semolina. It is available in some supermarkets or from specialist importers as well as some online sources. You can substitute Israeli or Middle Eastern couscous, the larger but not toasted.
Recipe from “Raising the Salad Bar” by Catherine Walthers, Lake Isle Press, 2006
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on May 19, 2022.