It’s June, believe it or not, and even here in the Great Northwet, things are starting to warm up. This means that greens are starting to appear in our garden – lettuces and spinach among ‘em. Blessed with a big ass harvest of the latter, M asked, ‘what can we do with spinach other than salad and Greek?’ That’s when chicken Florentine popped into my head.
Funny thing about this dish – while it shows up at Olive Garden and plenty of other faux Italian joints, chicken Florentine is neither Italian in general nor from Florence specifically. Like General Tso’s, it’s a dish likely invented in America, meant to look ethnic and mysterious. Fact is, you won’t find it in Italy – it’d be shunned like pineapple on pizza.
This doesn’t mean it’s not a great dish, because it certainly can be – and it is a wonderful use of fresh spinach. What it does mean is that most of the so-called rules can frankly be ignored. You don’t need cremini mushrooms or some specific pasta shape for your version to by ‘authentic’, because there ain’t no authentic – whatever you like is just fine.
I’ve got no idea where spinach came into the mix as ‘Florentine’ by the way. It’s not really a signature of anything in particular, but it is tasty. There certainly are Italian creamed spinach dishes, and the French version of spinach au gratin comes to mind as well, but that’s about as far as I get – no matter – it all eats.
Chicken Florentine is fundamentally an Alfredo derivative if anything, so maybe somebody harkened back to Catherine de’ Medici and her imported French chefs as the inspiration for the naming of this dish. The Italians call the sauce besciamella, aka bechamel – your basic cream sauce, or alfredo if you like – they’re fundamentally the same thing.
That said, what a great chicken Florentine needs is a well made sauce, and that means a solid aromatic and stock base. The technique you employ, as well as the ingredients, will yield a great dish. Great Florentine should be a stock-based sauce with a little cream, not a cream only or cream heavy thing.
Here’s my swing at it, and I’ll tell ya, it was stellar – you can ask M and Casey if you don’t believe me…
Urban’s Chicken Florentine
Will feed 3 to 4 with leftovers likely
1 1/2 to 2 pounds Chicken Thighs (skinned, boned preferred)
1 Pound Dry Pasta of your choice
2 Cups Stock (Chicken or Veggie)
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 large Yellow Onion
1/2 Red Bell Pepper
1 small Roma Tomato
1/2 small lemon
6-8 cloves fresh Garlic
3-4 packed Cups fresh Spinach
1/4 Cup Parmigiano Cheese
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Turkish Oregano
1 teaspoon Crushed Sage
1 Turkish Bay Leaf
6-8 twists black Pepper
3 finger pinch Salt
If needed, skin and debone chicken, then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
Peel, trim and dice onion, pepper, and tomato.
Peel, trim and mince garlic.
Fine grate cheese.
In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, add oil and heat through.
Add chicken and flour to a large mixing bowl and coat chicken evenly.
Add floured chicken to the hot skillet, and sauté on one side until a golden brown crust forms, about 4-6 minutes.
Flip pieces once and cook other side as you did the first, about 3-5 minutes.
Carefully remove chicken to a plate.
Add butter to the skillet and allow to melt.
Add onion and bell pepper to the skillet and sauté until the onions are semi-translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
Add garlic and tomato, and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 2-3 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with a cup of chicken stock, scraping all the naughty bits from the pan bottom.
Add the second cup of stock, and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon.
Reduce heat to a bare simmer, add bay leaf, and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes.
Bring a stock pot with well salted water to a boil over high heat, and set a colander in your sink.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente, about 5-7 minutes depending on what you use.
Drain pasta into colander, then return it to the stock pot and cover, unheated.
Add chicken, parmigiano, and cream to the simmering stock and stir well to incorporate.
Add oregano and sage, pepper and pinch of salt to the sauce and stir well.
Simmer sauce for about 10 minutes, until it thickens slightly and coats a spoon.
Toss in the spinach and stir to incorporate well.
Lay a bed of pasta in a shallow bowl, add a piece of chicken or two, and a generous portion of sauce.
Devour and make yum yum noises.