When my husband and I escaped to Napa Valley one weekend in December one of the more memorable dishes, surprisingly, was a wood oven roasted chicken served with cannellini beans. How boring, you might say, and I would tend to agree. I always consider the obligatory chicken dish on most menus the last resort, when nothing else looks appetizing. Chicken is a little harder to get wrong compared to steak, pork and seafood, in my opinion, so it’s a safe choice. More often I will order whatever pasta dish is on the menu because yes, chicken from a restaurant can be very boring.
But this was not the case at Tra Vigne. In fact, we were told that their chicken is a staff and customer favorite and I understood why after stealing a bite from my husband’s plate (I ordered a squid ink pasta with three types of tuna that was out of this world fabulous, another customer favorite). The chicken meat was juicy and the skin crisp and flavorful. If I remember correctly, I think the half chicken is weighted with a brick while roasting in the oven to achieve that moist meat/crispy skin combination. I don’t remember if the beans were cooked in the pan with the chicken but the memory of enjoying that simple dish hasn’t left my mind since.
This was my attempt at repeating that experience at home. I roasted chicken breasts in a cast iron skillet then deglazed the pan with wine and cooked the beans and spinach in stock. Similar French recipes typically start and/or finish the dish with butter but this version didn’t need it at all. It was extremely flavorful even with the meager pan drippings from using two lean pieces of meat and using canned cannellini beans provided the creamy, buttery texture after simmering with the spinach for a few minutes. I couldn’t believe how well this turned out after I tasted it. It’s the kind of chicken dish I always hope to get at a restaurant but hardly ever do (except for Tra Vigne) and this is even better because now I can enjoy it at home. Meeting all my criteria for an A+ meal–healthy, easy, tasty–I will be making this again and again.
- 2 chicken breast halves, boneless with skin on (mine were about ¾ lb each; try to use organic chicken for optimum flavor)
- 1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained (I used cannellini)
- 2 cups spinach, loosely packed
- ¼ cup white wine
- ¼ - ½ cup chicken stock
- fresh lemon juice, to taste
- 3 fresh sage leaves (optional)
- olive oil for brushing chicken
- salt and pepper, to taste
- lemon slices for cooking (optional) and for serving
- Preheat your oven to 375°F. In the meantime, brush the chicken pieces with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the oiled and seasoned chicken pieces in a cast iron skillet or other oven-safe pan. I placed mine on top of a few lemon slices and threw in some sage leaves to add a little flavor but you can omit this step.
- Roast the chicken breasts for 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces (for crispier skin, I broiled the breasts for just a minute or two until they were golden).
- When the breasts are cooked, remove them from the pan and set them aside. Remove the lemon slices, too, if you used them and place the pan on the stove top. With the heat turn up to high, add the wine to loosen any bits that have stuck to the pan. Cook until the wine is almost completely gone, about two minutes.
- Add the stock, white beans and spinach to the pan. Cover and cook until beans are hot and the spinach wilted, about two minutes. Squeeze a little lemon juice and sprinkle a little salt and pepper, to taste. Add back to the pan any chicken juices that collected on the plate.
- Divide the bean and spinach mixture between two plates and top each with a chicken breast. Serve with more lemon slices.