Basil Chicken Salad Tartines

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines | Image: Laura Messersmith

I first tasted a version of this salad when I was living in Cambridge and working near Beacon Hill. Occasionally we’d walk over to a café on Charles Street called Panificio for lunch where their Chicken Tarragon Salad quickly became my favorite menu item. The addition of the grapes; the chopped fresh herbs made it special and elegant – a daring flavor combination to my newly awakening palate.

Since ten dollar salads on the regular weren’t really in the budget at the time I began making tarragon chicken salad for myself at home and even relied on it to impress Mike the first time I cooked for him. I worked all morning carefully slicing the grapes, washing the greens and trying to make everything perfect. We wedged ourselves in at the black and white table – an old counter top from my grandparent’s farmhouse transformed by a thrifty uncle – and began a tradition of connecting over a meal.

It’s been an awesome 8 years since that lunch. Our current kitchen is different, but still tiny, the black and white table is still with us, and I’m still making our favorite chicken salad. This time with a small refresh using basil in place of the tarragon. Why mess too much with a good thing?

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines (serves 4)

Ingredients:
3 pounds (4 split) bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
Kosher salt
ground black pepper
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup seedless green grapes
4 slices multigrain bread
2 cups mixed baby greens or spinach

Instructions:
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and black pepper. Place the chicken skin side up on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40-50 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Set the roasted chicken aside to cool.

Meanwhile, finely chop the basil leaves and slice the grapes in half. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, carefully remove the meat from the bones and cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. Place the chicken in a medium mixing bowl; add the mayonnaise, basil and grapes. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir to evenly combine.

Toast the slices of bread and top with the greens and the basil chicken salad. Serve immediately.

Adapted and re-written from Ina Garten’s Chicken Salad Veronique inspired by Panificio's Tarragon Chicken Salad.

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Since day one. I used a rimmed baking sheet, medium mixing bowl, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, measuring spoons, and a rubber spatula.

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines | Image: Laura Messersmith

The Goldmine, A Breakfast Sandwich

The Goldmine Breakfast Sandwich  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

The Goldmine Breakfast Sandwich | Image: Laura Messersmith

A few weeks ago Mike and I took the train north to Boston to celebrate his fifth business school reunion with a group of our dearest friends. It had been a few years since we were last there with time to wander and revisit some of our favorite places. Number One on Mike’s list: a trip to Mike & Patty’s.

He and several friends had breakfast there in the final days of their last semester and the memory of that tiny shop and delicious sandwiches lived on in legend ever since. I missed that inaugural meal and to be honest, I’ve always been a bit skeptical. The guys might be exaggerating, after all. How good could it really be?

Mike & Patty’s is in Bay Village, a pocket of Boston that manages to be in the middle of Back Bay, the South End, and Chinatown, but still feel like it’s off the beaten path. Cobblestone streets, old-fashioned lanterns, and the hope of discovering amazing food at the end of your journey just heighten the sense of a hidden gem. After one bite of my chosen sandwich - The Goldmine - I was convinced the early morning trek was well worth it.

On the surface The Goldmine is just a bacon, egg, and cheese made fancy, but dip below that run of the mill designation and it becomes clear that this sandwich is so much more. First of all, I assumed that the honey – a strange, but genius addition – was the gold in this mine, but actually it’s the fried egg (or egg over easy as you prefer) whose yolk permeates all the corners of this delicious sandwich.

The Goldmine inspires tales of food treasures, hunched-over eating, and plate mopping. Simple pleasures and well worth your efforts to make at home.

The Goldmine Breakfast Sandwich   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

The Goldmine Breakfast Sandwich | Image: Laura Messersmith

The Goldmine (serves: 4)

Ingredients:
4 large eggs
2/3 cup whole milk ricotta, bought or homemade
2 ounces (4 slices) prosciutto
4 tablespoons golden honey
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 loaf challah, brioche, or sourdough bread

Instructions:
Pre-heat the large sauté pan over medium heat and crisp the slices of prosciutto, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the medium sauté pan over medium-low heat spread a thin layer of butter over each slice of bread. Toast the bread in the medium pan until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side, in batches.

Remove the crisped prosciutto from the larger pan and set aside. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter to the warm pan and melt. Once the bread is toasted, spread half of the pieces with 1-2 tablespoons of the whole milk ricotta on one side. Add a slice of crisped prosciutto, and drizzle with 2-3 teaspoons of honey. Reserve the sandwich tops until the eggs are cooked.

Crack the eggs one at a time into a small liquid measuring cup or bowl taking care not to break the yolk. Gently pour each egg into the large sauté pan allowing the white to just begin setting before adding the next egg. Once all the eggs are in the pan, cover with a lid (preferably glass, so you can monitor the situation) and cook over medium heat for another 2-3 minutes watching for an opaque white, but a soft, runny yolk.

Top each sandwich with a fried egg, sprinkle with kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste. Add the second piece of bread and serve immediately!

Need more advice on frying an egg? The Kitchn and Food Network have step by step instructions to get just the cook you're looking for.

Adapted from Mike and Patty’s The Goldmine breakfast sandwich.

The Goldmine Breakfast Sandwich   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

The Goldmine Breakfast Sandwich | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, indeed! I used one large non-stick sauté pan with a cover, one medium non-stick sauté pan, a medium cutting board, bread knife, a liquid measuring cup, rubber spatula, dinner fork, butter knife, and teaspoon. That’s all!

The Verdict:
I’m obsessed with The Goldmine. Each component is relatively mild on it’s own, but together they balance each other beautifully. Creamy ricotta, crispy prosciutto, sweet sticky honey all tucked under a blanket of egg-y goodness. Sigh. It's also a great choose-your-own-adventure dish. Like lots of prosciutto? Add an extra slice. Want it a little gooier? Let the honey drizzle a little longer over the ricotta. My last piece of advice: please make this on a lazy weekend morning when a second cup of coffee and a nap are all that’s on the docket. You’ll thank me.

The Goldmine Breakfast Sandwich   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

The Goldmine Breakfast Sandwich | Image: Laura Messersmith

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine | Image: Laura Messersmith

A few years ago when Mike and I were back in Boston I tried a French bistro classic for the first time. We had the afternoon to ourselves while we waited for our friends to finish their work days and decided a leisurely lunch at Aquitaine in the South End was the best way to pass the time. That lunch stands out in my memory for the relaxed pace of the day and the deliciousness of the food – beautifully smooth tomato bisque, a bright vinegary salad, and the star: a crisp, buttery Croque Monsieur. 

Since then I’ve ordered the CM on other occasions and discovered - somewhat to my disappointment - that what I believed to be the ‘traditional’ style was actually Aquitaine’s own method. Research on the semi-reliable internet tells me that Aquitaine dips their CMs in a little egg and then cooks the sandwiches underneath a hot brick for an crisp exterior and a slightly flattened sandwich. Instead of cheese melted over the top; all the delicious Gruyere and its accompanying ham are contained in the crunchy bread for something more akin to a panini by way of a Monte Cristo sandwich. Photo evidence here.

After some experimenting (blame my need for a really good, crunchy bread for the lateness of this post) I give you my tribute to the flavors and textures I remember from that afternoon when I learned that grilled cheese could be grown-up and elegant.

I love serving this toasty sandwich with an extra schmere of whole grain mustard and a bunch of cool green grapes or a small pile of salad dressed with the same vinaigrette that goes in the spread. Maybe a glass of sauvignon blanc? Instant bistro. 

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine | Image: Laura Messersmith

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine (serves 4)

4 teaspoons whole grain mustard, like Maille Old Style
4 teaspoons creamy vinaigrette (see recipe below)
1/2 pound gruyere cheese, finely grated
4 thin slices Virginia ham
8 slices country bread, about 1/3" thick
4 tablespoons softened butter

In a small bowl, stir together the whole grain mustard and the creamy vinaigrette (recipe below) until well mixed. Spread one side the bread with a thin layer (about 1/2 teaspoon) of the mustard mixture and the other side with a thin layer of the softened butter.

Arrange the bread on a plate, buttered sides down. Divide half the grated gruyere among four slices of bread and top the cheese with a piece of Virginia ham. Sprinkle the other half of the gruyere over the ham - again, dividing equally among the sandwiches - and top with the remaining slices of bread, mustard-side in.

Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Press the sandwiches down gently to keep the halves together and place in the hot skillet.

Cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Resist the urge to crowd the pan. Repeat the procedure with remaining sandwiches keeping the first batch warm in a 200 degree oven.

Cut in half with a serrated knife and serve hot.

Creamy Vinaigrette (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
Pinch sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg yolk
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions:

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade combine the vinegars, sugar, salt, pepper, and egg yolk and blend for 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube until the vinaigrette is thickened. Season, to taste. The dressing will last in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, so wash out an old jam jar and save it!

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?

Oui. I used a 4 cup food processor, 10” cast iron skillet, microplane grater, liquid measuring cup and measuring spoons, and a small bowl along with a medium sized cutting board and serrated knife. A metal spatula will make life easy for turning and pressing the sandwiches.

The Verdict

The extra effort to get the bread crunchy and toasted was so worth it. The gruyere is nutty and rich, while the ham adds a little bulk and saltiness – add in the tang of the vinaigrette & mustard mix and you’re in business. This is definitely a “grilled cheese” that I’d serve to guests for a casual lunch and it’s perfect a day when Mike and I need a little spoiling and only fancy sandwiches will do.

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Croque Monsieur a la Aquitaine | Image: Laura Messersmith