More than any of the cream sauces or pastries or souffles, I love to cook French dishes with fish or chicken and hearty tomato sauces that include garlic and olive oil and olives. I like to think my French great grandmother’s bloodline has something to do with this – she and her family sailed from the south of France (Marseilles) when they immigrated to the southern United States so perhaps that region is where they came from, although I have no way of knowing. If so, my love for Provencal cooking comes honestly. My favorites to eat and to cook have many common ingredients – Bouillabaise, Cacciatore, and Chicken Provencal. This dish, called Chicken Marengo has an interesting legend about its origin. Chicken Marengo is not Italian, as the name implies, but very French as the story goes, it was hastily invented by the cook who accompanied Napoleon when he went to battle. Following the narrow victory at the battle of Marengo in Italy in 1800, Napoleon is said to have been famished and directed a meal to be prepared right away. His cook gathered what local ingredients he could come up with, making this dish with its chicken, tomatoes, herbs, and olives. Tradition includes the addition of a fried egg and some crawfish on top but I chose to omit those!
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- Salt and pepper for chicken
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 small shallots, diced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
- 2 cups baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried French thyme
- 1/3 cup kalamata olives
- 1/3 cup green olives
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat , then sauté chicken, smooth sides down, until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn over and sauté 1 minute more. Scatter mushrooms around chicken and cook, until chicken is just cooked through, 10-15 minutes.
- Transfer chicken to a plate, then add shallots, garlic, and thyme to skillet and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and simmer, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, and water and simmer until mushrooms are tender and sauce is reduced by half, about 4 minutes.
- Return chicken to skillet, add olives, and simmer, spooning sauce over until chicken is heated through Serve with rice.