2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts or chicken “tenders” (see note)
3 small or 2 medium zucchini (1 pound, or slightly more)
1 cup flour, or more, for dredging
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
For the Sauce:
3 tablespoons soft butter
1 cup Summer Tomato Sauce
1/4 teaspoon peperoncino
1 cup white wine
12 small fresh mint leaves or 1 tablespoon large mint leaves, shredded
3/4 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 cup hot vegetable broth or stock, if needed
Preparing the Chicken and Zucchini:
Place a rack in the center or upper third of the oven and preheat to 425°.
If the chicken breasts are whole, cut them in half. Trim off any bits of fat, skin or tendon. Flatten each breast half with a mallet (or the flat bottom of a heavy pan) to an even thickness, about 3/4-inch.
Trim the stem and blossom ends of the zucchini and wash well. Slice across the squash on a sharp angle, creating long ovals, 1/4-inch thick. You should have about 20 pieces at least 3-inches long, and a few shorter pieces from the ends.
Put 3 tablespoons of the olive oil into the skillet, tilt to coat the bottom and set it over medium heat
Toss about half the zucchini pieces in flour to coat well, pat off any excess, and lay them into the pan. Keep the heat moderate and let the pieces caramelize slowly for about 4 minutes. Turn when the edges are nicely browned on the underside; fry for about 2 minutes on the second side. With a slotted spatula, lift the pieces to a plate or tray (no paper towels are needed here) and salt lightly. Fry the remaining zucchini ovals in the same way and salt them. While frying, monitor the heat, keeping it high enough to brown the zucchini but not let it burn
When the zucchini are done, turn off the heat but leave all the oil in the skillet.
Starting on the Stovetop:
- Have all of your grattinata and sauce ingredients handy to the stove.
You sould have at least 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet (add a bit if needed). Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and set the pan over low-medium heat.
Salt the chicken pieces lightly, flop them in the dredging flour to coat on both sides, and pat off excess. When the butter is just beginning to sizzle, arrange all six cutlets in the pan. Cook them gently for a minute and a half, then turn them over: they should be very lightly colored, with no browning.
- Maintain the gentle cooking while you assemble the grattinata.
• Sprinkle the chicken again with salt (using 1/2 teaspoon total for the dish).
• Spread a heaping tablespoon of tomato sauce on top of each cutlet.
• Arrange the zucchini slices on top of the sauced chicken, overlapping the ovals so each portion is neatly covered. Use all the zucchini.
- Now raise the heat a bit and begin to develop the sauce.
• Sprinkle the peperoncino onto an open “hot spot” where it will sizzle and toast briefly.
• Drop the remaining butter, in small pieces, in between the layered cutlets.
• After a few seconds, pour in 2/3 cup of the wine around the cutlets and let it heat briefly, 10 to 20 seconds.
• Spoon the rest of the cup of tomato sauce into the pan (not on the chicken).
• Bring to a simmer, then drop the mint into the sauce all around the pan.
• Give the pan a gentle shake, or two, to mix and emulsify the sauce ingredients.
• Finally, sprinkle two tablespoons of grated cheese evenly over each zucchini-topped mound.
At this point, the sauce should be about 1/3-inch deep in your pan or even higher, coming well up the sides of the chicken cutlets. If not, pour in the rest of the wine and as much hot vegetable broth or stock as necessary. Raise the heat again to bring the pan sauce to an active simmer.
Finishing in the Oven:
When the sauce is simmering, place the skillet in the oven.
Bake for about 10 minutes—and have thick pot holders or dry towels in hand before you touch the handle or the skillet!—then open the oven and check the pan.
Right on the rack, give the skillet another gentle shake. There should still be plenty of sauce and the cheese should be lightly colored. If the sauce appears syrupy, or close to evaporating, add more herb water, stock, tomato sauce or wine to raise the level.
Bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked and tender and the grattinata top is deeply and evenly browned. If the cheese layer still appears too light, raise the heat in the oven as high as possible (turn on the broiler if it is top-mounted) and bake briefly until it is as dark and crispy as you like.
CAREFULLY remove the skillet from the oven, handling it with plenty of thick cloths. I carry it right to the dining table where it makes a beautiful presentation. While on the table, leave the cloths covering the hot handle. With a large, angled spatula, lift one portion of chicken and zucchini grattinata onto a dinner plate, then spoon over some of the sauce.