Whenever I wanted to eat righteously and fill my body with goodness but still feel like I was getting comfort food I would go to Desiderio Preso per la Coda (Vicolo della Palomba, 23). It’s the cutest little restaurant in the centre of Rome but hidden in an alleyway with about three candlelit tables in the street. They do this oven-baked fish covered in zucchini with a hint of chilli on a bed of potato puree (or with a side of vegetables when I’m really feeling disciplined). I haven’t been for a while because after speaking with the chef and working out how to do this at home it’s become my go-to meal when I’ve come back from a run and need something fast and simple. Instead of fish I use chicken because I find it’s a great way to keep the breast moist in the oven and then I added cheese to the zucchini mixture to make it saltier and give it a golden crunchier texture on top.
- 450g potatoes
- 3 courgettes grated
- 2 chicken breasts
- 3/4 cup Pecorino finely grated
- chilli flakes
- 2 tablespoons butter
How to Make it All Come Together to Become a Plate of Nutritious Heaven
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Put a pot of salted water on to boil. Peel and roughly chop potatoes into small cubes.
Grate courgettes and drain out excess liquid through a sieve. Moist courgettes will result in a crust that is soggy instead of crisp and golden so you can also spread out the grated and drained courgettes between two sheets of paper towel to be assured of a delicious crunchy topping. TRUST ME, this step is important so don’t be all blase about the excess liquid. I don’t insist on much, I don’t even measure quantities when I’m baking, but this is the difference between a result you Instagram from every angle like it were your first born and a sad hunk of chicken in a zucchini juice bath that you reticently pick at while standing up in the kitchen as your partner dials for a pizza.
Pound each chicken breast quite firmly with a mallet (or even a rolling pin if you don’t own a mallet… or even a can of tomatoes if you don’t own a rolling pin) to tenderize the meat and make it an even thickness all over to ensure balanced cooking with no worries about cutting into raw chicken.
In a small bowl mix the grated courgettes with the finely grated Pecorino and chilli flakes. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Lay the chicken breasts down on an oven tray lined with grease proof paper. Season with a small pinch of salt. Spoon on the courgette mixture thickly but make sure it is quite compact and covers all the chicken as this will keep it moist in the oven. Place in hot oven for 15 minutes or until slightly crispy on top. (P.S. You can always turn the oven to grill in the last five minutes to get a super golden result if your topping isn’t looking so scrumptious you want to weep with pride.)
While the chicken is cooking get your potatoes in the pot of boiling water. Once they are soft and break apart easily when you stick a knife through, drain and quickly add the butter and get mashing to ensure the butter melts into the potatoes while they are still steamy. Season with salt and pepper. Put a lid on top to trap the heat until the exact moment you are ready to plate up. Again, don’t ignore me on this point. Nobody groans in gratitude over tepid mash. And you want that type of reaction after all your effort chopping and grating this evening.
Lay your courgette-covered chicken on a bed of creamy potato mash and finish with a squeeze of lemon on top.
Go make yourself a big rich torta al cioccolato because you feel so saintly having eating a protein and vegetable-rich dinner.