Now you and I know that there might not actually have been something called Basil-Bacon Salsa, but there is now. It could be mis-named, but it seems to work for gilding the lily of this tender, crisp, juicy simple grilled chicken. I occasionally do a sort of Italian salsa (generally called Raw Tomato Sauce) with just tomatoes, basil, and garlic or onion for a quick topping of meat, grilled bread, or pasta; this time I had bacon cooked and thought, “Why not?” Chicken and bacon are certainly compatible–and now “Basil-Bacon Salsa” is a thing around here.
Just because it’s nearly the time of year when I’m overloaded with zucchini, I thought I’d throw together a trial of quick grilled zucchini salad with mint from my garden along with both lemon zest and juice. The gentle flow of the salad is the exact accompaniment needed to balance the stronger flavors of the chicken dish and will keep you in a what doesn’t appear to be, but IS healthy mode for a Fourth of July cook-out or any al fresco summer meal. I served this with some whole wheat crostini (oiled, salted and peppered grilled baguette), which in all its crunchiness was a fine foil for both the chicken and zucchini. It also balanced the meal. Depending on who’s doing the cooking, you might make the zucchini salad first and put it onto its serving platter or bowl while the chicken cooks, finishing it off just before serving at any temperature. (I like it at room temperature.)
Lately we’ve had some crazy weather….
…and if such a calamity occurs in your backyard, you can grill all of this indoors…
as did I. My kitchen boasts several indoor grills; the one above is a double cast-iron made by Lodge and fits over two of my gas burners. Cooking on a glass top stove? I did have to grill the zucchini in batches, but it cooks quickly. Of course, if need be, you can either sauté both the chicken and the zucchini if you lack a grill. (Roasting in the oven? Sure thing. Roast the oiled and salted and peppered chicken 20 minutes at 425 degrees F and the prepped zucchini at the same temperature for a little less than half that time.) The meal will work perfectly well whichever way you choose to cook it. Try this:
GRILLED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH BASIL-BACON SALSA
You’ll need 2 pieces of crispy, crumbled bacon for the salsa. It might be easiest to begin with that as this dish cooks fairly quickly and you need to make the salsa while the chicken grills.
- 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs–about 1 1/3 pounds, fat pockets removed
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- Aleppo pepper or Piment d’Espelette (Can sub crushed red pepper–use less)
- 1 large tomato, chopped and drained on paper towels
- 6 large basil leaves, minced plus a sprig of basil for garnish
- 1-2 green onions, minced — reserve a bit of the greens for garnish
- 1/4 jalapeño, seeded and deveined, minced–OPTIONAL
- 2 strips bacon, cooked to a crisp and crumbled
GRILL THE CHICKEN–15 minutes: Prepare/pre-heat grill–medium-high heat 4-5 minutes. In a large, deep bowl, toss thighs with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, and a good pinch of Aleppo pepper until well-coated. Grill 5-6 minutes on one side until dark brown grill marks appear. (Meanwhile, make the salsa; see below.) Turn chicken over and grill other side for approximately 5 more minutes or until thighs are pinkish-brown, have shrunk and are plump, and/or register 165 degrees F on a instant-read thermometer. (It’s difficult to take the temperature of chicken thighs, as their thickness varies. You might just need to take one off and slice into the middle a bit to check for doneness. Luckily they are forgiving and stay fairly moist.)
MAKE SALSA WHILE CHICKEN COOKS–5 minutes: In a small bowl, gently stir together tomatoes, basil, green onions, jalapeño (if using), and cooked, crumbled bacon. Add a small pinch each salt and pepper.
TO SERVE–2 minutes: Lay the the cooked thighs on a platter, overlapping a bit, and spoon the salsa down the middle of the chicken pieces. Let the chicken rest a minute or so. Give the entire dish one last light sprinkling of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Garnish with the reserved chopped green onions and fresh basil. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers promptly, well wrapped, for no more than 3 days.
GRILLED ZUCCHINI SALAD WITH MINT AND LEMON
Slice the zucchini carefully, working to keep the pieces the same thickness for ease of grilling. You may need to grill in batches. This salad works best on a large platter so that zucchini is only in one and sometimes two layers. A bowl will suffice, but be careful if you need to toss the tender, cooked zucchini as it will easily tear. Make sure your lemons are fresh! No mint? Parsley, basil, oregano, or tarragon will work, too.
- 3 medium zucchini and/or yellow squash (about 8 inches long), scrubbed and sliced into 1/4-inch coins
- 3 tablespoons olive oil plus a little more to drizzle on salad and greens at end
- 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper or more to taste
- Zest of one lemon plus a slice or two for garnish
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus a sprig or two for garnish.
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 cups fresh arugula or other greens
GRILL ZUCCHINI: 10 – 12 minutes Prepare/preheat grill to medium-high 4-5 minutes. In a large bowl, toss together the squash coins, olive oil, and salt/pepper until the squash is evenly and well-coated. Lay the coins down in a single layer onto the grill and cook for about 2 minutes or until light-brown grill marks appear. Turn and cook briefly on the other side. Place squash in a bowl and grate a little lemon zest over it. Repeat until all squash is cooked, making sure to add the lemon zest for each batch.
PUT THE SALAD TOGETHER: 3 minutes –can hold for longer. Place arugula around the perimeter of a large platter (or at bottom of a big bowl, if need be) and carefully line the center with the zucchini. Set aside until ready to serve.
DRESS AND SERVE THE SALAD: 2 minutes Sprinkle zucchini with fresh mint. Squeeze the lemon juice evenly over everything. Add a tiny bit of salt and pepper to the arugula and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Taste zucchini and re-season if needed. Garnish with reserved fresh mint and sliced lemon. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Leftovers will hold for a day and are tasty cold tossed with other cooked or fresh vegetables and re-seasoned. (I added sautéed snap beans and mushrooms and fresh sweet red peppers the next night.)
WINE AND BEER: Go American for the Fourth, please. Wine! I like the idea of a light and lively Oregon Pinot Gris to cool off with. Get an extra bottle just to sip and serve it icy. If you’d rather a red and are convinced of a cool evening, a lighter and drier style California Zinfandel would work with both the bacon and the jalapeño. (Not Lodi–too jammy.) Do chill it for an hour or so and get it to 65 degrees F. No need for outdoor “room” temp red wines in the summer. Too warm for wine? Go with COLD BEER– maybe an American brown ale to set off the grilled poultry.
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