Garlicky Chicken and Fresh Tomatoes

Sometimes the simplest, last-minute meals turn out better than something you’ve planned for ages. I was making a healthy dinner for my Mom and a couple of my siblings last weekend. I had chicken breasts, some cornmeal, and some fresh Roma (plum) tomatoes from my patio container garden.

Feeling in a Mediterranean mood, I first cooked up some polenta, which seemed like a nice change from pasta. Then I cooked the chicken breasts with olive oil, lots of garlic, some onion, some tomato sauce, and fresh garden tomatoes. It tasted divine and was a big hit.

Here’s a recipe, of sorts (I didn’t really measure anything). Feel free to improvise. You could add chopped fresh parsley, chopped black olives, or some chopped bell peppers to the chicken. And of course, you can save a lot of time by buying ready-made polenta, or by substituting pasta.

Chicken and Fresh Tomatoes on Polenta

Makes 4 to 6 servings

4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole-grain cornmeal (coarse or medium grind)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oilChicken:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
About 1 cup coarsely chopped onion
4 to 5 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut in half crosswise
About 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or use some fresh herbs if you have them on hand
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
3 to 4 fresh plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Salt (optional) and pepper to taste

To make the polenta: Bring 3 cups of the water and salt to a boil. Add the remaining cup of water (cold) to the cornmeal and stir to moisten it. (This step is optional, but helps keep the cornmeal from lumping when you add it to the boiling water. If you prefer to skip this step, bring all 4 cups of water to a boil.) Gradually stir the cornmeal into the boiling water. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes, or until the polenta is thickened but still creamy and comes cleanly away from the sides of the pan when you stir it. If the polenta begins to thicken too much, add a little more hot water. Polenta doesn’t need to be served hot, so you can set it aside while you make the chicken.

To prepare the chicken: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium-high heat until translucent, then add the garlic and cook a few seconds until fragrant. With a slotted spoon, remove the onions and garlic to a plate.

Add the chicken to the skillet and brown well on both sides. Then add the onions and garlic back to the pan, along with the tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the chopped fresh tomatoes and season with salt (if desired) and pepper.

Serve the chicken over scoops of the polenta.