Under the Tuscan Sun: “Italy’s siren call lures us more and more.” –Frances Mayes
I cannot support mediocrity and I blame Italy. A few years back, Adam and I had the great pleasure of visiting his parents who had retired to a remarkable villa in Tuscany. To describe Tuscany’s beauty properly would require words that do not exist in my vocabulary and I certainly do not have a firm enough handle on the Italian vernacular to even pretend to do it justice. Especially when my Italian (at that point) was limited to “Grazie” (thank you), “No lo so” (I don’t know), or “Dov’è la mia valigia?” (Where’s my suitcase?) Fortunately, I did not have to use the latter at any point during my trip. However, “Vino, per piacere” consistently rolled off my tongue like a native. (Wine, please).
Tuscany, with its rich and colorful past, is beguiling and beautiful with sleepy hill towns that boast an incredible trove of architectural treasures. It is lush, dense with olive groves, vineyards, cypress and pines and thick with its magnificently cultivated landscapes, earthy terracotta rooftops and weathered walls. Alive with abundance, the sunflower-splashed Tuscan countryside yields flawless produce, an astonishing variety of artisans’ meats, and robust red wines.
One of our day trips took us to Pienza, magnificent in the morning, where we twisted our way around the rugged ramparts of this charming town, stumbling upon another breathtaking vista with each turn, on one of the most delicious days of our journey. There were tiny shops specializing in perfumes, several more offering ceramics from Deruta, vats of olive oil, and food, food and more food. We passed by a salumeria, where huge cured hams hung from the ceiling like giant ornaments and watched the butcher carve paper-thin slices of prosciutto in such a graceful and masterful motion, it seemed as if he were playing an ancient musical instrument rather than wielding a razor-sharp blade.
Around the corner, we discovered a darling little produce shop, L’Orto di Silvia, (Silvia’s Garden – Fruits and Vegetables). There, I found the most perfect melon I have ever seen. I picked it up and drank in the heavenly, intoxicating aroma. It smelled like the sun. I wasn’t sure if I should eat it or frame it. And I desperately wanted to jump on that adorable bicycle propped against Silvia’s wall, and peddle around with my goodies in the basket, pretending I was on my way home from market with my stash, waving and shouting “Ciao!” to all passers-by. But I resisted.
We sampled pecorino – a sharp, pungent cheese made from sheep’s milk, for which Pienza is famous. And I bought way too many souvenirs for the 1st day that would most likely not all fit in la mia valigia. But I didn’t care – we were in I-T-A-L-Y! It was getting on lunchtime, so we strolled to the piazza to devour our marketplace trophies. The melon was so sweet and succulent and paired beautifully with the salty prosciutto that practically melted in your mouth. It was the most luscious lunch I have ever eaten and it felt almost sinful. Almost.
Finally, we ended up in Lucignano, where we watched a spectacular sunset that could not have been more exquisite if it had been painted by Michaelangelo himself. I think there are certain colors in the universe reserved exclusively for Tuscany. It was difficult to leave.
A big sigh and back in the States, I knew I could never recreate the magic of our trip but wanted to try to capture the essence of Tuscany with my favorite food finds from our journey – Cantaloupe, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Bruschetta being one and this simple, delicious grilled chicken with lemon and oregano. One succulent bite takes me back to the Land of the Boot, dining under the stars.
Grilled Tuscan Chicken with Lemon and Oregano
- 4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry
- extra-virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- dried oregano
- 2 large lemons, halved
- Heat your grill to medium-high. For each chicken breast, drizzle over a little olive oil, season with some salt, pepper and several shakes of oregano on both sides. Grill the chicken, covered until golden grill marks form, about 6 minutes. Flip the breasts and continue to cook, covered, until chicken is golden and cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes.
- Place the lemon halves cut-side down on the grill after you flip the chicken (the last 4 to 6 minutes of cooking).
- Remove the chicken and lemons to a platter and tent loosely with foil while the chicken rests for 5 minutes. Squeeze the lemons over the chicken just before serving.
Planning: I brine my chicken overnight in the Buttermilk Brine (recipe link below) and it makes the chicken so tender and juicy. You can marinate it up to 2 days but not longer (the meat will be mushy).
Product Purity: I prefer dried oregano over fresh – I think fresh is just too strong and overpowers the chicken. I like to rub it in my hands to release its full flavor.
Presentation: Grilled lemons are amazing. Not only do they look gorgeous on the serving plate, they get a little smoky from the grill and it’s just divine. Skewer some asparagus and throw them on with the chicken for a pretty and tasty side.