- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I don’t have to glance at my calendar or look outside at the trees with their multihued foliage to know that fall is in full swing in Massachusetts.

The phone calls and e-mails from friends, telling me that they will be in our area in October prime time for leaf-peeping, remind me that a new season has arrived. Nowhere in the country is autumn more celebrated than in New England and, as a result, it has become a time when my husband and I entertain frequently.

In a single week, we received an e-mail from a couple in Chicago with dates for an upcoming visit. Our son and daughter-in-law and their 2-year-old, who live in Boston, also called to say they would be out our way and would like to stay for supper. And this was just the beginning.

Since many of these visits are last-minute, I look for simple main courses that can be prepared quickly to anchor company meals. Sauteed chicken breasts with wild mushrooms, a dish I recently created, falls into this category.

Dried mushrooms are soaked in hot water until softened and plumped.



Then boneless chicken breasts (purchased already pounded thin at a local supermarket) are rubbed with thyme, sage, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper and sauteed a few minutes until golden brown. For a speedy sauce, I add chicken broth, light cream, soaking liquid from the mushrooms and grated Parmesan cheese to the skillet. Next, I whisk the mixture until it thickens slightly and finally I stir in the mushrooms.

These juicy chicken breasts, napped with the delectable sauce, make a distinctive entree that pairs well with many accompaniments. Serve them with wild or brown rice (or with a combination of hearty grains) and green beans.

Offer them with glazed carrots and mashed potatoes.

Or try them with polenta and sauteed broccoli rabe for a memorable fall dinner.

Sauteed chicken breasts with wild mushrooms

1½ to 13/4 ounces (about 13/4 cups) mixed dried mushrooms such as porcini, oyster and shiitake

1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves (don’t use powdered thyme)

2 teaspoons dried sage leaves, crushed (don’t use powdered sage)

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 boneless, skinless whole chicken breasts (total weight about 11/3 pounds), pounded to 1/4- to ½-inch thick (see note)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

½ cup light cream or half-and-half

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons extra, if needed

5 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided

4 fresh thyme sprigs for garnish, optional

Place the mushrooms in a medium bowl. Bring 2 cups water to a boil and pour over the mushrooms. Let stand until mushrooms are softened and plumped, about 20 minutes.

Drain the mushrooms in a paper-towel-lined strainer, reserving soaking liquid.

Rinse mushrooms to remove any remaining grit and pat dry, then chop them coarsely. Measure the mushroom liquid; you should have 1 cup. If not, add enough water to make this amount.

Combine thyme, sage, 2 teaspoons salt and 1½ teaspoons pepper in a small bowl. Pat chicken breasts dry with a clean paper towel. Sprinkle both sides of each breast with some of the dried herb mixture.

Heat butter and oil in a very large, heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a platter and cover loosely with foil.

Add chicken broth, reserved mushroom liquid, cream or half-and-half, and lemon juice to the pan, and whisk to combine drippings in pan with liquids. Cook, whisking often, until mixture thickens very slightly and has reduced to 1½ cups, about 4 to 5 minutes or longer, depending on the size of pan. Whisk in ½ cup cheese until it melts.

Sauce will be slightly thicker; if desired, whisk in an additional 2 to 3 tablespoons cheese to give sauce more body. Stir mushrooms and half the parsley into the sauce.

Cook a few seconds to warm mushrooms. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

To serve, spoon some sauce and mushrooms over each chicken breast, then sprinkle with some of the remaining parsley. Garnish each serving with a thyme sprig, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Note: To pound chicken breasts, remove the small strip of meat from the underside of each chicken breast and save for another use.

Place a chicken breast between 2 sheets of waxed paper and, using a meat pounder or rolling pin, pound to 1/4 to ½ inch thick. Continue, using more waxed paper as needed, until all chicken has been pounded.

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