A few years ago Tony and I were wondering what we should cook over the Memorial weekend. We knew that we wanted to try something different and that we wanted to grill.
By then, our garden was already filled with mint, an herb commonly used in Sicilian cuisine. Tony's mother, Marianna, had planted several varieties in our garden during a visit the previous year.
The most prolific crop was one I'd never tried before called Mojito Mint, which we'd purchased from Baker Garden & Gift. It is such an aggressive variety that it threatened to take over our garden, but it filled our yard with its heavy but heavenly fragrance.
Tony had been poring over recipes all week, but just wasn't finding what he wanted. Finally, I told him to create something new. "I don't care what we make as long as there is chicken, and mint. Lots of mint," I told him.
He went out to our garden and came back with a big bunch of the Mojito Mint and suggested making a chicken dish inspired by the famous Cuban cocktail, the Mojito.
The Mojito cocktail has five basic ingredients: white rum, sugar, mint, lime juice and soda water.
For this recipe, we substitute olive oil for the soda water, and add kosher salt and fresh black pepper to make a Mojito marinade for the chicken.
Mix the ingredients together first, then toss the chicken in to coat each piece. We marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for two to four hours before grilling, which allows those wonderful Cuban flavors to really settle in.
We were in the mood for something light but flavorful as a side dish, and decided to make a Grilled Corn Salsa. Fresh corn on the cob is easy to find this time of year, and grilling it brings out a wonderful, smoky sweetness and enhances the overall presentation of the dish.
Add some red and orange bell peppers, diced grape tomatoes, red onion, minced and seeded jalapeno, fresh mint, sweet basil and, suddenly, you have an edible rainbow to complement the Mojito Chicken.
These recipes are not difficult to make, but there is a bit of chopping in each, which can take up some time if your knife skills aren't the sharpest (pun intended).
I highly recommend that you watch Tony's online video this week, as he demonstrates several helpful cutting techniques to help you save time in the kitchen.
Special note: If you made a batch of limoncello over Memorial Day weekend, now is the time to strain it, add the simply syrup and second bottle of vodka, and return to the cupboard for another 10 to 40 days. You may need to strain it several times until it is completely free of the zest, but it will be worth it.
This column was written exclusively for The Forum.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com
6 boneless, skinless split chicken breasts (if using whole breasts, cut in half, lengthwise)
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
zest from one lime
½ cup light rum (can also use coconut, dark, or spiced rum)
15 to 20 fresh mint leaves, cut chiffonade style
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
½ cup olive oil
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl or baking dish first, then toss the chicken in the mixture, making sure each piece is evenly coated. Cover the dish and refrigerate for two to four hours.
When ready, grill the chicken on a hot, clean and lubricated grill. Grill on one side over direct heat for about five minutes until grill marks set in. Turn and grill on other side and grill over indirect heat for at least 10 minutes, until fully cooked. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness at 180 degrees.
When chicken is done, transfer to plates or serving platter and enjoy. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to two days.
Grilled Corn Salsa
8 ears of grilled corn (remove the kernels after grilling)
1 red bell pepper, small dice
1 orange bell pepper, small dice
1 red onion, small dice
1 cup grape tomatoes, small dice
8 to 10 leaves of mint, cut into thin strips, chiffonade-style
8 leaves of sweet basil, cut into thin strips, chiffonade-style
1 jalapeno, small dice
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix ingredients together, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Can be prepared up to two days in advance.