In the autumn all the talk in France is about la rentrée: the time when vacation ends and everyone goes back to work and school. It’s the word on everyone’s lips: la rentrée, we have to prepare for la rentrée. It’s a big deal.
But there’s no word for the other end of the spectrum, that thing that happens in June when all les ados leave school and everyone starts preparing to close down and go to the beach. I guess I could start calling it la sortie (the exit) but I don’t think it would catch on. Maybe kids leaving school is not that big of a deal for people in France as it is for them going back every autumn. Possibly because vacation for adults doesn’t begin until two or three weeks later.
For us, it’s a big deal. We don’t have children, but my husband is a teacher. And by the time spring vacation has rolled around in April, he’s already looking forward to the end of the school year in June. All week he counted down the days he had left. Put a beer in the fridge Thursday night so that he’d be ready for a cold one on the balcony on Friday evening. And I planned a celebratory dinner.
Basil season is here! I could not be more excited. I love fresh basil. I put it in everything. Fruit salad, cocktails, pastas, breads, desserts, sauces… I can’t get enough, overloading myself on so much basil that I shouldn’t mourn the loss by summer’s end. Yet I do.
Lemon and basil chicken. A classic. Neither flavor is enough to overwhelm the flavor of chicken, and chicken takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. Topped with some mozzarella and you have a fresh, summery dish. The flavors are refreshing and simple.
Let’s not stop there. Basil, basil, basil! I put it in the side dish too. Rice stuffed zucchini. I love these round zucchini because they’re cute, they’re fun to cook with and when stuffed make a very pretty side dish. The rice, seasoned with garlic, onion and tomato, makes a nice contrast with the fresh lemon, basil chicken as it has more of a comfort food, hearty taste.
We ate on the balcony in the long white, shadows of the evening sun. Here in Provence it’s still light as late as 9:30pm, a perfect season to sit with an extra glass of wine (or beer) and enjoy a job well done. He still has to work, finishing up the last of the student evaluations, grading and then sitting through hours and hours of baccaluriate exams. And by the end of this week, I’ll be away once again, back in Pays de la Loire for the final quarter of my own academic year. I’m not going to get all sentimental and talk about quiet moments shared as a couple or short “staycations.” Just good food, good drinks, and an early summer evening.
Big warning: My oven is on the fritz, so take these cooking times with a grain of salt. Definitely check on your zucchini and chicken regularly while they’re baking. I estimated what I think the baking time of a properly functioning oven should be, as in my oven the zucchini alone took over an hour.
Lemon, Basil and Mozzarella Chicken
- 2 chicken breasts, about 300 grams
- 3-4 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 slices lemon
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2-3 tbsp fresh basil, minced
- salt and pepper
- 8 slices of fresh mozzarella
In a shallow dish, mix lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, basil and salt and pepper. Place the chicken breasts in the dish and coat thoroughly with the mixture. Let marinate for 30-60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Place the chicken on small separate sheets of parchment paper, top with the marinade, mozzarella, and a lemon slice. Fold the paper closed and bake for 15-20 minutes until done. Serve warm.
Rice Stuffed Zucchini
- 2 round zucchini
- 30 grams rice
- 1 small tomato, diced
- ½ onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp basil, minced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Cook the rice, drain, set aside.
Cut the tops and bottoms off the zucchini. Hollow out the zucchini with a spoon or melon baller, try to avoid cutting into the bottom of the zucchini, but if you do, it’s no big deal. Mince the zucchini insides.
Oil the inside of the round zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Oil a small casserole dish. And then heat some oil in a frying pan over high heat. Cook the zucchini inside in the frying pan over high heat for about 5 minutes. At the last minute add the onion and garlic and cook until the zucchini is soft and the onion and garlic are fragrant.
In the meantime you can start baking the hollowed-out zucchini in the oven for about 10 minutes.
In a bowl, mix rice, tomato paste, basil, diced tomato, and zucchini, onion, garlic mixture. Season to taste. Remove the zucchini from the oven and stuff with the rice mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the zucchini are tender. Cover the tops with tinfoil if the rice begins to crisp and burn.
Serve with warm with lemon basil chicken.