Simply delicious

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The weeks following holiday celebrations such as Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Passover and Easter call for simple, flavorful meals. Whether you are preparing breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or a buffet, the dishes should take little time to toss together.

Chicken and pasta are so versatile, all they require is a handful of fresh ingredients. Sometimes I find an ingredient at such a good price — like a pint of grape tomatoes for $1 — that I end up buying extra. I used the tomatoes in salads and saut�ed them with steamed asparagus, but realized they would add flavor to a simple pasta dish.

Many ingredients that marry well with pasta also can be used when preparing a simple saut� of boneless chicken breasts. The aforementioned grape tomatoes, black and green olives, a variety of mushrooms and a sprinkling of fresh chopped herbs do double duty.

Many good home cooks in the south of France make a whole roast chicken with olives, herbs and white wine. Those of you who prefer a cut-up chicken can just add these ingredients to the pan.

I always have several jars of top-quality pitted olives in my pantry. Moroccan pitted black olives work well with pasta and chicken. Any type of pitted green olive will do, and it doesn’t matter whether they are stuffed with pimento or garlic. Actually, the garlic variety will impart flavor to the pasta or chicken.

Feel free to add some sliced red, yellow, orange or green peppers to any of these recipes. Whether you are preparing chicken or pasta, all dinner requires is a loaf of bread and a big tossed salad. Or you can serve a small portion of pasta if you are preparing a cut-up chicken with olives, herbs and wine.

Here are my recipes for simple pasta or chicken.

Penne with Grape Tomatoes and Olives

Ingredients:

1 pound penne
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint grape toma-toes, each tomato cut in half
Handful pitted black olives, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Handful of Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions:

Cook the penne according to package directions. While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet at least 12 inches in diameter. Add the tomatoes and olives and saut� for a few minutes. Add kosher salt and pepper if desired (but taste first, as olives contain salt).

Drain the pasta and add to the skillet. Using a large spoon, toss the pasta with the tomatoes and olives. Taste the pasta to check if you need more olive oil.

Place the pasta in a large heated bowl. Toss well. Sprinkle on the parsley and serve immediately. Pass the cheese at the table.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: Some sliced mushrooms would make a delicious addition to this dish. Small sliced cherry tomatoes can be substituted for the grape tomatoes. Any type of pasta can be substituted for the penne.

Whole Roast Chicken with Grape Tomatoes and Olives

Ingredients:

1 (4-pound) chicken, preferably organic or kosher
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Imported sweet Hungarian paprika
Small handful pitted black olives

Small handful pitted green olives
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Pat the chicken inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle on the kosher salt, pepper and paprika. Place the chicken in a shallow roasting pan and place into the oven, with the chicken legs to the back of the oven. Roast for 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven and scatter the olives and tomatoes all over the chicken and into the pan. Add the white wine and rosemary leaves. Roast for 30 more minutes.

Serves two to three.

Note from Phyllis: You can roast a larger chicken, and capon also works well in this recipe. If using a cut-up chicken, bake the chicken for 20 minutes, add the remaining ingredients and bake for another 20 minutes. A cut-up chicken cooks faster than a whole one.

Simple Saut� of Chicken Breasts

Ingredients:

4 boneless chicken breasts
Flour, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, for dredging
2 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
Handful pitted black olives, sliced
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, each tomato cut in half
1/2 cup dry white wine

Directions:

Place about 1 cup of flour on a plate. Add kosher salt and black pepper and stir around with your fingers. Dredge each chicken breast into the flour. Shake off excess flour. Repeat until all the chicken breasts have been coated.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and saut� about five minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the chicken. Do not overcook. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the olives and tomatoes and saut� for a few minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the wine. Using a plastic or wooden spoon, scrape around the pan so the brown bits will incorporate into the sauce. You may wish to add a bit more butter for richness. Return the chicken breasts to the pan and heat through.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: You can add some sliced mushrooms to this dish.