Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mediterranean Style Chicken Breasts with Tomato Bruschetta Topping

Do you ever see a recipe on someone else’s blog and think to yourself I know I’ll like that. It happens to me all of the time. When I do, I copy and paste the recipe along with the link over to a file I’ve named “New recipes to try.” Mediterranean Style Chicken Breasts is one of those recipes. I saw it on one of my favorite blogs, Stacey’s Snacks, and left the comment, “Stacey, what a beautiful, easy dinner party dish. This is carb friendly and I’ve always got a dinner guest or two who are watching their carbs for one reason or another.”

One of the reasons I liked Stacey’s recipe is that it’s elegant, easy and perfect for entertaining. She made a bruschetta recipe of tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and fresh herbs and used it as a topping for the chicken breasts which were served on a platter of greens lightly drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Stacey’s recipe also happens to be very similar to a recipe of ours that we love and serve all of the time – Chicken with Tomatoes, Basil and Feta over Orzo with Slivered Almonds that I posted last October. There are some differences in the two recipes, but the main one is that Stacey serves her chicken over arugula instead of orzo as I did, making hers very carb friendly.

Good tomatoes are essential in this recipe. Every year we grow a few heirloom tomatoes in our herb garden. This year we decided to plant only one heirloom – a Cherokee Purple. This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote about the Cherokee Purple tomato. It was published in a newly released anthology from the North Carolina Writer’s Network West titled Echoes Across the Blue Ridge – Stories, Essays and Poems by writers living in and inspired by the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Much of the old culture of the Appalacian mountains is passing or has already pased, but this anthology brings it all alive beautifully through the gifted voices of the poets and writers who live in these mountains. The anthology is available in bookstores throughout western North Carolina or on line at www.ncwriters.org.

Excerpt from Echoes Across the Blue Ridge
Century Old Purple Heirloom Tomatoes of the Cherokee Indians 
By Sam Hoffer

Craig Le Houillier, a passionate gardener and collector of heirloom tomato seeds including many old varieties thought to be extinct, received a surprise package in the mail one morning in 1990. It contained a small packet of tomato seeds along with a brief note from John Green of Sevierville, Tennessee. John’s note said that the seeds were from a purple tomato that the Cherokee Indian tribe had given to his neighbors “one hundred years ago” and that he wanted to share this unnamed tomato with him. Craig grew the seeds and was surprised to find that the fruit was truly purple so he named this century old tomato a Cherokee Purple in honor of its Indian heritage. 

The first time I saw a Cherokee tomato was at our farmer’s market downtown on the square. It was a large, heavy beefsteak-style heirloom tomato with dark shoulders and weighed twelve to sixteen ounces. The flesh was a rich reddish purple color, resembling fine aged wine. The local farmer told me they were easy to grow. I purchased a couple of the big purple tomatoes along with a loaf of freshly baked peasant-style bread and a small bunch of fresh basil and envisioned the tomato sandwich I would soon have for lunch. The first bite told me it was tomato heaven and I instantly became a Cherokee tomato maniac. It had an old fashioned sweet flavor that was full of acidity, making it one of the best tasting heirlooms I’d ever eaten. I knew right away that I had to have them in my garden. After all, I lived in Cherokee County, North Carolina and loved tomatoes so it was the natural thing to do. Continued………

There’s a lot of history about the Cherokee Indians and the Native American Trail of Tears where we live. About thirty miles east, on the road to Asheville, is the Nantahala National Forest. This route, once part of the Indian Trail of Tears, is a serpentine, narrow two-lane road that winds it way alongside the beautiful Nantahala River/ The river begins high in the mountains and then flows down through the Nantahala Gorge, which is narrow and steep. The word Nantahala comes from the Cherokee Indians and means “land of the noonday sun.” In some areas along the gorge, the sun reaches the ground only when it’s directly overhead. You may remember my post last year with more pictures.

Nantahala Gorge in Nantahala National Forest

Here’s a photo of an assortment of heirlooms from our garden last year. The Cherokee tomato is the purple one.

Heirloom tomatoes

This year our Cherokee Purple crop was dismal and disappointing, yielding only a couple of puny tomatoes not worth slicing, much less photographing. It was probably because it was very dry and we most likely didn’t pamper them as much as we should have. However, as the tomatoes started to grow, we noticed that one looked different from the rest. As it turns out, it was a Roma plum tomato, mislabeled as a Cherokee Purple. The Roma tomato crop flourished, as you can see by this picture, and they’re what I used in Stacey’s Mediterranean Style Chicken recipe.

Give both recipes a try. I know you’ll love them and best of all, we get “wows” every time we serve them.

Stacey’s Mediterranean Style Chicken Breasts
Adapted from Stacey’s Snacks – serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, flattened slightly
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
Baby spinach or arugula, washed and spun dry

Tomato Bruschetta mixture:
5 plum tomatoes, preferably homegrown, roughly chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Chopped kalamata olives
Crumbled feta cheese
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Fresh basil leaves, chopped

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour. Heat about 3 to 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil in a 12” non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 6 minutes on each side or until done. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm. Alternately, you can grill the chicken outside or on a stove top grill pan, but omit the flour.

While the chicken is cooking, gently mix together the tomato mixture in a bowl and set aside. (Do not make too far in advance.) Serve each chicken breast on a bed of greens that have been tossed with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Top chicken with the tomato bruschetta mixture followed by a sprinkling of kalamata olives, crumbled feta cheese, chopped fresh Italian parsley, and fresh basil leaves. Serve at once.


  1. always...and this is exactly the type of dish that makes me feel for sure ' I know i will like em'. Fantastic. So many flavors going around....I will make it and I will love it :)

  2. This looks delicious, Sam. What an interesting little story about the Cherokee Purple tomato, too. I may have to try growing one of those next year. My roma tomatoes did really well this year, too. :)

  3. Sam, this is a beautiful dish. The heirloom tomatoes are gorgeous, especially the purple one. Too bad we do not have them around here.

  4. Sam,
    This is better than my original!
    WOW! Gorgeous photos, glad you enjoyed it. It's my GO TO party dish!

  5. Sam the recipe sounds great! I loved the entire Echoes book-and your contribution was one of my favorites : )

  6. A wonderful recipe! So flavorful and highly pleasurable.



  7. Your post is beautiful; love the recipe and those pictures are perfection! Went to check out
    stacey; thank you.

  8. It would please me also..and your tomato photos are just so delicious looking~

  9. I've often wandered where the Cherokee Purple name came from. I't one of our favorites and I always grow a couple when I grow a full garden. Your sliced tomato picture makes me want to dive in.

  10. Another gorgeous post - as always! Those tomatoes are making my mouth water & look forward to trying the delicious dish - thanks!

  11. I am really craving tomatoes now! Very interesting information too. That picture of the sliced tomatoes from your garden last year is gorgeous!

  12. I'm stunned by the beauty of that photo of heirloom tomatoes. I bet you could sell it!

  13. That looks and sounds wonderful! I have an abundance of tomatoes right now and I just might have to make this dish!

  14. This is a very nice dinner to whip up, especially when fresh tomatoes are in season, Sam!

    I enjoyed reading about the purple heirloom tomatoe's history. We visited Cherokee,NC, once when our children were young and the "Trail of Tears" story touched all of our hearts.

  15. A wonderful post, Sam, and a must-try recipe! In spite of the fact that I'm drowning in tomatoes, (45 quarts canned in the past few days and a kitchen full waiting for me,) I loved reading your essay about the Cherokee Purple -- hands down my favorite for eating.

  16. Oh my Sam, the recipe sounds wonderful... all our favorite ingredients.

    We have had ONE Cherokee so far and with last nights temperature at 42, well... what a bust. But the good news is you have that beautiful photo of last years tomatoes.

  17. Both recipes sound right up my alley, and your photos are stunners! Thanks for sharing them - as well as the excerpt from your essay. I may have to track down that book!

  18. Hi Sam - Some lovely observations about heirloom tomatoes. I've always been intriqued by the Cherokee Purple name. As a frequent visitor to the Blue Ridge growing up, I'd love to get a look at that new book! We've been lucky to have had a wonderful tomato season in the Northeast which feels particularly good after last year's blight.

  19. Well, Sam...as much as I can appreciate a dish like this very appetizing one which passes my table quite often...it being familiar didn't get me too warm and fuzzy yet! What got me is your piece on those seeds that have made it so far and with such a rich background. From your description...the physical aspect of the original sounded awesome...and now I'll always be on the lookout for it. Although it's too bad about the variety mislabeling...your bounty certainly was more successful than what some gardens experienced here in Montreal this year. We were not spoiled as usual :(
    I love your simmering river photo...it brings such peace and serenity to my early morning ;o)

    Have a fabulous week and flavourful wishes, Claudia

  20. What a beautiful plate of tomatoes, and from your own garden no less! Because of the weather this year I got barely enough for a nice salad.

    I know that I will love this salad too, Sam. Beautiful photos.

  21. I love the idea of a tomato bruschetta topping for the chicken - super fresh and bright wonderful flavors!

  22. There is nothing better than a ripe summer tomato. I think it may be my favorite food. It's farmer's market day here. I'm hoping to find some tomatoes still, it's been a dismal year all around for tomatoes. :( I love the idea of saving seeds from your tomato plant year after year as the man in the essay had done. That also is a vanishing art.

  23. Wow, what a great chicken dish...look so tempting and tasty. Love the vibrant color of the tomatoes and green on it. Great meal :-)

  24. We've had a pretty good tomato crop this season despite the torrid heat and lack of rain in the area of NC. Still picking a few small ones each day. Perhaps I'll try those Cherokee Purple next year - your description makes them sound perfect in a sandwich!

    Looking forward to talking food when we meet at Penny's next month!

  25. I hate to say it but I am so glad your Cherokee's didn't make it this year either (ha ha). Ours did the same as yours, they didn't turn out well compared to the ones we have gotten from the market.

    I didn't really understand Appalachian culture until about 6 years ago when we started cruising the back roads of East TN and Western NC as well as reading the stories. I think Popcorn Sutton prompted some of that interest.

    Makes me want to go watch the movie Down Low right now.

  26. Hi Sam, I just couldn't stop looking at the picture of the chicken with the bruschetta topping, wow, amazingly delicious and fresh looking!

  27. Where do I begin? Great post, beautiful photos. Love the story about the tomato. Interesting history about the Cherokee.

  28. Wonderful post. Gorgeous heirloom tomato dish.

  29. It was a dismal year for heirloom tomatoes this year so when I was lucky enough to find them they made their way into special dishes.

  30. Stacy's chicken recipe looks amazing and I have to say, your plate of heirloom tomato slices is a work of art!

  31. This is truly an amazing looking dish! I can't wait to try it!

  32. I felt "almost home" while reading your blog this morning. I may have mentioned that I grew up in Roanoke, VA. I've traveled your roads with my parents and then with my husband and sons. I love Highlands and Asheville and those serpentine roads and mist-covered mountains. I'm looking forward to mid-October when I'll return for a few weeks. Thanks for the memories.


  33. What a fabulous blog you have - I'm so glad I stumbled upon it!!

    That pic of the bowl full of heirloom tomatoes is stunning!! I'm looking very forward to following you. Have a great weekend.


  34. You are a fabulous cook Sam, and I love tomatoes- I slipped in some olive tapinade into hubby's sandwich the other day, because we were sharing, and he did not say anything, but he hates olives which is sad for me :( otherwise I love Mediterranean dishes so much!

  35. That is one great looking dish. I'm putting it in my "recipes to try" file too.

  36. Sam I could dive right into those beautiful tomatoes right now! And Staceys dish you created looks outstanding!

  37. Fantastic post. Just looking at heirlooms makes me happy inside! - Gary

  38. Oh this looks absolutely delicious, and I'm glad that it makes for a good low-carb meal. It interesting the history of the cherokee purple tomato. What it must have felt like to have resurrected such an obscure breed.

    All heirlooms are wonderful in their unique character and appearance. I really like that picture of the heirlooms from last year. Colorful and simple in its beauty.

  39. I loved this post, Sam. Filled with tomato history I didn't know and an excerpt from something you had written. You are so talented!
    I love the photos and the recipe looks marvelous.
    My all time favorite tomato dish is an old fashioned tomato sandwich. I wish I had that plate of last years crop in my kitchen right now!

  40. This simply wonderful! The addition of tomatoes sound terrific. Sweet & juicy! Hope you're enjoying your weekend.
    Cheers, Kristy

  41. This is my kind of summer dish-what gorgeous tomatoes.

  42. Sam this is just gorgeous. It is the kind of dish I can't wait to get my teeth around. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

  43. Sam, I enjoyed this post from start to finish. I wanted to let you know I just reread your essay : "Century Old Tomatoes of the Cherokee" in ECHOES ACROSS THE BLUE RIDGE. You're not only an outstanding cook but also a fine writer. I wish I had that plate of heirloom tomatoes to take to the annual picnic tomorrow.

  44. Beautiful dish! Beautiful tomatoes, You know there is a special place for tomatoes in my life :-)

  45. What a great way to use the last of the tomato plants my grandkids planted. I found out about your site from Penny at Comforts of Home and I'm looking forward to meeting you and enjoying your yummy blog.

  46. I just LOVE an aray of tomatoes. Thankfully they are just starting to come into season in Australia and I can get back into cooking with tomatoes. yum!

  47. Wonderful dish! I love those tomatoes and this recipe is too delicious!

  48. Sam, thanks for the vote, and I believe that heirloom tomatoes picture is the prettiest thing I have ever seen

  49. That salad looks delicious! I love low carb options too...thx again for posting this and adding Stacy's link, I will check her blog out as well. :)


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