Why do holiday meals always have to be so much work? Too often it feels as if home cooks only feel they've observed the occasion properly, and shown their family and friends the respect a special meal observes, by spending hours slaving in the kitchen.
Maybe that's why that the words "Easter brunch" or "Easter dinner" tinge the happy expectations of so many hosts and hostesses with the tiniest hint of dread. You can almost hear their thoughts as they plan the meal. Will my food measure up? Will it taste good and look beautiful? Will I get it all done in time? Will I have any energy left after all that cooking to enjoy the meal myself?
But please let me offer you an alternative: An Easter main dish that's easy to prepare (and even possible to make partly ahead of time); beautifully festive looking; memorably delicious; and, a bonus, surprisingly light.
My recipe for Chicken Breasts with Ham, Provolone, Rosemary, and Tomato Sauce is a simple variation on a classic Italian-style dish that's often referred to as saltimbocca, a term that literally means "jump in the mouth," a playful reference to how surprisingly good it tastes.
Unlike many traditional versions of the dish, this one involves no coating with flour or frying the chicken in oil or butter; the only fat added is just a touch of olive oil in the tomato sauce (feel free to start with your favorite bottled tomato pasta sauce, or my own brand of signature pasta sauces available in many supermarkets), and a little butter in the breadcrumb topping that takes on a golden-brown finish in the oven.
In fact, the entire dish bakes in the oven. And you can assemble it up to several hours in advance, leaving the covered baking dish in the refrigerator until it's time to cook it. (Add 5 minutes or so to the total baking time, since you're starting with a chilled dish.)
The recipe works equally well as part of a casual brunch array or as the main course of a sit-down dinner. Add a springtime salad to start, a risotto or rice pilaf to accompany the chicken, your favorite simply steamed or sauteed green vegetable, and an appropriate homemade or store-bought Easter dessert.
Your Easter entertaining has never been so easy. And you can enjoy this dish again for other holidays, casual dinner parties, or weeknight family meals, feeling free to use different kinds of ham or cheese and adding to the sauce different seasonings you like.
CHICKEN BREASTS WITH HAM, PROVOLONE, ROSEMARY, AND TOMATO SAUCE
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 8 ounces each
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices prosciutto or any thinly sliced ham
4 thin slices provolone cheese
12 ounces homemade or store-bought tomato-based pasta sauce
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil