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Mozzarella, marinara turn grilled chicken, vegetables into summertime hit

UPDATED: Mon., July 13, 2020

These tasty towers of marinated grilled chicken layered with marinara, grilled vegetables and melted mozzarella not only look gorgeous on the plate, but also brim with savory flavor in each bite.  (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
These tasty towers of marinated grilled chicken layered with marinara, grilled vegetables and melted mozzarella not only look gorgeous on the plate, but also brim with savory flavor in each bite. (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special to </p><p>the Washington Post

Tossing some chicken and vegetables on the grill and calling it dinner is a perfectly fine summer meal strategy, but it doesn’t exactly elicit ooohs and aaahs. This recipe pulls those familiar elements together but in a way that surely will, from its gorgeous presentation on the plate to its multiple layers of savory flavor.

The infusion of allure starts with a marinade for the chicken, an Italian-dressing-style mix of olive oil, vinegar, garlic and dried oregano. Just a 30-minute marinade is needed, but it can go for up to eight hours for more-intense flavor and do-ahead convenience. Once grilled, the chicken becomes the platform upon which the other ingredients are piled high. A spread of marinara sauce goes on first, followed by an array of colorful grilled vegetables. Here, I used eggplant, red bell pepper and onion, but other vegetable combinations are welcome to the party: mushrooms, asparagus and zucchini, to name a few.

Blanketing the vegetables, and bringing the dish together, is a melted layer of fresh, luscious mozzarella. And finally, some fresh basil adds a summery note as well as a bright pop of color. These tasty towers don’t take much more effort than the usual grilled chicken and vegetables, but with each bite brimming with so much flavor, they are far more thrilling .

To make the four servings indicated, only half of each vegetable is needed, but, while you are at it, you should grill all the vegetables at once – the extra vegetables will keep for several days and can be added to sandwiches, grain bowls or salads.

Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Mozzarella Melts

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided, or more if grilling the entire vegetables

1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided, or more as needed

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, or more as needed

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each) pounded to ½-inch thick

1 small globe eggplant (about 1 pound), trimmed

1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded

1 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia

¼ cup prepared marinara sauce, at room temperature

2 ounces fresh mozzarella, very thinly sliced

4 fresh basil leaves, or more to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of the oil, the vinegar, oregano, ½ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper. Transfer the marinade to a zip-top plastic bag, add the garlic, then the chicken. Seal the bag, pressing out excess air, and squish the contents around with your fingers to distribute the marinade evenly. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

Slice the eggplant, pepper and onion in half horizontally. Cut each into eight ¼-inch thick slices or rounds. (You’ll use about half of each vegetable for this recipe. You can cook all the slices and reserve the unused portion for other uses, or reserve them uncooked. If using entire vegetables, brush with additional oil and season with additional salt and pepper.)

Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the sliced vegetables on both sides with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Grill the vegetables, in batches if necessary, until they are tender and have grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any pieces of garlic that are clinging to the chicken. (Discard the marinade.) Reduce the grill heat to medium and grill the chicken, until nearly cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board or large plate.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of the marinara over each piece of chicken. Top with two slices each of the grilled eggplant and pepper, and then add a few grilled onion slices. Distribute the cheese on top of each, then return the stacks to the grill, cover and grill until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Top each piece with basil and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Make ahead: The vegetables may be grilled and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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