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Chicken in star anise tomato sauce

Summer may be at an end but there's no shortage of ripe tomatoes in the garden. Thanks to some fabulous late-summer sunshine the tomato plants are dotted with red fruit just waiting to be picked and brought into the kitchen. And there's no shortage of things to do with them. Saucing, canning, chutney, salads, my mind has been working overtime (seriously, I lose sleep sometimes thinking of recipe ideas) just trying to decide how to make the most of all those gorgeous tomatoes.

This dish is big on tomatoes and includes a spice I picked up recently at Pike Place Market in Seattle - star anise. With its mild licorice flavour - similar to basil - I figured it would go nicely in a tomato sauce. This sauce combines sweet and tangy tomato flavour with the mellowness of star anise, and together they are a thing of beauty.

Here's how I made it:

2 1/2 lbs chicken breast (about 4 large)
1 cup onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 1/2 lbs fresh tomatoes, chopped into 1-inch chunks
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 star anise
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tbsp granulated white sugar
a couple splashes of olive oil for cooking

I started by adding a splash of olive oil to a medium saucepan and a skillet and heating both over medium/high heat. To the skillet I added the chicken breasts and browned them on both sides (this took 8-10 minutes), and set them aside.

Meantime, I added the onion and garlic to the saucepan and sauteed just until soft. Then I added the tomatoes, vinegar, star anise, cayenne, and sugar and brought the mixture to a boil. The heat was reduced to a simmer and the sauce reduced, uncovered, for 15 minutes. I stirred occasionally and set my oven to 375 degrees (F).

I grabbed my largest casserole dish and filled it with the sauce, pulling out and discarding the star anise. Then the chicken breasts were nestled into the sauce and the whole thing was popped in the oven for 30 minutes. 

This could be served with a variety of sides. Pasta, rice, or polenta would be lovely. I went with a simple bed of spinach. Pretty, non?

Now I need to decide what to do with the rest of the tomatoes...

What do you like to make with fresh tomatoes? Is star anise a spice you like to use? Got a recipe you want to share? Go ahead, post your links!