Friday, November 16, 2007

Chicken Braised with Chestnuts

Since the beginning of October I have been seeing chestnuts highlighted everywhere: in the supermarket they have end-of-aisle displays of their various offerings (whole roast, puree, dried, organic puree...), in the food supplements and magazines they are touted as the culinary epitome of Autumn etc. Personally, I associate chestnuts more with Christmas and hence December into January, since that is when I have always had them, but have found myself peculiarly susceptible to this particular onslaught of advertising. Hence this sweet-but-deep nut has been floating around in my mind for a few weeks, and taking the day off on Wednesday gave me the opportunity to actually plan, cook and shop for a meal at (relative) leisure. Going to Sainsburys on a Wednesday early evening is an entirely different experience to going on a Saturday morning, about which I could wax lyrical, but I digress... Chestnuts. How to pair then with chicken as anything but a stuffing ingredient? This simple braise keeps them whole and distinct, with mushrooms (preferably chestnut for depth of flavour and a hint of humour) to accentuate their earthy richness, and fortified wine to bring out the sweetness.

For two:
  • 2 chicken legs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 large flat mushrooms, preferably chestnut
  • 140g whole roasted chestnuts
  • 300ml marsala or similar
  • 100ml water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and black pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 200° C. In a large frying pan gently heat the oil. Finely chop the onion and fry. Chop each mushroom in half and then into thick slices. Fry with the onion until both are softening, being careful not to allow the onion to crisp. Add the chestnuts to the pan to heat through. Transfer to an ovenproof dish. Turn up the heat and brown the chicken on both sides. Place in the dish with the vegetables, and add the remaining ingredients, seasoning well. Cover and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Serve the meat with the pan juices and vegetables spooned over and some green vegetables alongside.

    Sunday, November 4, 2007

    Tomato, Goat's Cheese and Spinach Risotto

    ...with a balsamic glaze. Risotto is pretty quick to make, and can be varied as endlessly as the contents of your fridge. Buy frozen petit pois, risotto rice and a tub of Marigold vegetable bouillon and feel safe in the knowledge that there is always the wherewithal for a hot meal in the house. So much the better if you have a lemon and some parmesan to hand too (it is very rare that I don't have these lurking somewhere in the fridge, even if they do look a bit sad). But here we have a slightly more involved version, which nonetheless was the result of unplanned post-long-working-day fridge raiding: a colourful and flavourful combination of sundried tomatoes, spinach and goat's cheese in the risotto, the richness of which is cut by a dash of sharp, deep balsamic vinegar glaze.

    For two:
  • 200g risotto rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 600ml stock, plus water in the kettle in case you need more
  • 8-10 sundried tomatoes, drained of oil
  • 50g goat's cheese
  • 1 large handful spinach
  • 50ml good balsamic vinegar*
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • black pepper

  • Put the stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Put the kettle on just in case. Heat the oil in a separate large saucepan. Finely chop the onion and fry gently in the oil. When it is translucent and softening, add the rice. Stir until all the grains are coated in oil, then add a ladleful of hot stock. Stir until all the liquid is absorbed, then add another ladle of stock, stirring all the while. Continue until half the stock is in, at which point add two ladles at once. Give it a quick stir, then leave it for a minute to chop the tomatoes into strips. So long as the heat is not too high, it won't burn or be ruined by a short pause in stirring. Once you've prepared the tomatoes, return to stirring and adding the stock. When the rice is almost done (taste to check), add the tomatoes to the pan. Put the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a milk pan and heat to dissolve the sugar. Let it simmer very gently to reduce and thicken slightly. Add the spinach, roughly tearing up large leaves, to the risotto with the last ladle of stock (or hot water from the kettle if you run out of stock before the rice is cooked through). Crumble the goat's cheese in, stir well and season with pepper before dividing between two bowls. Pour a drizzle of the now sticky and sweet-sharp balsamic glaze over each puddle of risotto before serving.

    *You won't need all of the glaze that results, but you need enough to cover the bottom of the pan to start with. You could use the remainder on roasted vegetables, or diluted in a salad dressing.