Monday, November 24, 2014

Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish

I love squash with a fervent ardor. If you see a girl at the Greenmarket trying to transport a giant gourd under each arm muttering to herself that it's really time to switch from 3 lb weights to 5 lb weights at the gym—but grinning like an idiot as she ungracefully continues the struggle—it's probably me. Hey, it's a labor of love! Because once I finally lug those child-sized cucurbitas home, that's when the real work begins. Peeling, seeding, chopping, and roasting for a minimum of 40 minutes—many times over an hour—until it's finally ready to eat. No Whole Foods, I will not give in and by your overpriced, pre-cut, time-saving containers—I treasure those extra three dollars, thank you very much.

Like any regular vegetable zealot weirdo, I have OCD tendencies about the preparation of my squash. Butternut gets cubed and roasted, often added to a chunky minestrone or pureed for a soup of it's own. Acorn is sliced into wedges, drizzled generously with maple syrup and eaten just so as a snack or side. Spaghetti squash is the go-to pasta substitute, heaped under a thick tomato sauce or winter stew.

But then I discovered a game-changer: delicata squash, featured in this Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish recipe.  Similar in size to a kirby cucumber, these guys can easily be bought by the half-dozen without undertaking an accidental arm work out.  Furthermore, they don't need to be peeled—or even roasted! In this recipe, the delicata are cut in half-inch rounds and pan-sautéed for a total of 4 minutes. Unstrenuous squash: who knew!

Because delicata is cylinder-shaped, it sliced into rounds, which transforms into rings after the seeds are scooped out. The shape is super fun, like onion rings or dried apple rings or gummy rings, and make for quite the artistic presentation too: while the recipe is deceivingly simple, the presentation is artistically beautiful; echoing the flavors' sophistication.

Grounding the dish are the squash rings; earthy and heat-kissed, perfectly bronzed and blistered. Lime zest and juice add an unexpected but welcomed tang, while the cider-based relish is juicy and thick; dissolving like candy on the tip of your tongue. This side will standout anywhere, so consider a delicata debut on Thursday's Thanksgiving table!

Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish (By TheWimpyVegetarian)
Serves 4

Crispy Delicata Rings:
  • 2 delicata squash
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • 1 lime
1. Slice the ends off of the squash. Slice into ½" rings and remove the seeds with a spoon. Reserve the seeds for another use or roast them with some cayenne pepper, salt, and cumin and sprinkle over the finished dish.
2. Lightly salt the squash and let sit for 30 minutes. Completely dry off with paper towels, removing the salt. Heat enough oil to coat a sauté pan over medium high heat. Lightly salt the squash rings with fresh salt and add them to the pan. They should sizzle the moment they hit the pan. Don't crowd them or they'll steam more than they'll brown. Sauté until lightly browned (about 2 minutes per side).
3. Remove to a plate and add lime zest and juice (use grate and juice of ½ lime per each delicata).
4. Top with the Currant, Fennel and Apple Relish and serve warm. Optional: add spiced roasted squash seeds or fennel fronds.

Currant, Fennel and Apple Relish:
  • ½ cup dried currants (can substitute raisins)
  • ½ crisp apple, peeled, seeded, finely diced (e.g. Pink Lady)
  • 1 fennel bulb, outer layer removed, finely diced
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon Calvados (can substitute regular brandy)
1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot and simmer over medium low heat until the cider is reduced by half. Strain and sprinkle over the Crispy Delicata Rings.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction

The original title of this dish is actually Hunter's-Style Chicken. The "hunter" refers to the stew's semblance to chicken cacciatore; both share a commonality of braised chicken, tomatoes, herbs, and wine. But here's the thing. To me, a hunter's stew sounds like a combination of all things meager and scarce: the scrappy, peasanty fruits of a disappointing bow-and-arrow labor in the woods.  (Maybe I'm just picturing myself out there.) Is there deer? Quail? Regarding the mushrooms....wouldn't a more appropriate name be Forager's-Style Chicken? At any rate, the title of the stew wasn't doing it for me, so I renamed it Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction. Because this stew is like Iggy Azalea. It's fancy. 
The "culinary equivalent of a big chunky sweater," this chicken stew is sumptuous and soul-warming, hearty to the core. It begs to be eaten in the depths of winter (or next week, if you've been keeping track of this bomb cyclone business) alongside a cozily-light fireplace and glass of full-bodied wine in hand. How convenient—you'll have an open, almost-full bottle of vino after step 5!
Rich healthy food seems like an oxymoron; indeed, upon seeing a recipe for mushroom-wine sauce my eye immediately scanned for the butter, cream, and fatty red meat to follow.  In this stew, however, full-flavored ingredients define the richness—heaviness is nowhere to be found. Earthy, buttery porcini and crimini mushrooms reach a truffle-like caliber, while the fruity, aromatic red wine adds its own cornucopia of fragrance and frill.  Fresh holiday herbs like thyme and savory give feasting character, and quality tomatoes (try for fresh Campari, canned San Marzano, or both) complete the base of the robust stew. The original recipe called for skin-on chicken parts of meat both light and dark, but the sauce is so wonderfully decadent on its own that you can absolutely stick with boneless, skinless chicken breast and be fine.  It also suggested layering the stew over creamy Parmesan polenta, but in keeping with my rich-yet-healthy theme, I served mine on top of brown basmati rice with a side of steamed broccoli.
My alternate title for this post was "Lazy Hunter's-Style Chicken," because I took a few shortcuts.  After simmering on the stovetop, the stew is supposed to be transferred to the oven and baked for an hour, but my pan wouldn't fit in my tiny apartment oven. So on the stovetop we stayed, with a perfunctorily thickened sauce. (If you can, I would try to bake it—I bet the consistency would be out of this world.) I already mentioned that I substituted chicken breasts for darker skin-on pieces; but when cooked correctly, the latter is fall-off-the-bone tender: it's up to you which parts to use.
Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction (adapted from Food52)
Serves 5-6

5 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts or 1 3 to 3 ½ lb. chicken, quartered (or an equivalent amount of skin-on parts of your choice)
Kosher or sea salt
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
extra-virgin olive oil
¾ pound crimini mushrooms
2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 ½ cups chopped white or yellow onion
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 1 cup)
3 cups chopped ripe Campari tomatoes or canned peeled San Marzano tomatoes; drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
a pinch of red chile flakes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (such as fresh thyme, savory, and flat-leaf parsley)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.* Arrange the chicken pieces on a plate and pat dry. Season well with salt and set aside.
2. Cover the porcini mushrooms with 1 cup of boiling water and let steep for a few minutes until the mushrooms are soft. Remove the mushrooms, finely chop and set aside. Reserve the mushroom soaking liquid, and set aside as well.
3. Warm 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat.  Brown the chicken parts in batches, skin-side down, until all chicken is browned and crisp-skinned. (If using boneless skinless chicken breasts, cook each side until they begin to bronze.) Remove the browned chicken pieces to a plate and set aside. Pour off all but a thin layer of the rendered fat (if present).
4. Trim and quarter the crimini mushrooms and add to the pan. Cook until browned on all sides, then add the chopped porcini and the red vermouth, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
5. Add the chopped onions to the pan with a sprinkle of salt, adding a little more oil if necessary, and cook until soft and opaque. Add the carrot and toss through, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chile flakes, wine, and reserved mushroom liquid, stirring well and bringing to a simmer.
Toss the chopped herbs with the mushrooms and return to the pot, stirring through. Nestle the chicken pieces on top, being sure to add any of the juices that have accumulated. 
6. Cook until chicken is tender and red wine reduced on stovetop or in oven: 
FOR STOVETOP: Simmer pot for 15 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered, turning chicken once, until chicken is cooked through and sauce slightly reduced.
FOR OVEN: Cover the pot with a parchment lid, and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for at least one hour, preferably more, until the chicken is falling-apart tender and the sauce thick and reduced. 
7. Add salt to taste. Serve over grain of your choice with a sprinkle of chopped flat leaf parsley or thyme sprig on top.

*Only complete this step if you plan on baking the stew. If keeping on stovetop, skip.