Winter Chicken and Tomatoes

Possibly not for the dedicated locavore, but I found this a good way to bring tomatoes to the table in winter— as the little ones taste the same to me in any season. This is a light, cheery, and to me, easy to make warming winter meal.

For this four person version, you’ll need:
• Four small chicken breasts (I find that the organic, air-chilled ones are the most tender)
• Two pints of cherry tomatoes
• One or two heads of garlic
• Two cups of orzo
• One cup of parsley leaves (I don’t like the stems, so I pluck the leaves)
• One lemon
• Two tablespoons of capers
• Salt, ground pepper, olive oil
Optional: sea salt flakes, fresh cracked pepper

Cooking equipment I used:
• Anchor Hocking 11 cup covered baking dish or 9×13 baking dish with foil to cover
• 13×18 sheet pan for the tomatoes and garlic
• Three quart or larger saucepan for the orzo

Arrange the shelves in the oven to make room for the baking dish with the chicken and the baking pan with the tomatoes to go in together— I put the chicken just below the middle and the tomatoes and garlic just above the middle. Get the oven going at 400°. Put as many cherry tomatoes and peeled garlic cloves as you want in a bowl. Toss with a little good-tasting olive oil, spread this out on a baking sheet and sprinkle with some sea salt flakes. Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt and fresh cracked pepper. If the baking dish doesn’t have a lid, cover with foil; I use an 11 cup Anchor Hocking baking dish with a glass lid which is good for up to four not too big chicken breasts. Put everything in the oven and pour yourself a glass of something. The tomatoes will take around 30 minutes to shrivel up and get some brown spots. I usually just leave the chicken in until everything is done, but you can test it around 20 minutes; if it looks cooked through when you pierce it with a knife or the instant read thermometer says it’s 165º, it’s done. You can take it out and let stay warm on the stove.

While you’re sipping and the tomatoes are roasting, start a pot for your orzo and bring it to a boil; salt the water if you wish. Orzo usually takes 10 minutes, so try to plot for it to be done when the chicken and tomatoes come out. While you’re waiting, finely chop some parsley for the orzo, drain a few spoonfuls of capers, and have some lemon wedges ready— I take out any pips that I can see. Oh, and you can set your bowls on the stove to let them warm up a bit.

When the tomatoes and garlic are shriveled up and brown in spots, it’s ready. Drain the orzo and put it back in the pot; drizzle with some olive oil and fold in the parsley and maybe some salt. Take the chicken and tomatoes out of the oven and slice or dice the chicken in the baking dish or on a cutting board. Now it comes together: every bowl gets some orzo, a few slices of chicken, tomatoes and garlic. Then I finish the dish with a few capers and a splash of lemon juice, but it tastes just as good without— the roasted tomatoes are the star of the show here. This might work with fish, maybe tilapia dredged and pan fried. The orzo could be any small pasta (little shells with fish could be nice) or even rice, quinoa, or couscous.

Notes:
For olive oil, I use Columela— it has a sort of spicy flavor, for sea salt flakes, I use Maldon, and for pepper, I use the Tellicherry variety. I use table salt for anything mixed in or cooked and save the sea salt flakes for finishing or roasting. Using these ingredients adds a little extra flavor to the dish and they’re getting much easier to find now. I’m wondering about the salt packed capers I see popping up, but they are super expensive. I guess I should try them. This dish could also work with quinoa or maybe even white rice.

Update February 2016: I made this with quinoa instead of orzo and I like it just a much.

Copyright © 2017 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Summer Sole

I love how bright tasting this is. I’ve made it with orzo and quinoa and both are equally good. I was originally going to make this with tilapia but I got sole instead. This turned out to be a good thing— sole is so thin, I decided to roll it up and that worked really well here. Although there is some preparation involved with the vegetables, overall the dish keeps the simplicity I was looking for. Actually, after watching a show about tiny houses— the ones built on trailer beds— I realized this would work well for a tiny kitchen: you could easily do the fish in a toaster oven and you only need a two burner stove for the rest.

Options: There are always options. I mention trying quinoa instead of orzo above. I think couscous would also be a good base. The fish could be another sort of mild, white fish. I tried this with tilapia, but I wasn’t crazy about it. I’m sure there are other fishes that will work here, so I’ll keep an eye out. Snapper? You can top the fish with some toasted Panko at the end if you like some crunch. Or maybe ground nuts. I have a nut allergy so I can’t tell you if nuts are a possibility here. What other crunchy things are there? I also want to try adding some red pepper; maybe taking out the carrots and/or the squash. If there’s asparagus around, that would be good here too. I was thinking about adding some tarragon to the parsley sauce next time; I wonder if basil would work instead of the parsley? Lots of things could be really good here.

For this four person version, you’ll need:
• Two medium or one large filet of sole for each person (cut large ones in half lengthwise)
• Two cups of orzo
• Two crowns of broccoli
• Three carrots
• One or two yellow squash (depending on size)
• Garlic (I used four cloves vegetables and four in the sauce)
• One lemon
• Two cups of parsley leaves (I don’t like the stems, so I pluck the leaves)
• Salt, ground pepper, olive oil (or other mild oil)
Optional: sea salt flakes, fresh cracked pepper

Cooking equipment I used:
• Saute or frying pan for the vegetables (I used a 12″ frying pan)
• Sheet pan lined with parchment if needed for the fish (I used a 13×18 because that’s what I have, but it could be smaller, even a toaster oven pan)
• 3 qt saucepan for the orzo

Get the oven going at 400°F.

Start with the the sauce so it can have a little time for the flavors to come together. Combine about two cups of finely chopped parsley with the zest and juice of one lemon, around a third of a cup of olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, and one to four or more garlic cloves —finely chopped or run through a garlic press. I use the zest and juice of one lemon to be economical and as many a four cloves of garlic because I love garlic and around and enough olive oil to give it the consistency of a sauce. You could also blitz it in a small food processor or one of those bullet things.

Next, get a pot of water going on high for the orzo and set your bowls on the stove to warm.

While the water’s heating up, rinse and dry the sole. On a baking sheet, with parchment paper if needed, brush the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper and sea salt flakes; then roll the fish up bow to stern and repeat with olive oil, salt, and pepper on the outside. Set the fish aside.

Then set to work on your vegetables. Get the pan warming up on medium with a teaspoon or so of olive oil and a little salt. I cut the carrots and squash into thin half-moons and the broccoli into small half-florets (you can save the stems for slaw).

The water for the orzo should be ready now, so that can go in. It usually takes around nine minutes, but go with whatever the box says.

Then saute the vegetables. I turn the pan up to medium-high and put the carrots in first for a minute or so, then the broccoli, and then the squash. If you want to avoid using a pan, you could also boil the vegetables in with the orzo by adding the carrots the last four minutes and the broccoli and squash for the last three to two depending on the thickness. When the vegetables are almost ready, add one to four of more garlic cloves—finely chopped or run through a garlic press.

Once the orzo is in and the vegetables are sauteing, the fish can have its turn in the oven. The fish is ready when an instant read thermometer says 145ºF or when a fork or knife can easily go through the thickest part. This is somewhere around seven minutes.

Do I need to say ‘drain the orzo’?

Then it all comes together in a filling little bowl. I’m thinking next time I’ll give the finished bowls an extra splash of lemon and dash of sea salt flakes before it hits the table.

Notes: For olive oil, I use Columela or Nuñez de Prado— they both have a sort of spicy flavor, for sea salt flakes, I use Maldon, and for pepper, I use the Tellicherry variety. I use table salt for anything mixed in or cooked and save the sea salt flakes for finishing or roasting. Using these ingredients adds a little extra flavor to the dish and they’re getting much easier to find now.

Copyright © 2014 MRStrauss • All rights reserved