This past Sunday I was in quite the quandary. You see, I had no idea what I wanted to make for dinner. NO idea. I hate when that happens. I wanted to cook but nothing in particular sounded very good. That kind of aimlessness is so frustrating. Often at work my morning will get unexpectedly busy and then all of a sudden it's 1:30 and I have no idea what to do about lunch. There are too many dining options in relatively close proximity to my office and when I'm that hungry I just can't chose. I end up grazing in the kitchen and making a meal out of Powerbars and Baked Doritos.
What I'm getting at is, I find I really need parameters. You know how when you're watching something like Top Chef or Project Runway and Padma or Heidi will be laying out today's challenge and then they'll get a twinkle in their eye and then wickedly announce "BUT there's a twist!!!" Then all of a sudden the designers are only allowed to use Hefty bags out of which they are expected to create a red carpet gown or the cheftestants can only spend like $5 on ingredients to make a meal for a family of four and everyone's face drops and they whine and complain. Screw them, I love that kind of thing. It fuels the creativity. Back when I was in architecture school our projects always had parameters of some sort and did WE complain??? Well actually yeah, I guess we did.
Anyway. If you notice, many of the posts here on Well Fed are working up against some sort of obstacle or challenge (some of my guests are vegetarian, the meal's theme is Moroccan, I need to make something that doesn't require the use of a knife to cut, etc...) Sunday, I had no obstacle. The closest thing was Mark had been up visiting his mother and had been eating a lot of red meat, and as such, was not into eating MORE red meat. After looking at cookbooks and websites a decision could not be made. We ended up going to the Abbey for cocktails and then, whilst buzzed, meandered across the street for hamburgers and chili fries.
Monday when I noticed it was Bastille Day I realized I finally had my long awaited for parameter: In honor of Bastille Day I should make something FRENCH! Yeah, I know. It's a little bit weak. But it really helped. I thought to this recipe I came across in a recent Williams Sonoma catalogue that had caught my eye. It was not red meat AND it was French. Perfect!
1 chicken, about 3 to 4 pounds, cut into 8 serving pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 yellow squash, quartered and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
5 plum tomatoes, seeded and quartered
1/4 cup dry-cured black olives, pitted
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chicken and brown about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate while you continue to brown the rest of the chicken.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the squash, wine, 2 tablespoons of the parsley and 2 teaspoons of the tarragon.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Return the chicken to the pan and add the tomatoes, olives and stock.
Bring to a gentle simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley and 1 teaspoon tarragon. Serve immediately.
Despite the fact that this is a braised chicken dish, the sort of thing that would typically bring to mind, cool fall nights, this is actually very summery. I mean, what vegetables perfectly exemplify warm weather, more than yellow squash and tomatoes? Since tomatoes and squash always desperately need salt to make their flavors really pop, the olives serve that function, as well as adding depth of flavor. Braising the chicken results in very moist meat and the resulting broth is nice and light. After dinner I couldn't stop standing at the stove slurping spoonful after spoonful of it. The parsley and tarragon pair well with the wine and chicken, although I wonder if basil might be used as well, perhaps in place of the tarragon. It's an idea I might explore at some point. Although I didn't, I highly recommend serving this dish with some ragged hunks of warm, crusty baguette. The contrast in textures would be brilliant. Add a butter lettuce salad to start, a couple bottles of wine and some sort of fruit dessert and you've got yourself a gorgeous little dinner party for a balmy summer night.
Serves 4 to 6