Archive | Chicken RSS feed for this section

Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Fennel, and Spinach

8 Jun

Having just shared with you my favorite recipe for pizza dough, it seems only natural that I should then share with you what currently holds court as my most favorite pizza.  As you may have guessed, it involves a lot of vegetables.

I have no idea if this is actually true, but a friend of mine who hails from a long line of Italian descendants once told me that, in Italy, one is more likely to spot a great deal of vegetables on a pizza than a great deal of meat.  Toppings are sparse, he told me, and slices are not meant to be weighted down with a heavy pile of cheeses and meats.  Again, I have no idea if this is actually true, but I was intrigued to hear it.  Not being Italian, and having never been to Italy, I can only venture a guess as to what the Italian pizza-eating experience is like, and I would never judge what someone did or did not want on a pizza.  I am Indian, for heavens sake.  My people put mutton and peas on pizza.  That right there disqualifies me from passing judgment on any and all matters related to pizza toppings.

What I feel I can do, however, is at least make a valid statement concerning what I think is the best way to handle and cook pizza dough.  In my mind there are two very important steps that one can follow and be almost guaranteed a flawless pizza experience.

1) Hand stretching dough, though it takes marginally more time than using a rolling pin, produces a light and bubbly crust with plenty of stretch and chew.  The heat from your hands helps the dough to relax, and you don’t end up toughening the dough and forcing out all the air like you do when you flatten out a disc of dough with a rolling pin.  Take the extra four minutes and hand stretch your dough.  You won’t regret it.

2) Bake your pizza on the lowest oven rack possible, at the highest temperature possible.  You don’t need a pizza stone to get a great crunch on your pizza dough, but you do need to create a bit of auxiliary heat under your pizza.  Placing a heavy baking sheet in the oven, on the lowest rack possible, while your oven preheats, will help crisp up the bottom crust of your pizza.  The heat from the hot pan will work its way up through the crust of your pizza while the cheese on top melts and the top crust browns.  Ever make a pizza with crisp edges and a soft and gummy middle?  Using a preheated pan in the lower portion of your oven will solve that problem.

This particular pizza, while featuring a bit of meat, is heavy on vegetables without being heavy itself.  It is also extremely satisfying.  Thin slices of Italian chicken sausage add a slightly salty bite, and the fresh slices of fennel give the pizza a fresh crunch.  In bypassing red sauce all together, the gentle taste of the toppings really have a chance to stand out against the mellow flavor of the garlic and olive oil base.  Authentic?  I have no idea.  But delicious?  Definitely.

Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Fennel, and Spinach

pizza dough for 1 pizza

2 cloves of garlic, minced and then smashed into a paste with a pinch of salt

fresh ground pepper

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil

6 ounces Italian chicken sausage

1/2 bulb of fennel, sliced into thin ribs

8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese

4 ounces chopped fresh spinach

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F, or as high as your oven will go.  Set an oven rack on the lowest level or second lowest level (the heat zones of every oven are different, so, to exercise caution, start with baking your first pizza on the second lowest level of your oven then, if your pizza does not get sufficiently crisped on the bottom, you’ll know to move your oven rack one level lower the next time you bake pizza), and place a heavy baking sheet on the rack to preheat along with the oven.

In a very small bowl, combine smashed garlic with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and set aside.

Slice chicken sausage into small coins or, if you are using bulk chicken sausage, break it up into small, nickel-sized pieces. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a medium pan and briefly cook chicken sausage in oil until sausage just begins to brown slightly.  Remove from heat and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, using your hands, shape pizza dough into a 14-inch round.  The more you handle the dough, the more the heat of your hands will warm the dough and make it more pliable.

Place the shaped dough on a piece of parchment paper.  Place parchment paper and dough on a rimless baking sheet or a rimmed baking sheet that has been overturned.

Spoon garlic and olive oil mixture over the surface of the pizza dough.  Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper to taste.  Top with cheese, then add the sliced fennel and browned sausage.

Slide the uncooked pizza, still on the parchment paper, from the rimless baking sheet to the preheated baking sheet in the oven. Bake pizza for 8 to 12 minutes, until the crust is puffed and browned at the edges and the cheese has melted and just started to turn slightly brown in places.

Remove pizza from oven and sprinkle with chopped spinach.  The spinach will wilt ever so slightly.

Indian Chicken Kebabs

27 Apr

When I was in India many years ago, I accompanied one of my cousins to the market so she could buy a chicken for that evening’s dinner.  She instructed me to wait for her in the car while she ran into the market, so I did.  Two minutes later, my cousin emerged from the market holding a plastic bag.  She set the bag on the floor in front of the seat next to her, and we started home.

Now, as an admission of my total ignorance, when my cousin told me that she was buying a chicken at the store, I very much imagined her buying what I knew as a market chicken: a headless, featherless, organless chicken that came in a shrink wrapped bag.  Keeping that in mind (and the fact that I was still a very dedicated vegetarian), you can imagine my alarm when the bag on the floor of the car began to softly and almost indiscernibly cluck.  No, I thought.  Clearly I am imagining that.  I watched the bag for a moment, wondering if the subtle crinkling of the bag’s sides was a product of the car’s bumping along a dirt road.  Um, is that chicken… I started to ask, when, as though sensing my mild horror (can chickens smell fear?) the bag started to freak out.  By the time we got home, the chicken bag was expanding from all directions.  My cousin grabbed the bag, holding it out to her side like, well, like a plastic bag with a frenzied chicken contained within, and hurried along to the backyard.

I didn’t see my cousin or the chicken again until about an hour later, when both emerged from the kitchen.  My cousin was holding a platter of fresh (no, really, I mean fresh) kebabs, which, moments after she set on the table, people began to rave about.  The perfect seasoning, the fresh spices, the juicy meat—I was the only person at the table not enraptured by the kebabs, because I was the only person at the table not eating the kebabs.  Vegetarianism aside, I could not help thinking of how quickly and matter-of-factly that chicken made its way to the table, and how impressed I was by the whole affair.  Forget buying a trussed and refrigerated organic chicken from Whole Foods, my cousin had just bought a chicken.

More than a decade later, now a beginning meat eater, I found myself telling that story to a friend.  After justifiably laughing at my discomfort, she then said, “I’ll bet those kebabs tasted fantastic.”  Weirdly, no one had ever brought that up before.  It seemed almost unbelievable that she was the first person to mention the actual kebab in the story.  Since it didn’t seem right to leave that part of the story unsolved, I felt it was my duty to dig up a recipe for chicken kebabs and see what all the fuss was about.

Though the chicken I used was nowhere near as fresh as the chicken in my cousin’s kebabs, I now understand the revelry that surrounded them. The chicken is moist while the outer breading is pleasingly crunchy, and the earthy spices combine with fresh green chilies to make a fantastic blend of lightly spicy and savory elements in each bite.  I may be many years late to this wonderful dish, but I feel that makes me uniquely qualified to insist that you not wait as long as I did to discover it.  Eat it now.

Indian Chicken Kebabs

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking

Jaffrey’s original recipe called for slightly different ingredients and yielded a smaller number of larger kebabs.  I prefer a daintier portion of meat, so I made each kebab smaller, but I think these kebabs would be even better if they were sized into two or three bite portions.  I served the kebabs with basmati rice and a bit of cucumber and yogurt sauce, but you could also tuck one into a bit of naan to make yourself a lovely light meal.

Makes 8 kebabs

1 lb finely ground chicken (I bought ground chicken and then pulsed it in the food processor to make it even finer)

12 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs, or another very fine, dry breadcrumb

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

1 or 2 fresh, hot green chilies, finely chopped

1/2 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 teaspoons peeled, finely grated fresh ginger

1/2 medium fresh tomato, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

vegetable oil to line the bottom of a frying pan

lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Combine the chicken, 4 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs, salt, garam masala, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cilantro, mint, green chilies, onion, ginger, tomato, and cayenne in a bowl.  Mix well and form 8 patties.  Put the remaining 8 tablespoons breadcrumbs on a plate and dip each patty in them.  There should be a thin layer of breadcrumbs on all sides.  Cover and refrigerate the patties in a single layer until needed.

Put enough oil in a large frying pan to cover the bottom lightly and set over medium-high heat.  When hot, put in the patties–only as many as the pan will hold in a single layer.  Cook for 3 minutes on each side.  Turn heat to medium and cook for another 2-3 minutes on each side.  Place cooked patties on a large baking sheet and place in preheated oven for 5 minutes to keep warm and continue cooking all the way through.  If you make several very small patties instead of 8 medium ones, it will not be necessary to continue cooking the patties in the oven.

Before eating, top the patties with a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Italian Wedding Soup

28 Feb

In a household where one person is usually found doing the bulk of the cooking, there can often be a tad bit of confusion involved when the non-cooking sector of the household announces the intention to start taking on regular cooking duties.  This confusion, it should be noted, is not on the part of the cook being given a break, but rather on the part of the new cook who is often times unsure about the differences between foods and ingredients that share a similar profile.

Such was the case when my husband, who has announced that he will now be cooking dinner one night a week, raised the question about the difference between chicken stock and chicken broth.  It was a good question, but one that was tough for me to explain, save for the single qualifier I could think up that described chicken stock as being the more “chickeny” of the two liquids.  Searching for a more detailed answer, we decided to consult with that tried and true tome of all things food: Joy of Cooking.

As it turns out, my description was not far off.  Chicken stock (as with any meat-based stock) is made with a higher bone-to-meat ratio than chicken broth, and thus results in a thicker, more intense product.  Stock also takes twice as long to produce, and one is required to take on a lot more butchering of the chicken in order to portion out the most desirable stock components (back, neck, bones).

It was then, envisioning an entire morning and afternoon spent tending to a stewing chicken skeleton, that my husband opted to take his first plunge into soup-making by way of tenderly poaching a whole chicken and producing what turned out to be an entire stock pot full of chicken broth.

The broth, while delicious, was also abundant, and it managed to stick around through two separate rounds of chicken soup (four rounds, really, if you account for the fact that on both occasions we were made to assemble a separate, non-vegetable, version of the soup for our preschool-aged child) without showing any signs of fatigue.

Which is not to say that our taste buds were not more than a little fatigued, leading to the desire for a more complex and dressed-up pot of soup.  Desiring more vegetables (sorry, son), more textures, and more spice, I was drawn to the idea of plumping up the soup into something a bit busier.  By adding tiny meatballs of Italian chicken sausage, the soup was instantly given a bit more heft.

Fresh carrots and celery sautéed with onions gave the flavor of the soup more depth, and a bit of fresh ginger added a much-needed hit of brightness.

After adding a handful of pasta and then deciding to serve the soup over a bed of fresh spinach, it soon became clear to me that by doctoring up my husband’s chicken broth, I had created a melting pot of colors and flavors known as Italian wedding soup, which, though neither of us is Italian, seemed quite fitting for a dish made by a marrying of both minds and meals.

Italian Wedding Soup

2.5 quarts (10 cups) chicken broth

1 pound bulk Italian chicken sausage

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, finely minced

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

1 heaping cup dry pasta (we used rotini)

1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger

salt and pepper to taste

8 oz spinach leaves, washed and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Using a teaspoon, portion out the Italian chicken sausage into 1 inch meatballs, dropping each one onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake meatballs for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through and just slightly beginning to caramelize on the outside.

While the meatballs are baking, heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, and celery, then saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but the carrots still retain their bright color, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta to the simmering soup, and cook until tender, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the baked meatballs and cook for an additional minute.  Add in the fresh ginger, chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, then stir to combine.  Taste, then adjust seasonings as you see fit.

To serve soup, place a handful of chopped fresh spinach in the bottom of each bowl.  Ladle soup directly over spinach, then top with a sprinkling of additional parsley, if desired.

%d bloggers like this: