What I Cooked Last Night

Sometimes I make up these crazy meals that turn out to be wonderful. When that happens, i think it is worth sharing. Occasionally something turns out to be a total disaster, then it is the story, rather than the recipe that is worth sharing. My kitchen creativity is best used on leftovers. I can work tasty magic with leftovers. Be sure to read the first post, "About My Cooking Style" which will help in following recipes when given, or to recreate meals from my prose.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Chicka-Touille With Creamy Polenta

I went a little overboard at the Farmer's Market. I came home with 6 assorted color bell peppers, a cubanelle pepper, an eggplant, ten tomatoes, squash, zucchini, peaches, onions, okra, blackberries and 8 kirby cucumbers. It was a great haul, and there were some real bargains. The squash, for example, were only 59 cents a pound, and no sales tax at the Farmer's Market. So I had all of the ingredients for a ratatouille but I have never been a big fan. My husband dislikes eggplant and certainly would never call bell peppers his favorite vegetable, so I needed to make something really fabulous. I read up on ratatouille. I looked in The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, The Cook's Bible, Fresh From the Farmer's Market, The Whole Foods Cookbook, Simply in Season and Food To Live By. I found out that ratatouille is generally made by sauteing, separately, all of the vegetables and then mixing them together in the end. Every recipe called for different herbs, including basil, rosemary, thyme and tarragon. Some called for salting and draining the eggplant first, some to peel, some not to peel. Usually, the people at America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated, producers of the first two cookbooks I listed, have the definitive recipe for any given dish. This time though, their recipe called for dry roasting all of the componants. This sounded extra tasty, as I love roasted vegetables, but it didn't sound like ratatouille. In the end, as always, I sort of cobbled together something that had the best parts of the various recipes I looked at, with a few touches of my own thrown in. In the end, I had a very flavorful stew of braised chicken thighs, eggplant, squash, zucchini, onions, peppers and garlic, that actually surpassed my expectations.

First I peeled and slice the eggplant, placed it on paper towels, sprinkled it with salt and left it to rest. Next I trimmed the fat from one pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Then I browned the chicken in a little EVOO (Incidentally, this shortcut for saying/writing "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" was coined by Rachel Ray, one of my faves from Food Network. It made it into the 2007 dictionary.) and put it in the Crock-Pot set to high, with 1 cup of chicken broth. While the chicken browned, I cut three bell peppers and an onion into strips. I then I sauteed them in a little EVOO, and chopped up five tomatoes. When the onions & peppers were nicely browing, I added the tomatoes to the skillet to cook down. Meanwhile, I diced up the squashes and the eggplant. I sprayed a half sheet pan with a little EVOO, and tossed the squash & eggplant in with a little salt and pepper. They went into a 375 degree oven for one hour. Six cloves of garlic then had one end sliced off, were dropped in a little bowl, covered with foil and went into the oven as well. Once almost all of the liquid had cooked off, the pepper, onion, tomato mixture joined the chicken in the Pot. After the hour had passed, the eggplant and squash joined everything else, as did the garlic, once squeezed from it's skin. I tossed in a few sprigs of thyme, some finely chopped basil and let it all sit for another hour or so.

While everything was hanging out in the Crock-Pot, I worked on the polenta. I used two 12 ounce tubes and 3 cups of chicken broth. I mashed up the polenta into the broth and let it simmer, stirring often, for 90 minutes. At the very end, I grated in about a quarter or a cup of parmigiano reggiano cheese to finish it off.

Spoon some polenta on the plate and ladle a hearty serving of the "Chicka-Touille" over the top. Serves four, generously.

This is worth every bit of trouble and time. It actually was a great meal time wise, as I did everything in early afternoon and just let it simmer up until supper. Though not a weeknight meal, it was not particularly difficult.


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