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GOOD COOKING

February 14, 2001|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Here's a satisfying company meal that makes you glad you've cooked at home rather than gone out to eat.

This Greek chicken stew, a simple, robust dish of chicken, tomatoes, herbs and Kalamata olives, simmers in the oven with little attention from the cook. Make it a day or two ahead so the flavors can develop. Served with short macaroni with fresh dill and green onion butter, it's real comfort food.

Dessert takes a nod from baklava, the sweet Greek pastry dessert. A spiced honey-lemon syrup is brushed over pears as they roast until just tender. Easily reheated at serving time, they are served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and garnished with toasted walnuts.

For dessert, brush halved pears with 1/2 cup honey, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and bake at 400 degrees until tender, 20 to 25 minutes, basting twice. Scoop out the seeds and fill with walnuts toasted 5 to 6 minutes at 350 degrees; serve with ice cream.

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Mandel is a cookbook author.

Greek Chicken Stew

Active Work Time: 40 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 45 minutes plus 24 hours chilling

I've tried this recipe using chicken without the skin but it wasn't as flavorful as this version. Be sure to use dried oregano flakes with an intense fragrance.

1/2 cup flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

2 (3-pound chickens), preferably organic, cut into 8 pieces

3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 onions, thinly sliced

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup thinly sliced celery

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes with no salt

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can low-salt chicken broth

2 tablespoons tomato paste

12 Kalamata olives

1/3 cup minced parsley mixed with 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/2 cup finely crumbled Feta cheese

* Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Set aside a 4-quart casserole or baking dish.

* Combine the flour, salt, pepper and oregano in a large plastic food bag. Coat a few chicken pieces at a time, shaking off the excess.

* Heat 1 1/2 of tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the chicken on all sides in 2 batches without crowding, about 6 minutes. As the pieces are browned, transfer to the reserved casserole. Repeat the process until all the chicken is browned, adding more oil as needed (reserve 1/2 tablespoon). Add any remaining seasoned flour to the casserole.

* Add the reserved 1/2 tablespoon of oil to the same skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions, garlic, celery and carrots. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are is soft, about 8 minutes. Add the wine, tomatoes, broth, tomato paste and olives. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then pour over the chicken, making sure the ingredients are well distributed.

* Bake, covered (with foil or casserole cover), 1 hour. Use tongs to move chicken from bottom to top. Bake, uncovered, about 30 minutes more. There should be lots of sauce (for spooning over the macaroni side dish). Cool, then refrigerate up to 3 days, covered airtight.

* To serve, skim any congealed fat off the surface. Reheat, covered, at 350 degrees until bubbling, about 45 minutes. Taste; adjust seasoning. Serve over hot macaroni, spooning on extra sauce. Sprinkle with the parsley mixture and feta cheese. Serve hot.

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings: 567 calories; 1,019 mg sodium; 136 mg cholesterol; 38 grams fat; 17 grams carbohydrates; 36 grams protein; 3.77 grams fiber.

Macaroni With Fresh Dill and Green Onion Butter

Active Work Time: 5 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes

3/4 pound short macaroni

Salt

3 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup snipped fresh dill

2 small green onions, thinly sliced

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

* Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, melt the butter on the stove top or in the microwave. Stir in the dill and green onions.

* Drain the macaroni, stir in the butter mixture and generously season with salt and pepper. (This can be made several hours ahead and kept at room temperature. Reheat in the microwave, adding some water if the macaroni is dry. Adjust seasoning.)

* Serve hot with Greek Chicken Stew.

6 servings. Each serving: 115 calories; 158 mg sodium; 16 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.08 gram fiber.

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