Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chicken Tagine with Butternut Squash & Chickpeas

I love the fact that I live in a place where each of the four seasons makes a proud appearance. It is snowing as I write this...and I love it. I wish we had a higher average annual snowfall. If it's going to be cold, I want it to snow.

This morning after our first big storm of the season

Out for a walk in the snow...we wouldn't miss it!

The one thing I don't love about winter is the darkness. And keeping a blog has given me yet another reason to lament the loss of the light. As I looked back over my Panzanella post from last summer while I worked on my Winter Panzanella post last week, I was once again amazed at the difference natural light makes in the quality of the photos I take. Looking at the beautiful evening light splashed across my photos from September and comparing it to the harsh indoor light that fills my pictures now is disheartening.

It is interesting to me that it was the light that I missed as I looked at the pictures...not the food. A fresh tomato salad doesn't appeal to me in the slightest right now—particularly with the cold blustery weather we have had for the past few days. I love the braises, stews, soups, hearty pastas, etc. that feature the ingredients particular to this moment of the year. I will be tired of them soon, but for now, they are naturally just what I crave.

A few nights ago I made a Moroccan chicken stew (a tagine) that has caught my eye every time I have looked through A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis. It is so often the case that I make a mental note to try an interesting recipe when the season is right and then I forget about it when the season comes around. Not this time. As I flipped past the picture, I went back to look again. And sure enough, I had most of the necessary ingredients on hand. Featuring butternut squash—one of my favorite Autumn and Winter vegetables—and chickpeas, the picture of this dish in the cookbook is a study in oranges and yellows and exudes warmth. A perfect meal for a bone chilling day.

As always, I made a few adjustments to the original recipe. The biggest change I made was that I browned my chicken to crisp the skin and render some of the fat. I think flabby chicken skin is an atrocity—responsible, I am sure, for the fact that so many people refuse to eat chicken skin. The original recipe simply tells you to season the chicken and then layer it into the baking dish with the squash without browning it first.

I also made a few changes to the spices and flavorings. I added ground coriander and lemon—after a chicken tagine in Claudia Roden's Arabesque—and used ground ginger instead of fresh. I don't keep fresh ginger on hand, and ground ginger is an authentic substitute for this dish. Finally, I used canned chickpeas instead of dried. Even if I had had dried in my pantry, I didn't have time to cook them on the day that I made the stew. If you have dried chickpeas and you plan ahead, I'm sure they would be wonderful in this dish. If you do cook dried chickpeas, use their cooking liquid in the stew instead of water.

One final note. The original recipe was for a crowd—calling for twelve leg-thigh joints. I only cooked two leg-thigh joints and adjusted the rest of the recipe accordingly. I am posting the quantities for the smaller version that I made. Obviously it can be expanded to meet your needs.

We loved this rustic and warming stew. The recipe is definitely a keeper. I served it with couscous with almonds, green olives and dried apricots. This complimented the sweetness and mild heat and spice of the stew quite well. But the stew is pretty fine all by itself, too. The next day I pulled the leftover chicken off of the bone and warmed it in the remaining broth and vegetables. This made a whole different kind of stew—and a really nice lunch. I'm not sure which way I liked it best. Either way, it was satisfying and sustaining and one more reason to enjoy the Winter months.

Chicken Tagine with Butternut Squash & Chickpeas

2 chicken leg-thigh joints
salt & pepper
olive oil
1/2 to 1 T. unsalted butter
1 medium onion (8 to 10 oz.), cut in a 1/4-inch dice
1/8 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. (heaped) ground cumin
1/4 t. (scant) ground coriander
1 clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
a small pinch of saffron
hot pepper flakes, to taste
10 to 12 oz. butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced 1/2– to 3/4-inch thick cross-wise
water (or chickpea cooking liquid)
juice of half a lemon
3/4 to 1 cup chickpeas (drained and rinsed if using canned)
1 to 2 T. minced Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a medium-sized, deep sauté pan (I use a 3-quart sauteuse that is nine inches across and three inches deep—see note) over moderately high heat. Add the chicken, skin side down, and brown all over. Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle. Browning the chicken will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and pour off all but 1 T. of fat from the pan.

Add the butter to the pan and melt. Add the onions to the pan and cook until the onion is soft and beginning to turn golden—about 10 minutes. If the pan seems dry, add more oil or butter.  Add the ginger, coriander, cumin and garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant.

Remove from the heat and crumble the saffron into the pan. Scatter a pinch of hot pepper flakes over all. Add the squash in a single layer and season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken, skin-side up, to the pan—nestling the chicken down among the squash as much as possible.

Add enough water to just cover the squash (this will depend on the size of the pan—I needed 1 1/3 cups). The chicken should not be fully covered with liquid. Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to a 375° oven. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and tender—about 35 to 45 minutes. Uncover the pan and cook for 10 minutes more to allow the skin to re-crisp.

Place the pan over medium heat. Remove the chicken to a plate and keep warm. Scatter the chickpeas over the squash and gently shake and swirl the pan to submerge the chickpeas. It is important not to stir the chickpeas into the stew. The squash will be very tender and will break up into a purée if the stew is stirred. Continue to cook gently until the broth is slightly thickened and the chickpeas are hot through. Swirl in a squeeze of lemon juice and taste the stew. Correct the seasoning with more lemon juice and/or salt & pepper. Swirl in the parsley.

Place the chicken on individual plates (with couscous or rice) or a serving platter and spoon the broth and vegetables over.  Alternatively, return the chicken to the cooking vessel and serve directly from the pan with along with a large bowl of couscous or rice.  Serves 2 to 3.

Note: If you don't have an oven-proof, deep sauté pan that is the right size, simply brown the chicken and cook the onions and spices in a heavy sauté pan, building the stew in an appropriate-sized covered casserole dish by layering in the onions, followed by the squash and browned chicken. Bring the water to a boil before adding it to the casserole.  The tagine can be finished in the oven—remove the chicken, add the chickpeas and continue to bake (uncovered) until the chickpeas are hot through and the broth is slightly thickened.)

(Recipe adapted from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis)

Couscous with Apricots, Almonds & Olives

1 c. quick-cooking couscous
1/3 c. dried apricots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 c. coarsely chopped green olives (about 8 large olives)
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1 t. kosher salt
1 1/4 c. water
4 T. toasted sliced almonds (or substitute coarsely chopped pistachios)

Place the couscous in a medium sized bowl along with the apricots and olives; set aside.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil and pour over the couscous, swirling to make sure all of the ingredients are submerged. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand until the couscous has absorbed the liquid—about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the plastic and add the almonds; fluff with a fork and serve immediately. Serves 4

(Couscous recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living, February 2009)


Katrina said...

I always felt and said the same thing the five years we were in Kansas--if it's gonna be cold, at least have some fun snow!
I will say, Utah has the fun stuff!
I love comfort food during the winter months, too. My family "thinks" they don't like squash or coucous, but I just keep making it and will until they like it. ;)

Anonymous said...

i have lemon and olives but can i put butternut squash in aswell or instead of olives?

Paige said...

Olives are fine with butternut squash--a nice sweet/salty contrast. I'm not quite sure which recipe you are referring to in your question...but you could add olives to the stew...Or, you could add some roasted butternut squash to the finished couscous.