Firstly, an apology for not blogging in a while. Since coming home from university I have been lazy and made meals primarily already on my blog, and therefore haven’t had anything new to write about. But this is all about to change! Since the unexpected, but definitely welcome, change in weather for the better, my return to sunny Essex in contrast to mostly-cloudy-Coventry has inspired me to begin experimenting with new, summery foods (that, and how nice it is to not cook in student accommodation!). A few nights ago I took the opportunity in weather change to move from a wintry chicken pie, to a chicken, ham and bean dish that reflected the warmth outside – evidenced by my red face because I accidentally fell asleep in the sun…
I found this recipe online, and it is incredibly simple to make. Because of its simplicity, it’d be easy to assume that a lack of culinary effort would be equal to a lack of flavour – however, its ease is its brilliance. Unlike many recipes, this dish isn’t bombarded with a variety of differing flavours and textures; it relies on a combination of unassuming ingredients whose blend of flavours are well accredited. And although the majority of this cooking is done in a hot oven, it could not be more perfect for a summer’s day – once the chicken pieces have been consumed, what remains is a tomato-sweet garlicky sauce that is light, and best enjoyed like a summer soup, soaked up with crusty bread. In fact, the best thing about this dish is probably this jus. Its flavour is built up over the cooking process – none of it is created by you as the chef, the ingredients are put together in the initial stages of cooking, and from there it is the work of the oven that breaks down each component, and allows them to infuse throughout. The sweetness of the cherry tomatoes blends with the white wine and the bite of the garlic, making the chicken and ham combination if anything, come secondary to the cooking juices they contribute to!
Using fresh tomatoes, specifically cherry tomatoes, is what gives the jus a sweet lightness that would be difficult to achieve with tinned tomatoes. Unlike fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes are heavier and thicker – the jus created is like a watery soup, full of flavour but light on consistency. The thickness of tinned tomatoes lends itself to dishes such as spaghetti bolognese or shepherds’ pie, but in a light summer dish such as this would be unsuitable. I would be interested to try tinned tomatoes with this dish in winter, replacing the white with red wine – I think the resultant dish would be just as delicious, but more suited to a cold day. Aside from the use of tomatoes, this dish also has such a summery feel because of its Italian influence. The use of dry cured ham, such as prosciutto, with fresh basil and tomatoes is a traditional Italian combination of ingredients; dry cured ham alone is a staple in many Italian dishes, and its use here lends another texture and flavour alongside the chicken.
I think if I was to make this dish again, I would make my own bread. It doesn’t require much effort, and the time it takes for the dish to cook would facilitate perfectly the time it would take to mix, rise and bake the dough. Plus, it would be much crustier than shop-bought, and give a home-made touch that would contribute to a rustic summery Italian feel around the table – recreating a holiday scene at home, making the most of the good weather!
- 1 chicken leg and thigh per person
- As many slices of dry cured ham as there are chicken pieces
- Around 200g cherry tomatoes per person
- Roughly 50ml of wine per person – for four, use a large glass
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
- Tin of cannellini beans – one tin should suffice for 1 – 2 people, and two tins for up to 4 people.
- Fresh basil
- Heat the oven to 160 degrees.
- Lay each piece of chicken on a flat surface and season them with salt and pepper. Pricking the skins of each piece of meat, place two or three basil leaves on the tops of the chicken pieces.
- Taking the dry cured ham, wrap the chicken in a slice each. Ensure that the slice of ham covers the chicken entirely, and keeps the basil close to the skin of the chicken – this will maintain the flavours of the basil and ham staying close to the chicken and infusing throughout the cooking process, contributing to the richness of the fantastic jus.
- Heating oil in either a large saucepan (that can be placed in the oven afterwards), or a large cooking tin, fry all the chicken pieces for five minutes either side, until the ham begins to crisp.
- Then, add all of the cherry tomatoes, the wine and more basil leaves. For each peeled garlic clove, take a large knife, and placing the blade flat (sideways) on top of the clove, lightly apply pressure. This should slightly break the clove – it should still remain whole, but be slightly impaired in shape, which allows the flavours to be released far more easily. Repeat this process for each garlic clove, and then add them to the chicken.
- Season, and cover the saucepan/dish with silver foil. Place the chicken in the oven to slowly cook for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven after this time, and remove the silver foil. Turn the oven up to 200 degrees; add the cannellini beans, and stir them into the tomato jus.
- Replace in the oven, without the foil, for 30 minutes more. This will allow the jus to thicken slightly, and crisp the chicken skin.
- Serve with really crusty bread, to mop the jus of the dish!