We’ve been having a lot of barbecues recently on Sundays but the weather wasn’t great today and I had a few things in my fridge to use up before going away tomorrow: lots of tomatoes, a small head of fennel, some sweet peppers, a buffalo mozzarella … I decided to buy some chicken and make a chicken stew and slow roast some of the tomatoes to go with the mozzarella as a starter.
As my son was choosing some wine from my wine rack to go with supper, he asked, Is it a French recipe? Accustomed to my cooking French, Italian, Middle Eastern, etc. meals, keeping to a theme, it was a reasonable question. But in fact the meal had no ‘theme’ other than using up food that wouldn’t last for over a week until I get back from my holiday. It’s a Nonna recipe, I said. The grandsons call me Nonna, Italian for grandmother, so a number of food things for the family are defined by ‘Nonna’. And this is what Nonna cooked.
Chicken Braised with Fennel, Sweet Pepper & Tomato – Serves 4
- 4 chicken skinless breasts
- sea salt, black pepper, sweet paprika & dried oregano
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large or 2 small-medium onions
- 1 small head fennel, trimmed and sliced
- 1 yellow pepper, sliced
- 3 large tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
- 1 rounded dessert spoon plain flour
- 250ml white wine
Season with chicken breasts with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, a good sprinkling of paprika and a generous pinch of dried oregano. Rub in slightly and leave for a few minutes.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan with a lid. When the oil is hot, put the chicken breasts in, seasoned-side down. Cook for a couple of minutes until nicely browning. Turn over and cook another couple of minutes so the chicken is sealed on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate.
Add the chopped onions to the pan, adding a little more oil if necessary. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the fennel. Cook for another couple of minutes. Add the sliced sweet pepper. Fry it all over a moderate heat until slightly softening. Add the chopped tomatoes. Cook for another couple of minutes. You just want everything to start cooking and softening but not be well cooked as there’s a lot more cooking to come. Sprinkle over the flour and mix in. Then slowly add the wine, stirring all the time. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer for about 10 minutes so the alcohol evaporates and the sauce slightly thickens.
Lay the chicken breasts on top and snuggle slightly into the vegetable mix. Put the lid on the pan and leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes. Check the seasoning.
I prepared the dish a couple of hours in advance and just warmed it through again at suppertime. You don’t want to overcook the chicken though or it will toughen and you want it to stay moist and tender.
For my tomato starter I cut about 200g cherry tomatoes in half and lay them on greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. I drizzled over a little olive oil, seasoned lightly and sprinkled over a little dried oregano (or use thyme). I put them in a 150C/Fan 130/Gas 2 oven for 2½ hours. Check them every so often to make sure they’re not burning or softening but there’s no need to touch them or do anything else. Remove them from the oven when you can see they’re drying out and shrivelling up a bit. The smell from the oven will be wonderful!
I served them with the mozzarella broken in the middle of the plate, the tomatoes surrounding them. I drizzle over a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and scattered some torn basil leaves on top. We had some focaccia and olive fougasse with it.
Warm the chicken through if you prepared earlier.
I served with some new potatoes and French beans.
It was a gorgeous supper. The starter with the slow roasted tomatoes was fabulous. The tomatoes had such a deep and intense flavour that went wonderfully with the creamy mozzarella.
The chicken was moist and tender and really delicious. The flavours from the spicy rub had penetrated just enough to give the chicken a nice little punch but the sauce with all those flavourful vegetables was a brilliant match. It’s the kind of dish that really benefits from cooking early and leaving to ‘mature’ for a little while.