I am, by my own admission a chatterbox, so it’s not surprising that I enjoy writing these little ‘intros’ to each month’s chosen recipes, however sometimes, despite my chattiness, words escape me. This month is one of those times, I’m struggling to find a conversational way to introduce March! At a loss, I’ve been looking back at what I wrote last March (and the one before that), and it seems the subject of ‘Spring’ is a favourite theme! That’s probably because, like most of us, I’m desperate to shrug off the winter. I usually have a couple of trips on the horizon – giving me hope that there is light at the end of the ‘winter’ tunnel! In fact this March I’m looking forward to my annual getaway with my Italian group – I may have mentioned before that I’ve been learning Italian for more years than I care to mention (taking one step forward, two steps back with the grammar!). I adore the Italian language, culture and of course the food, and I feel fortunate that I’m able to study with a fantastic group of friends who I would never have met if it had not been for our enthusiasm to speak Italian. Anyway, every year our lovely teacher organises a trip to one of Italy’s wonderful cities, this year it’s Padua (or Padova if you’re in Italy!). I’m looking forward to being immersed in Italian – we aren’t allowed to speak English for the whole week! So for me, spring means Italy and all its wonderful food; hence with its advent, this March I thought that I should share at least one classic Italian recipe! And on that note, I have just realised that I’ve managed to chat again and have written my intro for this month’s recipes!…
March’s recipes have some bright flavours for those lighter evenings we’re all looking forward to. Menu One is ‘Chicken with Sweet Tomatoes’, this recipe is from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, ‘Jamie’s Dinners’, which came out in 2004; I have cooked this dish on many occasions since then. Although it may not be an authentic Italian recipe, I’m sure that Oliver took inspiration from Italy for this dish, it’s simply chicken legs slow-cooked on a bed of tomatoes with handfuls of basil and garlic – delicious! Menu Two is ‘Baked in a Bag Fillet of Fish, Peas & Leeks’. You could use any white fish fillet such as cod or haddock, either way, it’s a wonderfully fresh-tasting dish and is very easy to make! Finally, Menu Three is that classic Italian recipe that I was alluding to, ‘Aubergine Parmigiana’. With the wonderful mix of tomato, parmesan, mozzarella and aubergine, the flavours of this dish will brighten any day! Buon Appetito!
See you next week for my ‘Tuesday Treat’!…
(With spring in the air, I’ve been cooking along to ‘Music to Cook to…Menu Music Twenty Three’, this is a mix of soft rock and pop which I find strangely uplifting considering that some of the lyrics are a little ‘depressing’ – it’s perfect for a spring re-awakening!…)
Chicken with Sweet Tomatoes (Serves 4)
This recipe is from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, ‘Jamies’s Dinners’, which came out in 2004 and I have cooked it on many occasions since then. Although it may not be an authentic Italian recipe, I’m sure that Oliver took inspiration from Italy for this dish, it’s simply chicken legs slow-cooked on a bed of tomatoes with handfuls of basil and garlic. The skin of the chicken ends up beautifully crispy whilst the meat literally falls off the bone, meanwhile the slow roasted tomatoes create a fabulous broth – it’s all delicious! I like to add some new potatoes to the pot or you could add cannellini beans instead – either way it makes a great ‘one-pot supper’!
4 chicken legs
A big bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
2 big handfuls of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved and ripe plum tomatoes, quartered
1 whole bulb of garlic, broken up into cloves, unpeeled
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
2 handfuls of new potatoes halved or 1 x 400g tin of cannellini beans, drained (optional – see above)
Sea salt and black pepper
- Season the chicken pieces and put them in a casserole in on single layer. Add the basil leaves and chopped stalks, then the tomatoes. Scatter over the garlic cloves and the chopped chilli and drizzle with some olive oil (at this point you can also add the new potatoes or cannellini beans if you are using). Mix everything around, tucking the tomatoes under the chicken. Make sure that the chicken legs are skin side up.
- Place in a preheated oven, 180’c fan, for 1½ hours, turning the tomatoes halfway through, until the chicken skin is crisp and golden.
- Serve, making sure you squeeze the soft roasted garlic out of the skins!
‘Baked in a Bag’ Fillet of Fish, Peas & Leeks (Serves 4)
You could use any white fish fillet such as cod or haddock for this recipe, either way, it’s a wonderfully fresh-tasting dish and is very easy to make!
4 x white fish fillets such as haddock or cod, 150g each
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 baby leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
150g peas, defrosted if frozen
8 tablespoons white wine
4 teaspoons fresh dill, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
- Cut out 4 squares of kitchen foil, big enough to hold the fish and vegtables.
- Melt the butter with the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks and peas and fry gently, covered by a lid, for 10 minutes.
- Add the wine and dill, season to taste and simmer until the liquid has evaporated.
- Put a quarter of the vegetables in the middle of each piece of foil. Top with a piece of fish and season. Fold over to make a loose but tightly sealed parcel.
- Put the parcels on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven, 170’c fan, for 25 minutes.
- Open the parcels carefully onto serving plates.
Aubergine Parmigiana (Serves 4)
With the wonderful mix of tomato, parmesan, mozzarella and aubergine, the flavours of this dish will brighten any day! Simply serve with a well-dressed green salad. I like to fry half of the aubergine slices and blanch the other half, in this way the parmigiana isn’t too oily yet still very tasty. Simply leave out the breadcrumbs for a gluten free option.
1kg aubergines (about four large ones)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
3 garlic cloves, crushed
800g tinned tomatoes
150ml red wine
Pinch of sugar
½ teaspoon dried oregano
200g mozzarella, thinly sliced
100g Parmesan cheese, grated
50g dried breadcrumbs (optional)
Handful of basil leaves
Sea salt and black pepper
* A rectangular baking dish approx. 30cm x 20cm
- Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over a medium-high heat and add the garlic. Fry for a minute before adding the tomatoes and wine. Bring to the boil, stirring and mashing the tomatoes. Add a pinch of sugar, a little seasoning and the oregano, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile cut the aubergines, lengthways, into thin slices (about 5mm).
- Pour enough oil into a frying pan to coat the bottom well and put over a medium-high heat. Fry half the aubergine slices until golden brown on both sides, working in batches and removing to drain well on kitchen roll.
- Put a large pan of water on to boil. When boiling add the other half of the aubergine slices and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove and drain on kitchen roll – it is important to dry them well.
- To assemble the parmigiana, spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the bottom of a baking dish, followed by a layer of the fried aubergines (packing them tightly), then half of the mozzarella slices, quarter of the parmesan cheese and seasoning. For the next two layers use the blanched aubergine slices, followed by a thin layer of tomato sauce, a generous sprinkling of parmesan and seasoning (no mozzarella). Finally, for the fourth layer use the remaining fried aubergine slices, the tomato sauce, and the mozzarella slices. At this point if using breadcrumbs mix them with the remaining parmesan cheese and a little olive oil and sprinkle over the top (if not using breadcrumbs simply sprinkle over the parmesan).
- Bake in a preheated oven, 180’c fan, for about 30 minutes until browned and bubbling. Allow to cool slightly and sprinkle over with torn basil leaves before serving.