Every now and then when our convent dinner is some kind of a one dish meal, Sisters like to have it served right from the big skillet in which it has been cooked. This is especially so as the weather becomes cooler. When we are a little chilled around the edges nothing comforts one as much as a piping hot bowl of savory soup or stew. Today was such a day, cool, wet and rainy out of doors. Warm, dry and welcoming inside, with the aroma of a tasty combination of the day’s harvested vegetables.
Our convent chef has been eager to make a hearty chicken stew with an Italian twist. Using the last of our autumn garden vegetables she produced a most flavorful dish and chose to serve it from the skillet, which gave everyone a warm comforting sense of generously being cared for in a special way. A along with some crusty home baked bread and a beautiful kale salad we shared a dinner which magically lifted our spirits and pleased us all.
Hearty Italian Chicken and Autumn Harvest Veggie Stew
- Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Place the split chicken breasts on the baking sheet, and drizzle them with a little oil, and a couple of good pinches of salt and pepper.
- Cut the tops off of the heads of garlic, drizzle each head with a little oil, plus a pinch of salt and pepper, and wrap each head in a small piece of foil; place on the baking sheet next to the chicken.
- Roast the chicken, along with the garlic, for 45 minutes; then allow both to cool until they can be handled.
- Once they are cooled, shred the chicken, and set it aside; then, squeeze the roasted garlic from the papers, and using your knife or a fork, make the cloves into a paste; set the paste aside for a moment.
- Place a medium-large pot over medium to medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, plus add in the tablespoon of butter; once melted together, add in the onion and allow it sweat for about 3-4 minutes, until translucent and softened.
- To the onion add the roasted garlic “paste”, and stir it in to combine.
- Next, add in the diced carrots, parsnips, celery and butternut squash and stir to combine; add in the Italian seasoning, plus a pinch or two of salt and black pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and stir to incorporate.
- Add in the tomato paste and stir, and allow it to cook with the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes, or until the “raw” flavor of it is cooked out of it.
- Next, add in the chicken stock and stir, cover with a lid and simmer very gently on low for about 20-22 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender.
- Turn off the heat, if using; add in the kale and stir to incorporate it, and allow it wilt into the soup for a few minutes; then, finish the soup by adding in the shredded chicken, the basil and the parsley (also, check your seasoning at this point to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed).
- To serve, add about ¼ cup or so of cooked gnocchi to your bowl, and ladle some of the stew over top; garnish with some grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve with warm bread.
This is the season for salad lovers, and we have been enjoying lots of salads at the convent with the daily fresh picked lettuce, herbs, and cucumbers from our gardens.
To add interest to them I’ve come up with my own croutons. If you like crisp and crunch, and you savor the flavor of Parmesan and pepperoni you’re sure to like these.
They are simple, quick and easy to make, add great taste to your salads, and served as snacks, they disappear in no time.
Pepperoni Parmesan Croutons
- Tear bread into bite sized pieces to equal about 4 cups.
- Toss with seasonings.
- Spread out on 9 x 13 pan.
- Sprinkle with cheese and torn pepperoni.
- Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or until golden all over.
- Cool and break into pieces.
For years I have been making what I called crispy chicken strips, the result of an idea that came to me out of the blue and one that was very successful after simply trying it out on my own without any recipe. I used them a lot as appetizers along with chutney or sweet and sour sauce. Sometimes I top a salad with them for a nice lunch, and often I add Italian spices and grated Parmesan cheese to the crumbs and serve them with a favorite pasta and sauce for a main meal. I liked my original idea and have been quite pleased with myself for having come up with something that tasted so good and was exclusively mine or so I thought . . . until a while ago when flipping through a friend’s recipe book and look what I found: “Baked Chicken Nuggets” – almost identical to what I’d been making, only using bread crumbs instead.
- Cut chicken into 1½ inch pieces.
- Season well with onion salt.
- Dip chicken in butter, then in crumb mixture, adding in optional Italian spices and Parmesan cheese for a Mediterranean accent if desired.
- Place on baking sheet.
- Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes – just until golden but still plump and juicy – not dry.