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.
Our Lenten journey has begun. The church has been dressed in violet and our promises to God for these forty days have been made. The chants for the season speak of hope, transformation and a return to God. In the monastery, it is traditional to simplify life, not only in our work but also in our attitudes and our eating. Many monastic houses fast from meat during Lent – a simple soup and bread for lunch and dinner are the norm. As we harvest the last of our winter squash from our garden, this simple yet hearty soup is the perfect beginning to this special season of the church year.
Vegetable and Lentil Soup from a Monastery Kitchen
- Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot. Add the diced leeks, celery, carrots, parsnips, butternut squash and a small amount of the dill and parsley and sauté until golden and the vegetables are beginning to soften, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat so the vegetables are sauteing, but not burning.
- Add the lentils and continue to sauté for a few more minutes.
- Add 6 cups of hot chicken or vegetable stock and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- Cook for about 8 min. over medium heat, simmer, but do not boil.
- Add the diced zucchini and continue simmering until the lentils are cooked and the vegetables are softened, about 15 min.
- Remove from heat and add the baby spinach, the herbs and the lemon zest and juice and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. If desired, serve with grated parmesan cheese.
I love fall — just the smells hanging in the air fills me with a sense of adventure. Woody smoke, apples, root vegetables, leaves burning…it is all there beckoning us to pay attention. The other day, the Sisters were given a very generous donation of pumpkins from a local nursery. It was a beautiful sight seeing them lining our walk in all different shapes and sizes. Being the thrifty sort and hating to see anything go to waste, I knew we must use these not just to beautify our property, but to eat before they went bad. When I got the call that a lunch was needed to feed our community of 200 people, I knew just the thing – homemade pumpkin soup – Delightful! We set about cutting the pumpkins into large chunks, roasting them in the oven, and then transferring them to our skillet where we turned it all into a yummy creamy pumpkin soup. When we were all done, we still had pumpkins left over! (It felt a bit like the feeding of the 5000!). I remembered that a friend, returning from Italy, had brought me a wonderful recipe of a whole, roasted pumpkin layered with ham, sautéed vegetables and cheese. It’s a perfect recipe to try at this time of year, especially with Thanksgiving just around the corner.
Pumpkin stuffed with Vegetables and Cheese
- Wash the pumpkin
- Preheat oven to 375°
- Cut the head of the pumpkin, making an incision horizontally about 2 inches down from the stem
- Place the top back on the pumpkin, wrap it in tin foil and place in a preheated oven for about one hour or until the pumpkin is almost fork tender.
- Remove from oven, let it cool slightly and remove the seeds. With the spoon, gently remove some of the flesh from inside the pumpkin and reserve.
- Generously salt and pepper the interior of the pumpkin.
- In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil and add the butternut squash and parsnips. Sprinkle with kosher or onion salt and pepper.
- When they are partially cooked, remove from the skillet
- Add onions and peppers to the same skillet, again sprinkling with salt and pepper.
- Once they have cooked a few minutes, add the mushrooms, followed by the zucchini, a few minutes later. Sautéing slightly.
- While the vegetables are cooking, grate your cheese and set aside and slice your ham into thin strips.
- Once the vegetables are prepared, in the cavity of your pumpkin, start layering in this order: ham, baby spinach, assorted vegetables, the reserved pumpkin, swiss cheese, parmesan cheese and repeat – two or three times, ending with cheese.
- Place the top on the pumpkin, place the pumpkin in a casserole dish or cast iron skillet, and return to the oven for about 45 min. or until heated through and cheese is bubbly. Let rest a few minutes and slice when ready to serve.
For a meal, serve this with homemade bread or rolls and a salad.
We are still picking kale and digging up parsnips in our garden, and both are tasting so so good. From the garden straight to the stove….how much fresher could you ask for your vegetables to be, and what could taste better with these wonderful vegetables than a nice plump whole roasted chicken smothered with herbs and filled with your favorite stuffing? It seems we can never have this too often at the convent.
Most people seem to be sold on roasted vegetables these days and they are great. But to me the magic key to making them better than ever, is to roast them together with the meat or poultry with which they are being served.
Chicken And Roasted Vegetables Extraordinaire
- Season a whole chicken with onion salt and pepper and herbs.
- Place in roasting pan large enough to hold vegetables as well. Surround the bird with equal amounts of parsnips, carrots, potatoes and onions.
- Roast uncovered at moderate temp 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or until juices begin to appear - stirring from time to time.
- Add chicken broth, water, or a splash of wine as needed making sure that every bit of flavor, fat and juice is being absorbed by scraping and stirring.
- Remove bird to a smaller pan to finish cooking, once the vegetables have reached the softness you desire.
This week I am in an unfamiliar kitchen that is “equipment-challenged.” Anyone that has worked with me will tell you I am a “from-scratch” cook and have been known to look down on packaged mixes and ready made products. However in my older years I am mellowing in my opinions… So when I wanted to make chicken-pot-pie for a crowd this week and knew I lacked a pastry cutter and rolling pin, I realized that this was one of those moments to put aside pride! So off to the store for some pre-made pie crust. I did however make my own broth. Why waste boiling a whole chicken? Chicken-pot-pie is almost the first thing I think of when the leaves start to turn in earnest.
- Put all of these ingredients in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked.
- Remove chicken and set aside. Keep simmering broth.
- When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bones and return the bones to the broth.
- Continue cooking until you have about 4 to 6 cups of broth, after straining through a colander. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Melt butter in a stock pot
- Add onion, carrots, celery, parsnips and mushrooms and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes.
- Add thyme and cook another minute.
- Add flour and cook again another couple of minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add 4 cups of the stock and bring to a boil to thicken.
- Turn heat down and simmer a few minutes until vegetables begin to get tender.
- Chop chicken into chunks and add that and parsley to the pot.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Pile into a 9″ glass pie plate. Sprinkle peas on top.
- Place crust over all, crimp edge decoratively. Brush egg wash over crust. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and bubbly.