Sunday, January 9, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Roasted Pesto Chicken

Phillip's parents, as I mentioned, are getting their kitchen redone right now. We get ours done by the same contractor when he finishes theirs. It's a much more extensive job than ours will be. Their kitchen is being completely gutted down to the studs, so they are living in a construction zone right now.

In an effort to help keep them from eating out all the time, or heating up soup in their makeshift dining room "kitchen", we had them over for a simple weeknight dinner last week.

I'm bored with salads right now, so I decided we'd start with a quick and dirty carrot soup.

Dice a small onion. Try not to cry.

Sweat it in a medium pot in about a tablespoon of olive oil with a stalk of chopped celery.

Add about a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt.

Throw in (or you can place them gently, whatever makes you happy) about 2 cups of peeled, chopped carrots.

Add about half a teaspoon of cracked black pepper and half a teaspoon of ground thyme. stir that well, then cover the lot with chicken stock. About 3 - 4 cups. Slap a lid on there and simmer it while you get your chicken on.

Now, I would normally make my own pesto, but it's January, and fresh basil isn't exactly springing up like dandilions in my yard right now. So I bought one of those big jars of it at Costco and used that. It's pretty decent, as purchased basil pesto goes. You'll need about half a cup.

Also cut up half an onion and a stalk of celery and half a lemon to stuff up the chicken's, um... "cavity". Lora, cousin on Pootie's side of the family, declared emphatically at Thanksgiving that she would have nothing to do with the turkey's orifices. That's not really relevant, but there it is.

Sprinkle the inside of the chicken cavity with kosher salt once you take out the little package of parts. Squeeze the lemon over the outside of the chicken, then shove it up the cavity along with half an onion and a stalk of celery, chunked up. Separate the skin from the chicken and smear the pesto up in there.  I've found that a large spoon works pretty well for that. You can fill it with pesto, then stick it between the skin and chicken then kind of push down on the spoon from the skin side and leave the pesto in there. Then you can kind of moosh it into the leg area too. Sprinkle a little kosher salt over the whole chicken.

(Lora also said she'd have nothing to do with sticking her hands between the skin and the turkey at Thanksgiving either. So we made her wash dishes.) You will need to wash your hands when you're finished, obviously. The chicken should be in a roasting pan. I probably should have mentioned that. I did mine on the grill, so I lined the pan with foil and topped it with parchment so the chicken didn't stick. I'd do that whether you cook it in an oven or on the grill. I know someone is going to yell heretic, but I don't use the roasting pan to make sauces. It's too salty, usually. I move the chicken to a plate or a cutting board with wells and drain the chicken juice off that for sauces.

At any rate, the chicken is ready to cook. Preheat a gas grill or the oven to about 450. Let it heat up for about 10 minutes, then put it on. Or in. Whatever.

Now cook two pieces of bacon in a pan. While that's cooking, slice some cabbage and the other half of the onion you didn't put in the chicken. I used Napa. (The cabbage. I don't think there's a Napa onion.)

Pull the bacon out when it's done and drain it. Cook the onion in the pan until it's nice and browned, then turn it off and go have a glass of wine while you wait for the chicken to cook more.

Come back about 20 minutes before dinner. Turn the pan with the onion on and let it heat up. While you're heating that, take the carrot soup you've been simmering and puree it in a blender. Do I have to tell you again to take the center part of the blender lid out so you don't spew hot carrot lava all over the kitchen? OK, I just did. Taste it and add more salt if you need to. Put it back on to simmer.

In another pan, blob about two tablespoons of pesto, put it over medium low heat, and add 1/4 cup of white wine. Stir it until it's well dissolved, add a pinch of salt, then add about 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Simmer that down well, then add about 1/4 cup of heavy cream and turn the heat down. This is a sauce for the chicken.

Your onion/cabbage pan should be hot now, so put the cabbage in there and toss it around well. Cook it until it's wilted but still a pretty green. Season it with salt and pepper. Then chop up your pieces of bacon and sprinkle it in there. Turn the heat off, but keep it in the pan so it will stay warm.

Time to bring in the chicken! Or take it out of the oven. Let it rest, for it has worked very hard and is tired, and serve the carrot soup. I like to put a little dollop of sour cream on it, then run a fork or knife over it to make it all fancy and stuff.

Carrot soup does not like to be photographed. It is quite camera-shy.

Serve the carrot soup, then you can come back and carve your chicken. Serve it with the cabbage and a little of the pesto sauce. I also made mashed potatoes, because having a roasted chicken without mashed potatoes is against my religion.

Serve it to your temporarily kitchenless in-laws, and enjoy a lovely weeknight meal that cost you very little effort.

Take a couple of blurry photos of them to mark the occasion.

Someone once remarked to my mother-in-law that there is not a picture of her in existence where she is not talking. She freely admits that this is true.

The same could almost be said for her son, but just almost. What can be said for him is that he never smiles for photos. Our wedding pictures look like those old 1870s farm family pictures. I'm just grinning away and Pootie? Dour, dour, dour.

And speaking of dour, I don't remember what Pootie was saying to garner this stinkeye, but it looks like he's about ta get grounded, y'all! Anybody want to take me out partying?
Despite the terrible pictures I took, we did have a nice evening, and a tasty meal. Here is the .pdf for the chicken, the cabbage, and the carrot soup, if you feel moved to try them.

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