Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mediterranean chicken

Food shopping for one is something of a challenge. I've said it before and, no doubt, I'll feel the need to say it again. I like a little rant every now and then you see. My gripe, I'm afraid, lies with those little town centre supermarkets that are oh-so-convenient for stopping in on the way back from work. Particularly if you live in London. I do try hard to be a good little food shopper. At weekends, I go to the farmers market and the local butcher. I buy things in small, individual portions. I try to plan for the week ahead. In reality though, this is difficult and leads to waste. The week rarely goes as planned - I find I'm out a couple of nights or it gets to Wednesday and I don't really feel like the lamb chops that I'd planned.

I prefer to shop on a more regular basis - buying what I need or fancy when I need it. As I don't get home much before seven, this rules most of the local shops out during the week. Instead, it takes me to
those dreaded town centre supermarkets that I mentioned earlier. Convenient in that they are open late they are, convenient in terms of stocking the things you want to buy they are not. Allow me to elaborate. Last week, I ventured tentatively into one such store in order to buy a chicken breast, a courgette, an onion or two and a potato or two and a tin of tomatoes. I came out with four chicken breasts, three courgettes, 12 onions, eight potatoes and four tins of tomatoes. What can I say, other than that by the end of the week I was sick of courgettes and chicken.

When over half the London population live alone*
, I am unable to understand why these places insist on selling everything exclusively in large multi packs. It just leads to so much waste.

On second thoughts, I understand perfectly well. They make more money that way.

I know what you are thinking (did I mention that I count mind-reading amongst my many varied talents?). You are wondering why I didn't freeze the extra chicken breasts. Here I have to admit you have a point. I also have to admit to being rather disorganised - I never remember to get such things out of the freezer in the morning before heading off to work. And I could hardly freeze the potatoes, onions or courgettes, could I? (Please don't get all clever on me at this point and tell me how I could have cooked and mashed and frozen, or chopped and frozen in ice-cube trays or what-have-you. It sounds like a marvellous idea for those with plenty of time on their hands. Like most of us, I don't fall into that category).

So. Instead, I've been eating a lot of chicken and courgette dishes over the past week. The first of these is a favourite of mine. I think the original recipe concept came from a Leith's book belonging to my mother. I make it slightly differently each time, but the basics are below.

All the flavours make me think of the strong flavours of Mediterranean holidays. Or Italian holidays for that matter. Chicken cooked in a lovely herby ratatouille-type sauce and then topped with mozzarella grilled until all stringy and lovely. Sometimes I throw olives into the sauce towards the end of cooking, but on this occasion, I made a black olive mash which was rather good.

I've actually made this twice recently - hence some of the photos show lots of chicken breasts and the finished article shows just one lonely piece of chicken! Here is a recipe for four. If you want to make it for one, I'd be inclined to make the same amount of sauce. You can then use the remaining sauce for pasta. Or, if you are more organised than me, you could freeze it for another time!

Mediterranean chicken
Serves 4


4 chicken breasts, skin removed
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon
olive oil
1 large onion or 4 shallots
1 courgette
half an aubergine
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp thyme
1/2 pint chicken stock
Small bunc
h basil
4 slices of mozzarella

1. First make the tomato sauce. Chop the onions and sweat in a little olive oil. When translucent, add diced courgette and aubergine. Season well.

2. Once vegetables are starting to soften, stir in tomato paste and cook for a minute or so. Add tinned tomatoes, sugar and thyme. Stir and then add around half of the stock. Simmer for 15-20 minutes - top up with stock as necessary. You want a pouring consistency but not too watery.

3. Whilst the sauce is bubbling away, prepare the chicken breasts. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Finely chop garlic and tarragon and spread all over chicken with your hands. Add salt and pepper too.

4. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and then add the chicken. Brown for a couple of minutes on each side, then set to one side.

5. Place chicken breasts into an ovenproof dish. Taste the tomato sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary. Pour over the chicken breasts and cover with foil. Bake for 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce bubbling.

6. Pre-heat grill to high. Place slice of mozzarella over each chicken breast and grill until melted and bubbling. Garnish with basil.

For black olive mash:
Mash cooked potatoes with olive oil and lots of chopped black olives. Season with pepper but go easy on the salt - olives have plenty of salt already!

Notes - Vary the sauce according to what ingredients you may have to hand. Add red peppers, different herbs, black olives etc. Or use a different cheese. I actually used Parmesan as I had no mozzarella. It wasn't quite as good, but it worked fine.

* This is one of those great statistics that I once read and now cannot remember where I read it. Or find it through the usually trusty google search. Perhaps I just made it up. I have found something that states that 30% of people lived alone in the UK in 2001. A significant minority indeed. Likely to be more in big cities. Not only are we bad for the environment, apparently we like to feed ourselves exclusively on ready meals. What a sad lot we are made out to be!


Peter M said...

Antonia, I love your addition of tarragon in the chicken dish...my of my fave herbs.

As for your shopping/cooking conundrum...why not invite a friend over for din-din?

Cooking for two is so much more fun. ;)

Antonia said...

Peter - yes, I love cooking for more than just me and do so fairly regularly. But I really enjoy cooking just for myself when I fancy a quiet night too! Cooking for one can be fun too.
I'm not super keen on tarragon usually, but enjoy it in this dish.

Wendy said...

I always forget to take the chicken out of the freezer too. Have got pretty good at using up all the veg I buy. The exceptions are carrots and cucumbers. Always have a mouldy one or two lurking underneath the celery. :)

This looks lovely. Really fresh. And black olive mash? Heaven!

Jan said...

This looks and sounds delish.

I have no choice but to be organised about shopping, as my nearest supermarket/shops are 16 miles away.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you enjoy tarragon in this dish and not others because I'm not a big fan but this looks and sounds so good. As I think we've both said before, it's always good to have a stack of chicken recipes!

I wouldn't have thought of serving black olive mash, that sounds wonderful!