Drum roll please…my first ever meat meal that I’ve cooked from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem!! And I made it in Italia!! Why am I in Italy you ask? Well, being a PhD student does have some perks. I traveled to Zurich for a scientific conference on Mycorrhizal Symbiosis, yes it was the most esoteric conference ever, and yes, that’s what I study :) For those of you who don’t already know, mycorrhizal symbiosis is the symbiosis between a fungus and plant root, and ~80% of plants have them. They are responsible for delicious mushrooms such as porcinis and chanterelles :) While the conference was super interesting and my talk went well, the food in Zurich was not super exciting. After a few days of eating heavy Germanic potato, bread, and cream based foods, I was ready to head to Italia to visit my cousin Aaron and his wife Kate, who live in Napoli AKA Naples. Aaron is a lawyer for the Navy, and is stationed in Naples for 2 years. After several days of eating my heart out of pizza and gelato (don’t worry I took pictures of all the food I ate in southern Italy and will be blogging about it shortly) I was ready to eat some home cooked food again. I bought Jerusalem for Aaron and Kate and luckily it arrived yesterday right in time for me to get to cook for them before we leave for Cinque terre tomorrow. I made the chicken with cardamom rice from Jerusalem, which I had been eyeing for a while. You can find the recipe online here. My cousin Aaron and his wife Kate loved it – this was indeed a delicious one pot wonder:
The first step is to caramelize the onions. Slice them up thinly then saute them in olive oil for a while. The recipe calls for 10-15 minutes but I left them in there for at least 25. It took a while for them to get properly browned, but luckily they don’t require much attention so you can do other things while the onions are browning.
While they are browning prepare the barberries or equivalent. I could not find either barberries or currants, which Ottolenghi suggests as an alternative, so I used dried cherries. I soaked them in fresh squeezed lemon juice while the onions were caramelizing. I’m not quite sure what a currant or barberry tastes like, but the dried cherry was really tasty in the dish!
While the onions were caramelizing I rubbed down the chicken thighs with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and pepper. I could not find whole clove pods but I found online that 1.5 tsp of ground cardamon can be substituted for 10 pods and it tasted really great so I recommend going with that since the dried spice is so much easier to find. Once the onions are caramelized remove them from the pan and replace them with the chicken. Sear the chicken thighs on each side for 5 minutes. You really want to make sure you get the bone in skin on thighs for this. The thighs came out super juicy and also even if you don’t end up eating the skin (we didn’t because I couldn’t get it to properly crisp) I think cooking the meat with the skin on adds a lot of flavor and helps keep the meat super juicy.
Remove the chicken thigh for a minute, then add the rice and caramelized onions back in the pan with salt and pepper and the dried cherries. Kate and I could not find basmati rice at the Navy commissary so we used long grain white rice instead.
Getting into the navy commissary was a bit of a trick. The sales clerk at the front needed to look at my passport and was not happy with it and almost did not let me in since I’m not a part of the Navy, but Kate assured him that she was the one shopping and I was just accompanying. He didn’t seem quite convinced but he begrudgingly eventually let us enter! Once the rice, caramelized onions, dried cherries/currants/barberries are in the pan, nestle the chicken back in and cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes. Since we had some free time we opened up a bottle of wine to drink while waiting for the meat to cook and I made some antipasti. Here is a fresh baguette we found at the grocery store and toasted with some olive oil in the oven:
Then I sauteed some green peppers with garlic and Aaron added a balsamic vinegar paste thing on top of the bread that was really tasty.
The chicken ended up taking quite a bit longer than 30 minutes to cook. We had a really large cast iron pan and the flame was not that large, so I guess you just have to check and make sure the chicken is properly cooked. Unfortunately the skin never quite got crispy but after about 50 minutes the chicken was cooked properly and tasted really delicious and juicy. I chopped up fresh cilantro and parsley but since I could not find fresh dill just added some dried dill for the garnish. Here is the final dish with the cilantro and parsley and dill garnish:
Here I am in Kate and Aaron’s super cute Italian kitchen:
It’s way cuter than mine, I know. I’m also super jealous of their giant cast iron skillet. Did I mention that they also have an awesome view of the Mediterranean right outside their window?
Yeah, I think I might have to move to Italy. Damn it is beautiful here. Kate made a light salad to accompany the chicken and cardamom rice. Ottolenghi suggests adding some olive oil to Greek yogurt and mixing it up and using it as a garnish. I highly recommend it – the yogurt really sets off the dish! It is so creamy and yummy mixed in with the flavorful cardamom rice with caramelized onions. Here is the final meal:
The meal was a big hit! Kate and Aaron loved it and I have to say it was quite tasty. My first meat meal cooked from Jerusalem went off without much of a hitch even though I had to make a few substitutions to make it work in Italia. It’s also a pretty low key dish since it’s just one pot and you get to do other stuff while the onions are caramelizing and while the chicken is cooking, so it’s not that high maintenance. I’m having such a fun time visiting Italy perhaps I should move in with my cousin and his wife and Aaron suggested that I could earn my keep by cooking for them as their personal chef – seems like they liked my cooking :)