Hi all, Laura here:
Yesterday, after a week away and eating in restaurants, I was craving a home cooked meal. I headed straight to the grocery store to restock the fridge and found some amazing looking fennel, leeks and super beautiful swiss chard. I also picked up some rigatoni and immediately thought about comfort food, so of course I was then off to find some Parmigiano Reggiano too. After adding some nice organic chicken thighs to my cart, I was off to the races.
One technique I enjoy is building flavor upon flavor and taste, taste, tasting all the way. Nothing gives me more pleasure than the moments of discovering how layering flavors add to the complexity of a dish. And it’s almost always true that dishes like these make the best leftovers.
First I sliced the leeks and fennel down the middle, separated the chard leaves and left them for a good rinse in the sink. Leeks always need a good soaking in cold water to really get them clean.
Next, I diced up about 1 cup each of the leeks, fennel and chard and set the rest aside for a future soup I’ll make in the next few days.
In a separate pan, I also cooked some diced bacon and pancetta (I used 5 strips of bacon and 3 slices of pancetta) until it was all nice and crispy and then set it aside.
Now I had all this lovely bacon fat left in my lovely and ancient Le Cruset Pan, so I salted my chicken thighs and added them to the hot pan. I cooked the thighs over medium heat about 5 minutes on each side until they were golden brown and removed them to cool.
Using the same pan with the leftover fat from the bacon and the little browned chicken bits, I added all the vegetables, a good amount of fresh thyme and 2 tablespoons of butter. Once I let this cook down for a few minutes, I put the chicken thighs back in the pot and added 1 cup of frozen peas, 3/4 cup of unsalted chicken stock and a squeeze of lemon to the pan. You can also use white wine in place of the chicken stock, but I find I like to build on the chicken flavor by adding stock. I also added the bacon and pancetta I’d cooked previously too.
Once this reduced by half, I added 1/2 cup of whole milk to the pan just to give the sauce a creamy texture for the pasta. I added a good grinding of black pepper and popped the lid on my pan to bake for 30 minutes in the oven at 375 degrees.
Next, I put on a big pasta pot of water which I heavily salted and while the water was coming up to a boil, I grated about 3/4 cups of Parmigiano Reggiano to set aside. I also pulled out my bread which needed a final baking in the oven.
I enjoy the Take and Bake round loaves of Pane Toscano from Le Brea Bakery unless I’m making my own, which hasn’t happened as often as usual these days. A recipe will be coming soon though!
Next I removed the chicken from the pot, and picked the meat off the bones, and then added the chicken meat and 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano Reggiano back to the pot to continue baking for another 10 minutes or so.
If you are patient, it might be a good idea to let the chicken thighs fully cool before doing this. I rarely feel patient so I used a knife and fork but of course my fingers were on fire because that’s how I roll. Don’t do that.
Once the rigatoni was still very al dente, I drained out the water and added the pasta to my chicken and vegetables and once again returned the pot to the oven to finish it all up. I only needed another 20 minutes more to let the rigatoni finish cooking while absorbing all of the goodness from the chicken and vegetables. After removing all of this to a serving dish, I topped the dish with more Parmigiano and some beautiful chopped Italian parsley to finish the dish.
Enjoy my friends!
Ragu of Chicken, Spring Vegetables and Rigatoni