Chicken, Tomatoes & Cannellini Beans came about like so many of the dishes I make: me, cooking intuitively and casually while driven by hunger. For the most part, I measure, time and record how I develop new dishes for the blog (and let me tell you, that’s challenging when I’m ready to eat, right now). But sometimes, I write up my posts as casually as I cook, in my Freestyle Kitchen format, which really is a memory-based word portrait of dinner in action in my kitchen. In keeping with this approach, the photos are simple snapshots — nothing fancy that stands between me and my dinner!
Chicken, Tomatoes & Cannellini Beans
False modesty not really being my thing, I’m just going to put it right out there: I had a stroke of brilliance in the kitchen the other day. (The other day being in 2014, but hey, isn’t that just like yesterday? Yes, I’m updating old material from my archives.)
I’d known for days what I was going to make for dinner, ever since I went all Little House on the Prairie and actually poached a chicken, making my own stock and garnering quite a few cups of chopped chicken meat in the process.
My vision was a tomato sauce with chicken, served over pasta, but little did I know that idea would take a sudden turn most of the way through the cooking process — freestyling in the kitchen at its finest!
After spending the afternoon writing, except for an hour at the physiotherapist getting my shoulder unstuck, I was ready for a little culinary rehab. I got out the chopping board and ever so casually, while relaxing with a glass of wine (yes, I can relax and cook at the same time), got dinner going. I chopped an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a few inches of red chill pepper, and the heart of a head of celery that was starting to go limp. There were lots of celery leaves, which I like ever so much.
After heating a good slosh of olive oil in my large skillet, I stirred the veggies over medium high heat in a high-sided pan with an abundance of freshly ground pepper and a restrained amount of salt (kosher, of course). Once the vegetables were starting to soften, a couple cups of cubed cooked chicken joined the party. My idea was to caramelize the chicken, but that didn’t happen (because, you know, order of operations) and it didn’t really matter. A couple slugs of the nice red wine that I was drinking went in next, followed by a tin of good San Marzano tomatoes. It was worth the cost to splurge out on this one ingredient; their quality and the texture of their sauce really does make a difference. Next to get thrown into the pan was a good amount of dried oregano and basil, followed by the leaves from a bunch of thyme sprigs. Measurements were by the tried and (mostly) true eyeball method.
It was while all this was cooking over a simmer for about 30 minutes that I came to the realization that I simply didn’t feel like making a pasta dish. It just felt like too much work, involving yet another big pot, and I was leaving for a movie in an hour. So, I let the sauce cook down a fair bit, then drained a can of cannellini beans and added them to the pan along with a big handful of chopped parsley. Of course, along the way there’d been tasting going on, with some more pepper being added. Because of the sweet blandness of the beans I threw in a little more salt too. It took about 10 minutes more to heat the beans through.
Voila, I had hearty, rustic plate of chicken, tomatoes and bean saucy goodness for dinner. It was so satisfying. What can I say … I was super pleased with myself for coming up with this alternative to a traditional pasta and sauce. It’s not that I’d invented beans in a tomato sauce (c’mon, you didn’t really think that, right?); rather, by not encumbering myself with the rigidity of a recipe, I was able to improvise at a crucial point in the cooking process and take the meal in a different direction than originally planned.
That’s freestyle kitchen cooking!
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First Published 2014 04 11
Republished 2022 11 06