It’s Saturday morning and every corner of my kitchen has that delicious, yeasty fragrance usually reserved for bakeries. A mound of whole wheat dough speckled with dates sits in a towel-covered bowl on the counter.
In an hour or two, I’ll shape it into flatbreads and top it with onions caramelized in bacon drippings.
The aromas and busy noises in my kitchen are timely. We’re a month or so into the fall semester, and the architect with whom I’ve shared my dinner table for years is a college professor for the first time. Never having cooked around a teaching schedule before, I’m learning quickly. To guarantee good eats in the week to come, cooking a few hours on Saturday morning is the way to go.
I arrange spicy poblano chiles under the broiler to blister and soften; they’ll add just the right heat and color to creamy green chile and chicken stew.
Meanwhile, onions caramelize in a pot on the stove. When they’re deep brown and achingly soft, I set aside half for the flatbreads. The rest join with a bottle of beer and cook down for the stew.
When they’re done, I drop the roasted chiles into a bowl and set them aside to steam, making the job of peeling them later a cinch. I lower the heat on the oven and arrange a tray of broccoli rabe, dressed with olive oil and orange zest, on a rack inside. On the stove, a skillet bubbles with white wine and cannellini beans.
When the broccoli rabe is tender, some of its leaves crisp and deliciously brittle, I toss it with half of the beans; a shower of ricotta salata over the top and this hearty side dish is done.
Tossed with salad greens, the savory mix will even make a satisfying lunch next week with a piece of flatbread and a sweet fall apple on the side -- ideal for a professor’s busy day.
I puree the rest of the beans with the caramelized onions, roasted chiles and chicken stock to make a velvety poaching liquid for the stew’s chicken thighs.
I’m always keen to use common ingredients like the beans and caramelized onions in recipes because they afford me the time, even on busy weekends, for small extravagances like baking homemade bread.
As for the stew, we’ll feast on it for dinner tonight and then again in the coming week at the end of a long day. What’s more, it doubles as a surprising pasta sauce. I consider a recipe like this one -- that’s versatile and manages to get more flavorful each day -- to be the hallmark of a Saturday morning’s cooking done well.
The flatbreads cool on the counter as I wash the last of the dishes. I’m eager to tear off a hunk and smear it with farmer cheese or maybe a spoonful of thick, garlicky hummus. The smell of my early afternoon snack draws the professor out from behind his desk, where he’s been typing away.
Truth be told, I’m biding my time until midterms. He’s likely to be tough on his students, in which case they’ll surely need homemade cookies to help them soldier through.
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, turning occasionally, until it’s crisp and the fat is rendered, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, crumble and set aside. Add the onions, salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until deep golden brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Reserve half of the onions for the whole wheat flatbread recipe, or for another use.
Add the beer to the remaining onions, stir to scrape up any browned bits and continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are moist and the beer is somewhat reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, lime juice, oregano, cumin, chiles, beans, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Puree the stew until smooth, using a blender (in batches) or in the pot with an immersion blender.
Add the corn, carrots, bay leaves and crumbled bacon to the stew and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside until it’s cool enough to handle. (Meanwhile, leave the pot on the stove and allow the contents to simmer gently.) Shred the chicken, then return it to the pot.
Stir in one-fourth cup of the sour cream. Thin, if desired, with additional broth, season to taste and gently simmer for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves. You should have about 12 cups of stew. Ladle the stew into bowls, garnish with dollops of sour cream, if you like, and serve with tortillas on the side.
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