Maybe you’ve felt gypped lately. I can’t really blame you. I’ve been a bit stingy with the recipes. I wish I could find a quicker way to get these posts up. Each one just takes so much time–and I love doing it– but I can’t seem to find the time to post as much as I want. So, I’ll try and make it up to you with two recipes in one post.
And not just any recipes. First, my go-to homemade tomato sauce with big, fat, sweet heirloom tomatoes. And second, brick chicken. This is the chicken recipe for people who yawn at chicken recipes. Crispy, salty skin, plump juicy meat, and done in 20 minutes. I’m going to make the bold statement and say it’s my favorite way to cook chicken.
I also wanted to take a second to talk about how I come up with my recipes. Most the recipes on my site are original. By original, I mean I don’t cook while looking down at a cookbook. I improvise. A little of this, a lot of that–I take an idea and add to it. It doesn’t always work out. But if it did, then I’d never learn. You have to trust yourself (didn’t Dr. Seuss say that?). And don’t freak out or get discouraged when your ad-libbed braised pork emerges from the oven looking like a dried-up piece of tree bark. It happens. Figure out what went wrong, and when you fix it, you’ll have a new technique in your arsenal, ready to apply to all sorts of ingredients.
Planning weekly menus isn’t really my thing either. Nor is bringing lengthy shopping lists to the farmers’ market. Things change. I may want to cook vegetable lasagna on Wednesday night, but if I get home late, grilled cheese may be on the menu instead. When I have a special dinner in mind, I’ll shop for it the day-of so I’m sure I’ll have time to cook it. Otherwise, I wing it.
This isn’t to say I don’t have a system. When I shop, I look for staples first. Garlic, onions, potatoes, olive oil, bread, pasta, cheese. Then, I go for the seasonal stuff or things that look especially tasty that week–peaches, nectarines, avocados, tomatoes, greens, squash, herbs, peppers, green beans. And last, I look for meat and fish. This also changes by what’s available at the market. Some days I fully intend on grabbing a big slab of fresh halibut, but when I can’t seem to pull away from the apple/bacon sausage at the Prather Ranch stand, everything changes.
Being impulsive is in my nature, so I guess that’s why this system works for me. I also like knowing that I always have something in the kitchen to cook up a quick meal. But that’s not quite the point. The point is, I know tomato sauce and brick chicken aren’t original ideas. I know they’ve been done a zillion times over. But I also know that I’m not afraid to make them my own. So the next time you read a great recipe, put the book away, and try making it blinding, trusting your instincts to guide you in the right direction.
Sunday Dinner: Fresh Tomato Sauce and Brick Chicken
(makes just enough for 1lb of pasta)
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
A few leaves of fresh basil
Set a large pot of water to boil. Gently submerge the tomatoes in the water for about 15 seconds, or until you see the skins start to peel back. Remove tomatoes with the slotted spoon and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, heat a saucepan on medium-low heat and add two swirls of olive oil. Add onions and slowly cook, being careful not to brown them. When soft (about 10 minutes), add the garlic and put heat on low. Stir. If the onions are sticking to the pan, add a tablespoon of water and continue cooking.
Use your fingers to gently pull skins off of tomatoes. Try to only remove the skins and not the sweet flesh. Next, crush tomatoes with your hands into a large bowl. Why use your hands? Well, because it’s fun. And because if you feel any rough or hard parts of the tomato, just take them out. I don’t bother removing the seeds.
Add tomatoes to your sauce pan and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Add a teaspoon of sea salt, give it a minute, and taste. Add more salt as needed. Same with the black pepper. Add the tablespoon of butter, and after it melts into the sauce, throw in torn basil leaves and take off heat. Serve with one pound of your favorite pasta.
2 chicken legs with thighs attached
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Marash pepper (optional)
(isn’t that a ridiculously short list for the best chicken ever?)
Heat up a cast iron dutch oven on medium-high and coat the bottom with a layer of olive oil. While it’s heating up, generously season your chicken all over with salt and pepper and a light sprinkling of marash pepper – and cover a brick with tin foil.
When oil is super hot (but not smoking), add chicken skin side down. Place the brick on top and cook for 15 minutes. Note: You can do this in a cast-iron skillet, but it’ll splatter and make a mess. It’s much neater in a pot with high sides).
After 15 minutes, remove the brick and carefully flip the chicken with tongs. Lower the heat a tad and add the white wine. Cook for 5 more minutes. Use the tongs to plate the chicken, and top with juices from the pot.
Complete the dinner: Garnish pasta with basil and grated pecorino. Have fresh bread for dipping both in the sauce and in the juices from the chicken.
Where I Shopped:
Heirloom tomatoes, garlic, onions: Temescal Farmers’ Market (Happy Boy)
Marash pepper: The Pasta Shop, Oakland
Organic chicken: Star Meats, Berkeley