Back to Basics
And just like that it’s Summer.
I know it’s not. Not yet, not technically. But it sure feels like it.
I’m sitting out in the garden writing this, birds singing, leaves rustling, a passing street sweeper sending the neighbors rushing out to make sure they’re not getting towed … all the sounds of summer.
When I put The Weekly Menu on hold last month, I didn’t really know how long I’d be away. I needed to take a little time to think, to rest, and to sort of re-start. Turns out that that’s about a month, and in that month, we went from shivering over comforting bowls of soup to enjoying dinner on warm nights in the garden.
That means summer food. When I put The Weekly Menu to bed last month, I was still cooking and craving deeply flavored slow cooked braises, hearty pastas, and rich soups. Heavy, heady reminders that the weather was still pretty much trying to kill us. Frost and cold rain, ice, and snow.
It’s going to be nearly 90°F this week. So it’s time to put those rich wonderful dishes behind me and start up with the fresh, the bright It’s time for the new, to start again, to be the spring chicken, if you will.
So, this week’s menu is a new-old-updated-favorite. Roast chicken. Some summery sides. Something you can enjoy at the garden table, but will still be at home in the dining room if that cold spring rain comes rushing in. For me, it’s a new season, and a return to some basics.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working on some changes to The Weekly Menu. I’m going to try to improve the balance between simple and easy, fancy and fun – so look for some menus that are a little more approachable (I hope.) I’m still going to do a few over the top dishes, even a few over the top meals – because that’s who I am - but both for my sanity, and in response to you’re feed back, I’ll be toning some things down a bit. Let me know if there’re things you’d like to see – and keep reaching out to tell me what you think (and send pics of food you make!)
Next Week: A Long Weekend BBQ.
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Cheesy Garlic Dinner rolls
Maybe it’s because I’m a Midwesterner who was raised in the 70’s and 80’s, but I love old school dinner rolls. Soft, tender, slightly sweet pillows of bread that made that buffet “steakhouse” meal stretch a little longer, or made a slab of overcooked chicken almost palatable. A little pat of butter from a foil pack and you’ve almost got a meal all by themselves – which happened more than once when one event or another involved something like “Jean’s Famous Tuna Noodle and Cornflake Casserole.” You could pretty much always count on the dinner rolls – even if that was the only thing you could.
I’ve been experimenting with different techniques and recipes over the past few years – and I’ve shared a few in the past. I’m finally happy with the basics, and I’ve started to play around with inclusions and other flavors. This version – loaded with cheese liberally coated with a garlic herb butter is sort of a stand in for another 70’s-80’s classic – toasted garlic bread – but they’ve got all the charms of both.
These rolls come out of the oven almost impossibly tender – due mostly to the cheese in the dough. It melts completely into the crumb of the roll – so while they are “cheesy” there isn’t that stretchy cheese pull – or the rubbery texture you might get.
They’re particularly great for soaking up the sauce from the roasted chicken recipe below – but I admit, with a little butter and honey, I even eat them for breakfast.
Makes 12 small dinner rolls
400g AP Flour
250 g milk (warm)
7 g instant yeast
5 g kosher salt
1 large egg
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 cup shredded low moisture mozzarella cheese
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried rosemary
Add milk and yest to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and allow to proof for ten minutes.
Add the flour, egg, salt, and 2 tbsp of melted butter.
Process until a smooth dough has formed.
Add the cheese and process just until combined.
Cover, and allow to proof I a warm place for 45-90 minutes – depending on temperature – or until the dough has doubled in size.
Reheat your oven to 375°F.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces, and shape into balls.
Working one at a time on a well-floured surface, flatten the balls into ovals, and roll along the long side into rolls.
Arrange the rolls on a baking sheet, cover loosely, and allow to proof for 30 minutes.
Finely mince the garlic.
Add the herbs, and a pinch of salt, to the container of a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle and grind finely.
Melt the remaining butter.
Add the herbs and garlic to the butter and brush the rolls just before placing in the oven.
Once proofed, bake at 375°F for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
Panzanella with Arugula and Mozzarella
Sometime in the late 1990’s I was visiting friends Chapel Hill – long before I lived there. We ended up having dinner at a place called Panzanella.
At the time, I had no idea what Panzanella was. It was just the name of the place, situated in a historic mill turned craft mall in Carrboro. We didn’t order panzanella.
I got home, pulled out an almost brand new Italian cookbook I had, and looked up the dish. It didn’t make sense to me, and to be honest, I promptly forgot about it.
By the time I moved to North Carolina a few years later, my palate and my food knowledge had expanded. I still sort of didn’t get panzanella – it’s a bread salad. As in a salad made with bread. Part of my brain, perhaps rightfully, insisted that bread is bread and salad is salad and never the twain shall meet. Of course, that was already untrue. Standing at the glass fronted almost-all-you-can-eat salad bar in that same brown and orange hued buffet style steakhouse I mentioned above, I’d pile my plate with salty garlicky croutons, all the better to soak up copious amounts of my favorite (at the time) quote-French-unquote Dressing. But all the same, the idea still seemed odd.
Since then I’ve learned to make Panzanella – and I’ve learned the value of a salad loaded with what are essentially dressing sponges. The wonder of Panzanella is that it turns stale bread into a vehicle to deliver that perfect ambrosia of summer – the liquid that seeps from salted ripe tomatoes. Throw in some vinegar, some onions, and a hand full of spicy greens and you’ve got a weird wonderful something special.
Really traditional Panzanella recipes call for stale bread – sometimes soaked in water and squeezed out. That’s good – though a lot of American bread won’t hold up to that treatment. I’m a big fan of the wonders that happen when you combine a crunchy thing with a sauce – dishes like Chilaquiles or the aforementioned croutons – so I toast or even fry the bread cubes. The results is a texture that’s both soft and firm – and with the added bonus of even more perfect browned bread flavor – something that really accentuates the tomatoes natural flavor.
Oh, one last thing – I know it’s not really tomato season yet. I just really wanted it to be summer.
Serves 4 as a salad course
2 cups toasted focaccia cubes
2 cups arugula
1 ball fresh mozzarella
3 medium tomatoes
1 medium red onion or 2 large shallots
2 cloves garlic
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
Peel, trim, and mince the garlic.
Peel, trim, and finely slice the onion or shallot.
Add the garlic, onions, salt, pepper, vinegar, and 1 tbsp of water to a large non-reactive bowl.
Allow to rest for ten minutes.
Add the tomatoes and allow to rest an additional ten minutes.
Add the bread, mozzarella, arugula, and basil leaves, and toss well, ensuring the dressing soaks the bread.
Herb Roasted Chicken with Garlic and Rich Sauce
When trying to decide what I would cook for my first edition after my little break, the obvious choice was Roast chicken. Roast chicken is hospitality. It’s for sharing – even if you’re only sharing it with your dog, or sharing it between Sunday dinner and Tuesday leftovers. It feels like a special meal, even though it’s simple and not particularly expensive. It can be fussy, or it can be simple. You can dress it up with the flavors of almost any culture, or you can just salt it. Even a disappointing roast chicken is still a roast chicken.
This roast chicken is a little bit fussy – it you want it to be – but it’s worth it. It’s dried overnight, roasted at a low temp that keeps it juicy, then cooled before sending it back into the oven for a hot fast crisping that yields dark, crisp skin and tender juicy meat.
Then just to gild the lily I top it with a rich sauce built from dark stock, mustard and white wine– bolstered with butter and a (if you want) a little real (not oil) truffle flavor. It’s celebratory and tasty and rich and simple and the kind of thing where while you know you should use a knife and fork, you find yourself just reaching in with your fingers, tearing off pieces, and dragging them though the sauce.
You could use a simpler technique for the chicken, and still top it with the sauce, or simply roast the chicken – and leave the sauce off all together.
Either way, you get a delicious chicken. And sticky fingers.
1 3-4 lb whole chicken
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp peppercorns
10 cloves garlic
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
Truss the chicken (optional)
Generously salt the inside of the cavity, then place the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to overnight -this step is optional but drying the skin results in the crispiest skin texture.
Preheat your oven to 275°F.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator.
Add the salt, fennel seed, thyme, oregano, and pepper corns to the bowl of a mortar and pestle or the container of a spice grinder and process until the mixture is a fine powder,
Rub the chicken with the seasoning powder.
Peel the garlic and fill the chicken cavity with the garlic cloves.
Place the chicken in the oven and cook until the temperature in the thickest part of the breast reaches 160F – 45 to 75 minutes depending on the oven and the size of the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
The preceding steps can be done up to one day in advance.
Preheat your oven to 425°F.
Place the chicken in the oven and roast until the skin is a deep golden brown.
Cut into quarters, or carve, and top with Rich Roast Chicken Sauce and herbs.
Rich Roast Chicken Sauce
4 cups dark chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3 dashes Sabatini Truffle Zest (opt)
2 tbsp finely cut green onion or chive as garnish
½ tsp salt
Add the stock, herbs, black pepper and wine to a sauce pan.
Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced to ~3/4 of a cup.
Strain out and discard the solids. Return the liquid to the pan.
Whisk in the mustard.
Remove the pan from the heat, and swirl in the butter, and ad the truffle zest (if using)
Season with salt, and taste – adding more salt if necessary.
Pour over warm roasted chicken.
Pan Roasted Rosemary Potatoes
I could say a lot about “pan roasted” potatoes.
First of all, it’s a little white lie we tell ourselves. It’s not roasted. They’re fried. Very shallow fried, but … yeah.
Secondly, they’re delicious in all their forms.
This form is simple. Oil, herb, salt, maybe a little hard cheese as a garnish. But there’s a trick to avoiding the “um, this potato is still sort of crunchy in a not good way” pitfall of undercooked pan “roasted” potatoes. If you want them creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside – cook them mostly almost all the way first. A quick boil before finishing them in a hot pan ensures they’re cooked though before getting the crisp-em-up treatment. It’s an extra step, but it’s worth it.
Serves 4 as a side
4 medium russet potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 ½ tsp kosher salt, divided (plus more to taste)
2 tbsp shredded hard cheese, parsley, and rosemary leaves as garnish
Peel, trim, and cut the potatoes into 1 inch pieces.
Prepare a large pot of salted boiling water.
Boil the potatoes for 8 minutes.
Toss the potatoes with olive oil, working to ensure that all surfaces are coated (this will help prevent them from discoloring).
Pre heat a thick bottomed frying pan (cast iron or French steel are great here).
Add the potatoes, and cook, turning and stirring frequently, until well browned and crisped on all sides.
Season with salt, and toss with fresh rosemary.
Garnish with shredded cheese.
There’s No Dessert
I got lazy and distracted and uninspired, but some good cheese would be a great end to this meal. I’m partial to this wonderful locally made cheese, Bankston, from Black Radish Creamery here in Central Ohio, but a nice soft double cream and some fruit is the perfect ending to a spring meal.