During Christmas week many of us will have family members coming to visit for the holidays.
That's certainly the case at our house. Our son and his girlfriend will be traveling to our home for a few days. Everyone plans the Christmas meal in advance, but what about the other meals after the 25th? They are often the hardest to plan. I don't want to spend so many hours cooking that there's no time left for conversations with my kids.
I finally came up with a solution. I had recently created a recipe for a Chicken, Mushroom and Tomato Ragout, which actually improves in flavor when made in advance. Served over rice, this all-in-one main course, I decided, would be an easy entree to offer my out-of-town guests. A salad and a loaf of warm French bread along with a bowl of clementines and some home-baked sweets for dessert could complete the bill of fare.
The ragout is simple to prepare. Chopped onions, diced carrots, quartered mushrooms and morsels of chicken breast are sauteed in olive oil, then simmered in stock and white wine along with tomatoes. Rosemary and dried porcini mushrooms (along with their soaking liquid) add more zest. The stew is cooked for about an hour until the meat is fork- tender, then it can be cooled and refrigerated for up to three days or it can be frozen.
You can serve this delectable mixture over plain white rice or yellow saffron rice. Buttered fettuccine also makes a great accompaniment.
I'm planning to offer this dish at a small sit-down meal, but it could also be the piece de resistance at a buffet for a large crowd.
Chicken, Mushroom and Tomato Ragout
1/3 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
about 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
1 cup chopped onions
3/4 cup 1/4 -inch-cubed carrots
8 to 10 ounces fresh mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2 -inch chunks and patted dry
2 tablespoons flour
salt, freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, crushed
1 (28-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups cooked white rice (see note)
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, optional (see note)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley as garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary as garnish
Place porcinis in small bowl and cover with 1/2 cup hot water. Soak until mushrooms are softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Line strainer with double thickness of paper towels and drain mushrooms, reserving liquid. Rinse mushrooms, pat dry and coarsely chop.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large, heavy deep-sided pot over medium heat. When hot, add onions and carrots and cook, stirring, 4 minutes. Add fresh mushrooms and stir and cook 4 minutes more. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons oil to same pan and when hot, add enough chicken pieces to fit comfortably in single layer. Cook until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove to side dish and continue until all chicken has been cooked, adding more oil if needed.
Return all chicken to pan and sprinkle with flour. Cook and stir 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and dried rosemary and toss with chicken. Add cooked vegetables, dried mushrooms and their strained liquid, tomatoes, stock and wine. Bring to simmer, then lower heat and cook, uncovered, until chicken is fork-tender, about 1 hour. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
If not serving immediately, cool mixture to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. (Ragout can be made 3 days ahead. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat when needed.)
Note: If you wish to make saffron-scented rice, cook long grain white rice according to package directions, but add generous 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads (which have been crushed between your fingers) to water.