Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Chicken with Feta, Olives, and Orzo

Scenes from my restaurant life: A mother and her young daughter were finishing their lunch. The mother asked, “Can I get a Bloody Mary to go? Do you do that around here?”

This is my version of a dish at our favorite Greek restaurant. Easy, simple, and full of flavor.  There are just a few ingredients and it comes together quickly. Make the sauce, simmer the chicken in the sauce, cook the orzo, combine the orzo with the sauce.
You can use either chicken breast or boneless thigh meat.

Chicken with Feta, Olives, and Orzo
for two servings
One 9 to 10 ounce boneless chicken breast 
1/2 cup chopped onion 
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup (dry) red wine
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dried oregano
10 to 12 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3 to 4 Tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
olive oil, for cooking
salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup orzo

1. Cut the chicken into 1” pieces; set aside. Place a large sauté pan onto the stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to soften the onion. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
2. Add the tomatoes to the pan; Add the wine and cook for about a minute and then add the water. Season lightly with salt and ground black pepper; stir in the oregano.
3. Stir the olives to the sauce. Add the chicken, nestling it into the sauce. Reduce heat, cover the pan and simmer the chicken for 8 to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the pieces), until cooked.
4. Cook the orzo according to the directions on the box. When the pasta is done, drain the orzo into a strainer, shake off  excess water, and add the orzo to the pan.
5. Stir the feta into the pan. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove pan from heat.
6. Divide the chicken and orzo between two bowls and serve. There may be a little extra left but you’ll probably come back and finish it.

Mushroom Soup-Oooooh, mommy!
This mushroom soup uses a restaurant “trick” of adding dried porcini mushrooms to enrich the flavor. Often a restaurant may use porcini powder that is rehydrated  with some brandy and added to the soup. Porcini mushroom powder might be a hard ingredient to find but I have substituted dried porcini mushrooms. Most grocery stores now have dried mushrooms, often more than one variety. if you don’t see them ask. This soup is a lesson in umami, the “sixth” savory taste derived from glutamates. Mushrooms are rich in umami. I also use a little soy sauce which is also rich in umami. Our response to umami runs deep. We first encounter it in breast milk.
An initial roasting of the mushrooms will bring out a deeper flavor. This soup can be made without the dried mushrooms. There is also an option to enrich the soup with a little light cream or milk. Your decision. If you have it, a little drizzle of truffle oil over each portion of the finished soup would be encouraged.

Mushroom Soup
makes about 2 quarts
1 pound mushrooms, white button or crimini
1 cup diced onion or 1 leek, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
One 1/4 ounce package dried porcini mushrooms 
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with a piece of string
1/3 cup (dry) white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock/broth or water
1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1/2 cup milk or light cream

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice or chop the mushrooms and rinse them under cold water; shake off excess water. Place the mushrooms into a bowl. Drizzle the mushrooms with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil and season them with1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix to distribute the oil and seasonings. Spread the mushrooms in an even layer onto a baking tray. Roast the mushrooms for 12 minutes; remove the mushrooms from the oven and turn them. Return the mushrooms to the oven and roast the mushrooms for an additional 6 minutes or until browned. Remove the pan from oven and set aside.
2. Place a large sauce pot onto the stove over medium heat. When hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions (or leeks) to the pot. Cook to soften the onions for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Spoon the roasted mushrooms (and their juices) into the pan along with the dried mushrooms, and the thyme. Add the white wine and cook for a minute. Add the stock/broth/water and the soy sauce to the pot. Cover the pot and simmer the soup for 20 minutes or until the dried mushrooms are soft. Remove the soup from the heat and cool.
4. After the soup has cooled for about 10 minutes, puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the cream (if using) and taste for seasoning, adjusting if needed.

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