Midnight–No Make That Midday and Lunch–in Paris!

I rarely entertain at lunch, but last week in Paris, I planned a midday get together for three friends. The guests—all thoughtful women who lead busy lives in France’s capital—rearranged their schedules to come for a tasting meal to help fine-tune a recipe for my new book, Sunday Casseroles, due out next year.

Baked chicken with fennel and tomatoes was the centerpiece of our menu. Prepared with humble chicken thighs, magically transformed into a delicious, fork-tender entrée as they slowly bake in a casserole with assertive vegetables, this main course was an instant hit with mes amies.

I sautéed herb-seasoned thighs, combined them with carrots, fennel, onions, and tomatoes, then simmered everything in stock, wine, and orange juice. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients (all of which are easy to find in your local supermarket), because once this dish is assembled, it is placed in the oven for more than an hour of unattended baking. Another bonus is that this casserole can be prepared two days ahead, and it improves in flavor with time!

Ladle this delicious mélange into shallow bowls to serve by itself, or spoon it over mounds of fettuccine. Add an arugula salad and a warm baguette as sides. My friends asked for the recipe, so I’m sharing it with you too!

Baked Chicken, Fennel, and Tomatoes

8 large chicken thighs (2 1/2 to 3 lb total), trimmed of fat and any dangling skin
1 tbsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more if needed
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1/4-in thick slices
2 medium fennel bulbs (1 pound total), halved lengthwise, cores removed, and halves cut into 1/2-in wedges to yield 2 cups
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
Scant 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock (See cooking tip)
1 cup orange juice
2 strips orange peel (4-in long by 1/2 in wide), plus 1 tbsp finely julienned orange peel
for garnishing
1/2 cup dry white wine
One 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained well
2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tbsp flour
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano

1. Arrange a rack at the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have ready a large shallow 4- to 5-qt baking dish.

2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Combine the basil, oregano, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper in a small bowl; season both sides of the thighs with this mixture.

3. Heat the oil in a large (11- or 12-in), heavy deep-sided frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the thighs, skin side down, and brown on all sides, for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to the baking dish.

4. Add the onion, carrots, and fennel to the frying pan, adding more oil if needed. Cook, stirring, until vegetables have softened slightly, for 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle fennel seeds and red pepper flakes over the mixture. Add the stock, orange juice, orange peel strips, wine, and tomatoes, and bring the mixture to a simmer. In a small bowl, use a fork to blend the flour and butter into a smooth paste and whisk it into the simmering liquids to thicken slightly. Season with more salt to taste. Ladle the mixture over the chicken in the baking dish.

5. Bake uncovered until the chicken is very tender when pierced with a sharp knife and liquids have reduced and thickened somewhat, for 1 hour and 25 to 45 minutes. Time can vary depending on your oven so check often after 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Chicken can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven until hot, 20 to 25 minutes or more.) Remove and discard the orange strips.

6. To serve, spoon the mixture into shallow bowls and sprinkle each serving with julienned orange peel. Pass a bowl of Parmesan cheese for sprinkling.
Serves 4 with two thighs each, or 8 with one thigh
Cooking tip: Reduced sodium chicken stocks can vary widely in the amount of salt they contain. If you use one with very low sodium, you’ll probably need to season this casserole generously with additional salt.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2013

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