Since you could not travel to Europe this year, you can still savour the flavours and the festive spirit with this red, white and green Mediterranean inspired Christmas dinner with flavours of Italy and Greece put together. All you need is a chilled crisp Chardonnay and you have a perfect meal in the comfort of your home.
Vegetarians, replace the chicken with some umami filled mixed mushrooms in large chunks!
Pollo Cacciatore – Italian Hunter’s Chicken
In Italian, “cacciatore” means hunter and it is said that this simple stew was originally made by hunters during the Renaissance period when they brought back a rabbit for their dinner after a hard day of hunting. It was an easy one pot dish to put together outdoors over a fire. Today, pollo cacciatore is a hearty dish made in Italian homes and this is my family’s recipe that you can easily make and enjoy at your home too!
500 gms chicken (thighs and legs with bone in)
1 onion, finely chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced (optional)
1 cup thick tomato puree, ready or homemade
½ cup red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar, if required
Chilli flakes, to taste
¼ cup black olives, sliced
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1. Heat a large pan and add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the onions and sauté till translucent. Add the minced garlic, carrots and celery (if using) and cook on a medium flame, stirring often. This is called the “soffritto” and forms the base of many Italian sauces and stews.
2. Make some gashes in the chicken pieces with a sharp knife and rub them all over with olive oil, salt, pepper and chilli flakes half an hour before you start cooking. Leave outside as the warm temperature enables the salt to penetrate into the meat. Add the seasoned chicken pieces along with whole sprig of rosemary to the hot pan and sear 3-4 minutes on each side till well browned.
3. Add the red wine and let it evaporate. Add in the tomato puree, the olives and stir everything in the pan together. Season further with a good pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper, cover and simmer on a low flame for 20 minutes. If you find the sauce too tangy, add a pinch of sugar. If you find the chicken drying out, add some water or chicken stock. For those who prefer, this entire step can also be done in a pressure cooker.
4. Taste for seasoning, stir in the chopped parsley and serve with some rice, roast potatoes and grilled vegetables on the side. Personally, I like pairing it with the Greek spinach rice mentioned on this page.
Make ahead/ leftovers: Remove the leftover chicken from the bone and add it along with the sauce and a fresh salad in a delicious sandwich for a quick work lunch the next day.
Spanakorizo- Greek spinach rice
Spanakorizo is a simple homely Greek dish made with spinach and rice and flavoured with lots of lemon zest and fresh herbs. For me, it’s a great way to add the ‘mighty’ green spinach to a meal (I have clearly watched too many Popeye cartoons as a kid!). While the traditional way is to cook the raw rice with the spinach in its own water, this is my modern era shortcut where I use leftover cooked rice and toss it all together in a pan. As I always say, in cooking there are no rules, only inspiration!
What you need-
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Chilli flakes, to taste (optional)
1 bunch spinach, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1.5 cups white rice (any variety)
1 tsp butter
Zest and juice of a lemon
¼ cup mint or basil leaves, roughly chopped
Putting it all together-
1. Heat a non-stick pan and add the olive oil. When hot, add the onions and sauté till translucent. Add in the minced garlic along with some chilli flakes.
2. Throw in the spinach leaves in batches, tossing them from the bottom to the top as they wilt. Add a splash of water, couple of pinches of salt and a grind of pepper, cover and steam the spinach for a couple of minutes.
3. Once the spinach is cooked and still bright green, add in the rice, herbs and butter and combine well without breaking the rice grains. Taste for seasoning.
4. Add in the lemon zest, squeeze in some lemon juice and serve with a main dish or a soup.
Make ahead/leftovers: Store in the fridge for up to two days.