I had a couple of friends over for dinner this week to thank them for taking care of my cats as I went to visit family in Toronto. Four long days straight of holiday festivities had really scrambled my food-brain so having them over the first night I was back home was not the best call. I pushed through the fog nonetheless and after mashing my face in to my recipe book for a few minutes came up with a nice dinner idea – one that ended up being a really great wine pairing.
After an hour long trudge through the snow I got back to my apartment with everything I needed to cook up some roast chicken, crispy roasted garlic rapini, caramelized balsamic red onions, and polenta. Except the polenta. Nailed it. Luckily I had some brown rice kicking around which served as an adequate substitute.
This dish is all about warming up with some comfort food but not being overwhelmed by an avalanche of heavy savoury, buttery, flavours, making it perfect for a relaxed date night dinner. Properly executed, the variance in textures also emphasizes the fresh, lighter flavours like the slightly bitter rapini, and the notes of citrus and hits of thyme in the roast chicken and gravy. It’s these standout flavours (and an ever-slimming wallet) that prompted me to pair the dinner with a bottle of Villa Sandi Pinot Grigio, a really standout Pinot Grigio for its price range – and by one bottle I mean I got three.
When you’re chowing down look for the repetition of lemon, crisp floral notes in the wine, and a complimentary mineral and earthy relationship between the wine and the rice/rapini. This wine-food pairing will act as a perfect bridge from comfortable holiday treats to real life.
Here’s the recipe – you can budget yourself around $35-40 to feed 3-4 people depending on how many of the cooking essentials you have at home.
Date Night Roast Chicken Recipe
1 Whole Chicken (Alternatively grocery stores and butchers will sometimes sell drumsticks with the thigh and skin attached. I highly recommend this option as it’s like half the price and breast meat isn’t that great anyway. I got a pack of 3, perfect, for $4.50 and my guests rolled out of my house happily.)
1 Red Onion
4 Stalks of Celery
3 Medium Sized Carrots
1 Bulb of Garlic
4 Sprigs of Thyme
Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper – coarse grind.
First, preheat your oven to 375F and get your chicken out of the fridge – try and bring it as close to room temperature as you can before you start cooking. Wash all of your vegetables and roughly chop them, scattering them over the bottom of a roasting tray. Even the garlic, just bust it up and scatter it with your other vegetables. The idea is that the chicken will sit on top of it to keep the bottom of the chicken from sitting in the roasting juices and getting soggy.
Next, prep your chicken. If you got the whole chicken, cut your lemon in half, squeeze most of the juice out of each half in to your tray of vegetables, and then shove the halves of lemon inside the cavity of the chicken. Slide your sprigs of thyme under the chicken’s skin along the spine at the top of the bird. You’ll find the skin parts at the top of the cavity opening and you’ll be able to gently slide your finger in to separate the skin enough to stuff your thyme in.
Drop your chicken on top of your veg in the tray. Grab a pinch of salt and pepper and sprinkle it on your chicken. Then drizzle some olive oil on the bird and massage it in to the skin gently. Last step is to throw half a cup of white wine and half a cup of water in the tray. Tent the tray with foil and leave the tent on for the first 30 minutes of cooking. Monitor liquid levels as the bird roasts to ensure you have enough juices to make a gravy when you’re all done. The chicken should be cooked to 165C at it’s thickest part. The last 5-10 minutes of cooking I like to switch my oven on broil to really crisp up that skin.
Roasted Rapini Recipe
1 Bunch of Rapini, also known as Broccoli Rabe by weirdos. Stalks trimmed.
3 Cloves of Garlic, minced
Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper
Once you’ve trimmed the stalks of the rapini – maybe 2 inches up each piece – toss them in a bowl with your minced garlic, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch and a half each of salt and pepper. Once you’ve coated the rapini you can toss it on a roasting pan lined with foil. This can go in to the oven when the chicken has maybe 15 minutes left. It should be very slightly browned and a little crispy. Rapini is a very bitter vegetable. If bitter isn’t your thing, try blanching your veg first by boiling water and tossing the rapini in for 3-4 minutes before you roast it.
Balsamic Caramelized Onions Recipe
1 Red Onion
Dark Balsamic Vinegar
Halve and peel your onion. Finely slice the halves while you’re getting a medium sized pan hot on the stove. Add a splash of olive oil and toss your onions in. Cook on a medium-high heat until the onions are softened and starting to stick to the pan a bit. Splash a little over a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar in the pan and toss your onions around, making sure they soak up the vinegar. Cook on medium heat until the vinegar scent is turned sweet and the onions are a deep purple.
Brown Rice Recipe
For the rice I stick to a water:rice ratio of 1.75 cups of water vs. 1 cup of rice. In this recipe I used a vegetable bouillon cube to coax a bit more flavour out in a lazy way.
Your last steps will be making the gravy and plating your dishes. This gravy is super easy. Once your chicken is cooked, take it out of the tray and lay it aside to rest and allow the juices to redistribute through the meat. With a potato masher, lightly squish the vegetables in your roasting tray. Make sure you bust open all the little garlic cloves. Strain the juices in to a small pot on the stove and discard the used vegetables. Or save them to snack on – it’s pretty good.
Get the pot on a medium heat and have it simmering. In a separate pot, melt about a quarter cup of butter on a low heat, then whisk in two tablespoons of flour. When the flour is fully incorporated with the butter, pour the mixture in to your pot of roasting juices, continually whisking as you add. This process is known as making a “roux” to thicken your gravy. Give your gravy about 5 minutes of simmering to reduce, test to see if it needs salt, pepper, lemon, thyme – I find gravy to be a very subjective thing.
To plate, I suggest starting with a circle base of rice, a few stalks of rapini laid in a line across the middle of the rice, some nice chunks of chicken on top of your rapini, a small pile of your onions to garnish, and then a couple ladles of gravy over the whole show.