This is one of those dishes you can very quickly throw together if you have only an hour to cook. Even if you don’t have readymade tomato sauce, you can cheat and I’ll show you how. Just please don’t go out and buy tomato sauce in a jar. There simply isn’t a good one. So what you will need is:
- 4 chicken thighs, or 2 whole chicken legs cut into 2 (well, 4, but you see what I mean)
- 4 slices of Parma or Serrano Ham (or smoked cheese slices, if you’re not the porky type)
- 300ml simple tomato sauce A Simple Tomato Sauce
- 1 big brown onion
- 8 garlic cloves
- 1 glass white wine, about 125ml. More if you drink some.
- 1 handful black olives
- 1 handful sweet basil leaves
- 1 handful breadcrumbs
- salt & black pepper
- plenty of good olive oil
I like to buy a whole chicken, because the quality of the pre-cut chicken is often very dubious. I portion the chicken up myself, so I have the carcass for soup and the breasts and wings to go in the freezer for another day. But for this recipe I didn’t have the time, so I bought 4 thighs in the shop. If you prefer to use cheese instead of the ham, get deboned chicken. It will be easier to eat. The cheese version is very good, especially if you can get hold of smoked scamorza. Just don’t try anything stupid, like using turkey slice…
Cut your onion into wedges, about 12 wedges to the onion, meaning you halve it, the cut the half in half lengthwise and then cut each half into thirds. Makes perfect sense, I know. Now crush and peel the garlic cloves. Use 5 for the sauce and chop the remaining 3 fine for the breadcrumbs. Here’s what I mean:
We are making a flavoured breadcrumb mix to sprinkle of top of our chicken. Just chop garlic and basil together, mix with pepper, salt and breadcrumbs and you’re done.
Mix your 300ml simple tomato sauce with 100ml water to thin it out a bit. If you don’t have this sauce, just blend one can of whole peeled tomatoes and add a tablespoon of tomato paste to it, then blend to mix. It will still be delicious, trust me. Now salt and pepper the chicken, heat olive oil in a flat, preferably cast iron pan or tray and fry the chicken in it until it’s nice and golden brown. Take it out and leave to cool.
Don’t rinse or wipe the pan, even if you have a few burnt bits in it. Just toss the 5 crushed garlic cloves into the hot oil and fry for just 30 seconds. it should be so hot that the garlic browns instantly. Do not reduce the heat and add all the onions to the pan. Stir, stir and then leave them to brown just lightly. If you stir all the time, they won’t brown, if you don’t stir at all, they’ll burn. you get the idea. Once the onions look good and smell great, pour in the wine you haven’t drunk and let it sizzle to reduce it to a thick honey like consistency.
Now pour your thinned out tomato sauce, or your thickened, blended can of tomatoes in and let this simmer for just a minute. You don’t want the onions to go mushy. They should retain a good texture. I sometimes deglaze with a little red wine vinegar before I add the wine and toss the onions in the vinegar to give them a nice sour edge.
Add the olives before or after, it doesn’t make that much difference. Wrap each piece of chicken with a slice of ham. I say wrap, but its more like cover and tuck the ends under. Place into the sauce. If you’re using cheese, put the chicken into the an first, then cover with (definitely non-Kraft) cheese slices.
Pour a generous amount of olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle as much of the breadcrumbs over as you like. You can make this in the morning, or even the day before and keep it in the chiller, then add the breadcrumbs just before putting it into the oven. It’s a great Sunday Lunch dish! Bake at 180ºC for about 30 minutes. You will need more time in the oven if the dish comes from the chiller. If you watch it closely, you can see when it’s ready. You want the middle of the pan to be bubbling lightly. That’s the point from which you will need another 10 minutes.
You don’t need the breadcrumbs to be dark brown, just lightly toasted is good enough. I serve this with a simple bowl of pasta to which I add a very generous amount of butter. Add a salad and you have a great meal!