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July 22, 2007

Fresh herbs, three bricks, one cookbook (Recipe: brick-grilled chicken thighs) {gluten-free}

Herbsandbook

When Sunday morning starts with the ring of the telephone, you know someone, somewhere, is calling to tell you something you don't want to hear.

"I'm sick," my friend Cindy sniffled into the phone.

A summer cold, the kind that works its way through your entire body and makes you feel like jello, had taken hold, so we had to let go of our plan to spend last Sunday evening cooking together.

A few weeks ago, when Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Cath of A Blithe Palate invited me to join other bloggers and cook from Faith Heller Willinger's new book, Adventures of an Italian Food Lover: with recipes from 254 of my very best friends, I knew instantly which Italian food lover I'd invite to dinner. I called Cindy, not because she is my most Italian friend (she is), or because she is a professional food stylist (she is), or because she is a certified executive pastry chef (she is). And not because we have gone on several food adventures together, to an Asian supermarket in Boston and to farm stands closer to home (we have), and not even because she runs highly entertaining "insider" walking tours of Providence's Federal Hill, the most Italian neighborhood in Rhode Island (she does).

I wanted to cook for Cindy, and her husband Ken, because she makes friends wherever she goes. She knows the man who sells her pasta and proscuitto, the woman who grows giant zucchini blossoms, the ladies who bake the best pastries, and the neighbor who grows grapes in his backyard vineyard and makes wine in the garage. Food shopping, to her, is a person-to-person experience, and that is the premise of Ms. Willinger's book, too.

Choosing a menu was easy.

For four or five months each year, my garden supplies fresh herbs to The Perfect Pantry. You might not think of the garden as an extension of your pantry, but fresh herbs, like onions and garlic and salt and pepper, are essential to good cooking, and truly robust herbs, when you can find them in the grocery store, are hideously expensive. If you're lucky enough to have a little space outdoors -- a few square feet of soil, or a balcony or window box -- there is nothing more satisfying than gathering ingredients for a recipe by grabbing your nippers and heading out to harvest. And nothing does more to lift everyday food to extraordinary heights than an infusion of fresh herbs.

It's prime time in my herb garden this month, so as the centerpiece of our meal I chose Brick-Grilled Chicken Breasts or Thighs (page 123), a recipe from Lorenzo Guidi, chef at Nanamuta in Florence.

Then, Cindy and I pored through the book, and selected Ricotta-stuffed Zucchini Flowers (page 96) and Ginger Apricot Biscotti (page 64) to complete the menu.

The chicken needed to marinate overnight, so on Saturday afternoon I harvested basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, lemon thyme and sage. I chopped the herbs with lemon zest, mixed in some lemon-rosemary seasoned sea salt, and rubbed both chicken breasts and thighs with the herb mixture.

Chicken marinating in fresh herbs

The recipe included cherry tomatoes with basil, so Ted and I decided to skip the zucchini blossoms -- too much food for two, with Cindy and Ken unable to join us -- and to cook our chicken on the grill instead of stovetop. Ted washed three bricks and wrapped them in aluminum foil. (When you live in the country, bricks, like rocks and wood and pine cones, are easy to come by.)

Chicken under bricks

I worried that the marinade for the chicken did not include any oil, or any liquid at all. Would the chicken be moist? Would the herbs burn off? No cause for concern; the chicken was absolutely delicious, tender and still tasting of fresh herbs, fully cooked after less than eight minutes on the grill.

For the biscotti, Ted and I followed the recipe (oh, how I hate to measure!) and produced lovely shortcake-like cookies. Unlike traditional biscotti, these are baked just once, making them easy to throw together in just a few minutes.

Ginger biscotti

I packed up some of the chicken, tomatoes and biscotti, along with the book itself (which I'd received from the nice folks at Clarkson Potter), into a little get-well-soon package for Cindy -- a small gift in exchange for the wonderful gift of her friendship.

Brick-grilled chicken thighs

One of the very best chicken dishes I've made in years, this recipe, from Faith Heller Willinger's Adventures of an Italian Food Lover, takes full advantage of the abundance of fresh herbs in my garden. Of course I made a couple of changes here and there (indicated in parentheses), and added two items that I think really bumped up the lemon flavor: lemon thyme, and lemon-rosemary sea salt. Serves 4.

Ingredients

1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves (I used 2 tsp of all of the herbs)
1 tsp fresh sage leaves
1 tsp fresh mint leaves
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or half lemon thyme)
1 Tbsp fresh basil leaves (I used 2 Tbsp)
1 strip lemon zest (I used 2)
1-2 chili peppers (I used jalapeno, with the seeds and ribs removed)
1-2 garlic cloves
Fine sea salt (try this one)
4 boned chicken breasts or 6-8 boned chicken thighs (I used 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs)
1-1/2 to 2 cups cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (I used 1 Tbsp)
Bricks (we needed 3 to cover all of the chicken)

Directions

Mince the rosemary, sage, mint, thyme, 1 tsp of basil, the lemon zest, as much chili pepper as desired, garlic, and 1 tsp sea salt together (you can do this by hand or in a small food processor). Sprinkle the herb mixture over the chicken, coating both sides. Put the chicken and any leftover herbs in a plastic bag or bowl to marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half or quarters. Chop the remaining basil and add to the tomatoes. Season with sea salt and 1 Tbsp extra virgin oil, and set aside.

Rinse the bricks and cover with aluminum foil. Or prepare two plates, each large enough to cover a couple of pieces of chicken, and two heavy weights (cast-iron pan, pot of water, bags of beans, boxes of rice, etc. -- creativity helps). Lightly oil a ridged grill pan or a cast-iron pan large enough to hold the chicken. Place over high heat. When the pan is smoking, put the chicken in one layer and cover with the bricks or weighted plates. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the chicken for 2-4 minutes. Remove the bricks, turn the chicken over, replace the bricks, and finishing cooking for another 2-4 minutes.

(What we did: Heat a gas grill to high heat; place the chicken on the grill with the bricks on top. Close the lid. Immediately turn the grill heat to medium. Cook 4 minutes; then, turn the chicken, cover with the bricks again, put the lid down, and cook 4 minutes more, until done.)

Let the chicken rest for 3 minutes, then cut diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Drizzle with the remaining oil (our chicken didn't need this), and serve with the tomatoes.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

Glorious colors and meal for you friends! That really is what cooking is about.

Oh how sad Cindy was unwell and couldn't share the meal with you. It looks delicious. I've never seen the brick in foil trick. I shall try it in summer. I'm very envious of your herb garden.

Lucky us - Lydia made this chicken for us on Friday and I was amazed. It was delicious and so simple. I loved discovering a new, healthy easy way to cook chicken.

Hi Lydia....I have used the brick to cook chicken and used lots of Rosemary and EVOO. I will now use your recipe, as it sounds delightful and light.
I hope Cindy is OK...and you are right, she does draw in friends, sorta like honey and bees!

Happy Summer.

Hi Lydia...it's a week later and I'm still sniffling; oy. To all who are reading this post, Lydia brought me a care package that contained this fabulous chicken and biscotti. I sliced up the chicken and served it cold over a bed of greens with a little balsamic, YUMOLA. The biscotti were delicious were perfect for breakfast with a hot cup of coffee. I'll be making both recipes again and again. Lydia you kindness and great food really gave me the boost I needed.
Cindy

Such bad timing for the cold, and I do think those summer colds are just the worst! Very interesting recipe. I've never cooked anything this way, but it sounds quite delicious with all the herbs.

I took the biscotti to work that Monday and my staff made short work of them. Rolann asked for the recipe; always a good sign. They couldn't believe they were biscotti, and called them scones instead. I love it when we try a new recipe that works as well the second time. I am sure this will be one of our grill regulars joining the shish taouk where it all started.

Summer colds are the worst!
But the chicken looks fantastic! I love lemon thyme and use it in everthing. Never cooked with a brick, though. I'll have to try it - like you, we have ample bricks, rocks, etc.
In Andorra we used to cook on slate tiles... got a new one whenever the wind came up and blew one off the roof!

That brick chicken looks fantastic! I love my potted herbs, it's so convenient to go to the back porch and snip some.

Now that was a luscious account- & one fine looking bird, charred grill marks and herby flecks. Sounds like a great friendship and a great meal- the biscotti looked great too, apricots in it?

Tanna, cooking for friends and family is what I love to do!

Barbara, this is my fifth year with an herb garden, and I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. The bricks worked so well -- the chicken cooks fast because it's pressed to the heat, so it stays very moist.

Mary, it was fun to share this with you!

Pam, what I love about this recipe is that I didn't need to use any oil to cook the chicken. If you make it in a pan or on a grill that isn't well-seasoned, you'll want to brush with a tiny bit of oil.

Cindy, now that you're on the mend, we'll have to make this dinner again -- with the stuffed zucchini blossoms!

Kalyn, the herbs from your garden will be wonderful in this recipe.

Rupert, now that we've got our bricks all prepared, we can make this again and again. (and the biscotti, too)

Katie, I'm giggling -- what a wonderful way to get new cooking equipment!!! The lemon thyme in my garden is so flavorful this year, and it's perfect in this recipe.

Amy, fresh herbs are a gift. My cooking has gotten so much more interesting since I started my herb garden.

Callipygia, yup, apricots and crystallized ginger and fresh apple in the biscotti. And yet they were not too too sweet.

Lydia, this looks delicious.

I keep some foil-wrapped bricks under my grill for my chickens - yum.

I'll have to have a look at the book!

Ok, at the risk of really looking like a nut... what is the brick all about? It seems like that would just squish the last bit of juice out of the chicken.
I've seen several commentaries on that book~ I can't wait to pick up my copy!

You and Cindy are so fortunate to have one another. Your post made me smile, Lydia. So, did your comment about hating to measure. Me too! Me too! :)

Am I going blind "again". I don't see a biscotti recipe and they do look delicious.

Lydia,

You have outdone yourself! Thanks so much for taking part in this event and for sharing your talents!

Karen, I really do recommend this book. So many recipes I would have tried. Watch for the round-up on Cream Puffs in Venice to see some of the other recipes that were made for this event.

Sandi, here's the deal with the brick. It compresses the chicken to the heat, so the chicken cooks faster and the juices don't have a chance to dry out. It really works!

Susan, I met Cindy only a couple of years ago, but I feel like we've been friends for a long time. Isn't that the best?!

Pauline, you'll have to get the book to get the biscotti recipe!

Ivonne, thanks so much for inviting me to be part of this event. It was such fun.

I'm full of envy. I don't have a garden. But even if I do, I'm afraid nothing is going to grow - don't think I have green fingers.
What a treat from you :D

I loved this post, it´s great to see your food photos, lots of fun.

I so love that part "neighbor who grows grapes in his backyard vineyard and makes wine in the garage."

A friend of my husband declined a night out with the boys one evening because, as he said in his words, "Tomorrow I have to to my grandpa's house to help him make wine in the garage."

I thought that was so cool that this 29yr. old still makes time for "tradition" in his life. Sweet!

Tigerfish, I surely don't have green fingers either -- but my thumb isn't as black as it used to be! Nature has a way of taking over and saving even those of us who know nothing about gardening.

Lobster, you can see that I'm not a food photographer! But it was fun to try.

Rowena, I've met Cindy's neighbor who makes the wine in his garage and I asked him whether he has an old-fashioned grape stomping. He said, "No, but if you want to do it, I can give you a barrel and some grapes!" Now, how can I pass that up???!

your photos round out a wonderful story & great recipe quite nicely. thanks for sharing lydia-

That chicken is the first thing I tried and we loved it too! The biscotti are one of my new favorites lately. Your post captured the essence of the book.

Shawn, thanks so much!

Tartelette, I enjoyed your post about this book, too. I've made the chicken twice in one week, and it's become an instant favorite.

Delicious! I wish I were there. ;-) You're so lucky to have a garden. I hope Cindy feels better real soon.

Paz

P.S. I've been having problems subscribing to your feedburner. The address seems incorrect:
www.blogads.com<.

Looks like the two characters after "com" need to be removed.

Paz

Ooooh, you changed the layout of your site...I have to make sure that I turn my head left now. Hehe.

Nice work.

Paz, Cindy says she's feeling much better -- must be my cooking, don't you think? (and thanks for the Feedburner feedback -- I will email to you)

RM, just my way to check and see if people are paying attention! I'm kidding, of course -- I think the new layout will work out well, but it's still a work in progress. I'm grateful for feedback.

LOL! So glad Cindy's feeling better. She sure missed out on an excellent-looking meal. ;-)

Feedburner is working now. Yay! I was able to successfully subscribe.

Paz

What a lovely post--and a lovely friend! (both of you) Your photos are gorgeous--and making me quite hungry!

Paz, hooray! Thanks again for stopping by.

Tea, your blog has such beautiful photographs. I learn so much from you -- and the bonus is reading your exquisite posts.

Such beautiful pictures! I've starving now!

Sher, thank you. I don't do much food photography, as you can tell, so I'm just grateful the photos turned out well....

Everything looks so tasty! I love the dish you used to marinate the chicken in; makes the photo even more beautiful. And those biscotti, they look professional!

I'm off to find some bricks... :)

Mia, thanks for stopping by! The dish is an old one from Bridgewater Pottery in England.

Lydia!
It's so great to see pictures of your cooking! We don't get that very often, and it was quite the treat! Your interpretation of the recipe in Ivonne's project is beautiful! She made a good choice by inviting you :)

Hillary, thanks. I rarely do food photography because it's just not my forte, but it was fun to be part of this project and I really wanted to show off the food I made for my friend.

That's great the way you have shown the picture with the bricks! Both the chicken and biscotti look really delicious, mmm.

That chicken looks immensely tasty! And I also like the book cover - it's quite different from the 'typical' cookbook cover, isn't it?

Kelly-Jane, this chicken became an instant favorite! In fact, we call these our "chicken bricks" now.

Pille, the cover definitely reflects the sensibility of the book -- it's not about food as much as it is about people, the people in the author's life, and even her sister who did the illustrations. I think it's charming!

What a gorgeous, mouthwatering meal. I love the photo of the uncooked chicken with all the fresh herbs piled on top. It's a great reminder that I don't use the herbs in my garden nearly enough!

The chicken and biscotti look delicious and I have never thought of using bricks. Can you share the biscotti recipe? It looks like one my husband would love.

Farmgirl, I feel so lucky to have an abundant herb garden this summer, especially when so many of my perennials are not doing well. This dish was a great way to show off my herbs!

Maggie, I promise to share the biscotti recipe in a future post...but I really do recommend this cookbook, where you'll find the recipe (which I didn't change a bit) on page 64. Thanks for visiting The Perfect Pantry!

Hi Lydia - Would you mind sharing where the dish your chicken is sitting in is from? I think I saw a whole line like that in Harrod's but I can't remember the name - and I love it. Thanks! The recipe looks great.

Jessica, the dish is made by Bridgewater Pottery (in England), so you probably did see it in Harrod's. Here's the web site:
http://www.emmabridgewater.co.uk/

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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