White: Chicken chili tastes best after the flavors meld

It had been a busy weekend a few weeks ago. On a Friday night, I had my friend Kirsten and her very-good-friend Charles to dinner. I have known Kirst for longer than a decade, when she did public relations for Newman's Own.

She is now in a relationship with Charles, who is a professor at the University of Connecticut, but I had not met him yet. So this dinner party was for three people, me and them. I made roast chicken with all the fixings and a lemon cake for dessert. Charles not only brought incredible oysters but shucked them, deftly spritzed them with lemon and placed them on a nice plate. All Kirst and I had to do was slurp. In addition to enjoying the oysters, I learned quickly that the two of them make a great couple.

Sunday I had invited eight people for dinner, and we ate early, at 6:30 p.m. In the meantime, I had TiVo'd the Patriots-Ravens game. Two of the eight couldn't attend - a migraine for one, dental pain another. After dinner, we had dessert (another lemon cake with a scoop of rather zippy Haagen Dazs espresso ice cream). Then we all adjourned to the den and watched football.

It was a truly depressing game and, during it, I found that two people stayed in the dining room to talk, two of the people hated the Patriots (one was a Jets fan, the other Steelers) and one didn't care much one way or the other.

After they all left, I thought about the chicken chili I had made that day and served for dinner. It was a new recipe for me and it sort of didn't work. It was soupy, it didn't really taste like chili, there were no beans in it (even though many chili recipes don't call for beans) and no one asked for the recipe.

I thought about it when I went to bed, when I woke up the next morning, while I was getting my infusion of Remicade and when I went to work that afternoon. When I got home, I reheated the pot of what I now call chicken stew and made some seasoned rice in my rice maker. It was delicious that night, and the next and the next. The flavors needed a day or more to marry, and the rice took the soupy broth and turned it into a luscious sauce. So, here's the recipe.

LEE WHITE HAS BEEN WRITING ABOUT RESTAURANTS AND COOKING SINCE THE LATE 1970S. EMAIL HER AT LEEAWHITE@AOL.COM.

Chicken Chili

Adapted from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa Parties!" (Clarkson Potter, New York, 2001)

Serves 12

If you call this recipe a stew, make it a day or two earlier and refrigerate, warm it up and serve over rice, everyone will love it.

8 cups chopped onions (6 onions)

¼-cup good olive oil, plus extra for chicken

¼-cup minced garlic (8 cloves)

4 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and large-diced

4 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and large-diced

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

½-teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

4 teaspoons salt, plus more for chicken

4 28-ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes in puree, undrained (I used Muir Glen diced tomatoes)

½-cup minced fresh basil leaves

8 or more split breast chicken, bone in, skin on (thighs or a combination would be fine, too)

For serving: chopped onions, corn chips, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream.

Cook onions in the oil over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cayenne and salt. Cook for 1 minute. Crush tomatoes by hand or in batches in a food processor fitted with a steel blade (pulse 6 to 8 times). Add to the pot with the basil. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the meantime, rub the chicken with olive oil and place pieces on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast chicken for 35 to 40 minutes, until just cooked. Let cool slightly. Separate the meat from the bones and skin and cut into chunks. Add to the chili and simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. Serve with toppings, or refrigerate and reheat gently before serving.

Nibbles

It has become something of a tradition that, after friends judge Chocolate to the Rescue at Water's Edge Resort and Spa, we go with spouses and friends to Taste of China in Clinton.

This year there were only four of us. We shared a new dish, clams in black beans, and it disappeared in a New York minute. Priscilla and Charlie had not tried the chicken and pine nuts with rice buns. It was an entrée-sized portion, so it took us a little longer to finish. Also great were the salt shrimp, the cheng du dumplings and a big bowl of lightly sautéed greens.

As we finished our food, in about 45 minutes, and our talking (which took another 45 minutes or more), we all kept saying how lucky we are to have such an incredible Chinese restaurant here on the shoreline.

Taste of China

233 East Main St.

Clinton, CT

(860) 664-4454

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