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    Thursday, September 28, 2023

    Braised chicken with peppers turns Rosh Hashana into a Roman holiday

    Are you, like me, scratching your head about where the summer has gone? Did your Tomato Girl Summer also get thwarted by exorbitant airfare prices? Do you feel that Rosh Hashana, which starts on the evening of Sept. 15, has snuck up on you out of nowhere?

    Welcome to my world.

    While my normal approach to the Jewish New Year is to go big or go home — think brisket or pot roast, alongside the usual chicken soup, potato kugel, a grain salad and a decadent dessert or two — this time I’m planning on something different, something that’s affordable and cooks in a reasonable amount of time; with easy-to-find ingredients and not many of them, either. Bonus points if it can transport me with one bite.

    Enter this unassuming braise of chicken with roasted peppers from Leah Koenig’s latest cookbook, “Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen.” As the title suggests, the recipes hail from the Roman Jewish culinary canon, which is marked by scrappy, humble ingredients with bold flavors.

    At first glance, the dish looks too simple for a celebratory meal, but don’t let it fool you — those ingredients come together in a flavorful and sublime braise.

    You start by roasting the peppers in the broiler until they’re charred all over. Then, once the peppers are cool, you slip off their skins, scrape out the seeds, and slice the peppers into long silky strands. (If you’re short on time, Koenig says you can use jarred store-bought peppers, which won’t be quite as lush, but will still deliver good results.)

    Then you move on to browning the chicken. You’ll probably need to do this in two batches, even if you have a large Dutch oven. (A splatter guard is your friend here.) Once the chicken is golden, set it aside and saute half of the roasted pepper strips, some garlic and the optional (but recommended) red pepper flakes.

    A little wine goes in to deglaze the pan and concentrate all the tasty bits before the canned tomatoes are added with a little salt and pepper. Next, you return the chicken to the pot, gently nestling the pieces in the sauce, cover the pot and braise everything for 45 minutes. By then, the chicken will be tender and the deeply hued slurry of tomatoes and half-melted peppers will turn glossy and aromatic.

    A short simmer without a lid thickens the sauce just a touch, and that’s it. With a shower of fresh basil, the chicken and peppers make a striking dish that pairs beautifully with crusty bread for sopping up that velvety sauce.

    While Koenig suggests this braise for Shabbat, I think it makes an ideal Rosh Hashana main course, especially because the start of the Jewish New Year falls on a Friday evening this time.

    I know I’m not alone in feeling that it’s difficult to plan for a holiday meal at the end of the workweek. But this luscious dish feels especially doable. In under two hours — even less time if you skip roasting the peppers and go the jarred route — you have a festive main course, that while nontraditional in the context of Rosh Hashana, will taste comforting and familiar.

    My mom likes to say that how you usher in the new year is how you’ll spend it, and she might be onto something. So here’s hoping that the minimalism and ease of this dish will set the tone for the year to come, bringing with it nourishment and peace.

    Chicken With Peppers

    6 to 8 servings

    This saucy, brightly hued chicken braise “captures the essence of summer’s bounty,” according to cookbook author Leah Koenig, using readily available and inexpensive ingredients, such as bell peppers and chicken thighs. Koenig recommends orange and/or yellow bell peppers to create a contrast with the tomato sauce but, red bell peppers will also work.

    Make ahead: The peppers can be roasted and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days in advance.

    Where to buy: Refrigerate for up to 4 days.

    Substitutions: No time to roast peppers? Use a 10-1/2-ounce jar of roasted peppers.

    No whole canned tomatoes? Use diced canned tomatoes.

    Active time: 55 mins; Total time: 1 hour 40 mins

    Adapted from “Portico” by Leah Koenig (Norton, 2023).


    4 medium red, yellow or orange bell peppers, washed and dried (see headnote and Substitutions)

    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

    4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks, excess fat trimmed

    1/4 teaspoon fine salt, plus more as needed

    Freshly ground black pepper

    4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

    1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

    1/2 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or soave

    1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes (see Substitutions)

    Chopped fresh basil leaves, for serving


    Roast the peppers: Position a rack about 6 inches from the broiling element and preheat the broiler. Arrange the peppers on a large, rimmed baking sheet and broil, turning every 3 to 5 minutes with tongs, or until they are blistered all over and collapsing on themselves, 15 to 20 minutes total. (Keep an eye on the peppers as they can go over the edge in seconds.) Transfer the peppers to a medium bowl, cover with a wide plate and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the skins and seeds, slice the peppers into 1/2-inch-wide strips and set aside on the cutting board. If not using right away, transfer to a lidded container and refrigerate until needed.

    Make the chicken: While the peppers are cooling, in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Pat the chicken dry and season lightly all over with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add the chicken, skin side down, to the pot. Sear, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes total; transfer the chicken to a plate.

    Decrease the heat to medium and add a drizzle of oil if the bottom of the pot looks dry. Add half of the roasted peppers, the garlic, and red pepper flakes, if using, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is tender and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and let cook down by about half, 1 to 2 minutes.

    Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, with their juices, in the same bowl you used for the peppers and gently break them up into small pieces. Add the tomatoes with their juices to the pot, along with the 1/4 teaspoon salt and a generous amount of black pepper.

    Nestlé the chicken pieces in the sauce, spooning some of it over the top. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is tender, about 45 minutes.

    Uncover, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook at a lively simmer, stirring often, until the sauce thickens a bit, about 10 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed.

    Stir in the remaining pepper strips, taste, and season with more salt, if desired.

    Serve hot, generously sprinkled with chopped basil.

    Nutrition | Per serving (1 thigh), based on 8: 575 calories, 8g carbohydrates, 190mg cholesterol, 39g fat, 3g fiber, 39g protein, 11g saturated fat, 257mg sodium, 5g sugar

    Recipe tested by Olga Massov.

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