Friday, September 16, 2011

A Marsala Meal

What. A. Meal.  

We had friends over for dinner on this beautiful, warm Friday night, and I decided to go all out, formulating a fantastic meal around a main ingredient - Marsala wine.  I use a sweet, superiore Marsala when I cook.  It is a versatile cooking wine, since it goes so well with tomatoes, cream, fish, veal, chicken, and so many vegetables that it is hard to go wrong.  I made boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a Marsala cream sauce and I also used the Marsala to make stuffed onions.  Since one of our guests was vegetarian, I separated some of the sauce and made some rosa bianca eggplant steaks as a substitute for the chicken.  Add some of my standard roasted sweet potatoes and turnips into the mix and we had ourselves quite the meal!

The Meat
- 6-10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (approximately 2-3 thighs per person)
- olive oil for cooking

The Sauce
- 1 1/2 cups of whole milk
- 1 cup of Marsala wine
- 3-4 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons butter
- salt, pepper, marjoram, oregano, parsley to taste
- potato starch to thicken

The Veggies
- 1 medium sized rosa bianca eggplant,  sliced into steaks
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt, pepper to taste

- 2 large sweet potatoes, chopped into bite size pieces
- 1-2 large turnips, chopped into bite size pieces
- olive oil, salt, pepper, dill to taste

- 7-10 small onions
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 large scallion, diced
- 1 1/2 cup spinach, raw and chopped
- 6-8 lare white mushrooms, diced
- 6-8 cloves garlic, diced
- 1/2 cup Marsala wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste

It is a several step process to make the stuffed onions, and since they took the longest, that is what I started with first.  Begin by peeling the onions and cutting off the ends - don't cut off too much, though, because you don't want the layers to separate.  Bring a pot of water to boil on the stovetop and once you have a rolling boil, drop in the whole onions for 12-15 minutes.  

In the meantime, take your chopped celery, garlic, sliced scallion, and mushrooms and put them into a large pan with the tablespoon of olive oil.  Saute for a few minutes, then season.  Separate a small amount out to use in your Marsala sauce for your chicken. With what is left, add the walnuts, spinach, tomato paste and the Marsala wine.  Bring the whole mixture to a simmer and allow it to cook for around 8-10 minutes, helping the alcohol burn off and infusing the stuffing with flavor.

When the onions are soft from boiling, take them out of the water and let them cool for a little while.  Use a small paring knife and gently cut through the center layers - you are using the knife to help separate the inner layers of the onion, not butchering them!  I also cut a small X on the side I would be pushing the centers out from, to help create a larger opening for the onion inners to go out, and later, my stuffing to go in. Hold the onion in both hands, and using your thumbs, gently (GENTLY!!!) push the inner layers of onion out into a bowl.  You want to leave around 3 of the outer layers intact, as your stuffing "shells." Place the intact outer layers in an oven safe baking dish.

Return to your stuffing and bring the onion innards with you!  Chop up the cooked onion that was leftover from creating our shells, and mix it into the stuffing mix.  Saute on medium heat for only a few more minutes, and then spoon the mixture into the onion shells in your baking dish.  You will have to use your fingers to really get as much stuffing in there as possible, so watch out for burnt fingers, and try to be as careful as possible so you don't split your shells.  Layer any leftover stuffing on top and around the stuffed onions.  Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and getting a little crispy.

I put the onions and my sweet potatoes and turnips into the oven at the same time, since they both needed around the same amount of time to cook.  I had chopped my sweet potato and turnips before, lightly brushing them with olive oil and seasoning them.  When you put the veggies into the oven, add a 1/2 cup - 1 cup of water to the bottom of your glass baking dish to ensure the veggies don't dry out during their cook time.  Cook them for 40 minutes on the center rack of the oven (right next to your onions!)

To prepare your chicken, you will need your meat tenderizer.  Lightly tenderize the chicken thighs with the smooth side of the tenderizer.  Set the chicken aside, they are ready to be seared.  In a large pot, pour the milk and Marsala wine together.  Add the butter, tomato paste and seasoning, and bring your sauce to a simmer, stirring often.  This will simmer the entire time you cook the rest of the meal.  You'll be dropping your seared chicken into the sauce as well, letting them infuse with flavor and in turn, help flavor the sauce.  When it was time to add the chicken to the sauce, I separated a small amount and kept it apart to keep it vegetarian for our guest.  If you aren't serving vegetarians, you can omit that step.

To cook the chicken, I took my largest pan and heated up some oil.  I sauteed some celery, scallion, garlic, and mushroom in the pan to get it all flavorful, then I tossed the sauteed veggies into the pot with our simmering Marsala sauce.  I seared my tenderized chicken thighs on high heat, adding oil as needed, and flipping them a few times to make sure they got nice and brown on each side.  

It was at this point that I separated out some of the sauce and put it in a smaller pot to continue simmering.  I placed my seared chicken into the larger pot with sauce, allowing the chicken to finish cooking in the sauce.  Add to both pots some potato starch to help thicken the sauce a bit.  I added a teaspoon to the smaller pot and a tablespoon to the larger pot.  I let the chicken and both sauces continue to simmer on lower heat for around 20 minutes until my meal was all set to be served.  During that time I used my griddle pan and some olive oil to cook the rosa bianca eggplant steaks.  Season the thick slices of eggplant lightly and brush them liberally with olive oil.  Cook on medium heat, turning every so often, for around 15 minutes or until the eggplant is soft to cut and golden brown on the edges.  When it is time to serve then, pour the Marsala sauce all over the eggplant steaks. Garnish both sauces with green onion.

This meal was so great, we scraped all the dishes clean!  Enjoy!!

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