Brainless chicken??

I don’t have time to post much – which is a shame since I do have a lot to write about! The Chef’s tour was a resounding success with a packed house both nights. Laura’s Focus will be posting a blog faster than I will with great pictures in a day or so. In the meantime, I found this disturbing post on chicken experimentation. Now, the question is, would it be more humane to treat the chickens like a vegetable, raising them in this manner? I know I can barely stomach eating chicken from the supermarket anyway after having seen how these little guys are raised. Despite their poor reputation in critical thinking, they do think. Anyone who has been around a happy flock of chickens will attest to that. I vote for humanely raising them, but then the argument becomes, it costs more. In my opinion, so be it. I pay more for my chicken anyway. What if I was too poor? What then?

Not Your Mommas Chicken and Dumplings

My mother is famous for her chicken and dumplings. I’m not kidding. People have been begging for her recipe for as long as I can remember. They are delightfully soupy, thick and simply wonderful. There isn’t anything that leaps out at you with them but you always end up going back for seconds, and thirds. I never eat breakfast when we are going to visit except for maybe an apple because I know I’ll overeat.

My very first verifiable food memory is sitting on the counter helping my Mom shred chicken. She boils the chicken until it is fork tender and then shreds the meat into bite sized pieces. She then builds up a roux and thickens broth and then adds her dumplings. Ahhhh. The dumplings! They are pillowy wonderful bits of heaven.

Like so many southern women, my Mom closely guards her recipes. She does not share them. She once gave a clinic on how to make her chicken and dumplings but frustrated her students as she did not share ratios or measurements. Her hands are a blur while she’s cooking and it’s almost impossible to follow her. I’ve given up on trying to replicate her recipe and so we have modified a few recipes into our own. Ricotta cheese is the main ingredient in the Gnocchi dumplings. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs add a wonderfully flavorful, healthy component. Homemade chicken stock provides the base with a light roux. I hope you enjoy this as much as we do! Leftovers are divine and it works well as a chicken noodle soup as well.

Don’t worry: Even though this recipe seems long, it’s very easy and trust me, the ricotta gnocchi are more than worth it.  It’s a perfect rainy Sunday meal.

What you’ll need:

Gnocchi

One pound of ricotta

Half a cup of all-purpose flour plus two tablespoons

One large egg, beaten

One and a quarter cups of finely grated Parmesan

Three quarters of a teaspoon of nutmeg

Half a teaspoon of salt.

Chicken and Gravy

Ten cups of homemade or low-salt chicken broth

Two pounds of skinless, boneless chicken thighs

One quarter cup of unsalted organic butter

Two celery stalks, thinly sliced

Two carrots, thinly sliced

One leek, halved and thinly sliced

One quarter cup of parsley, chopped

One quarter cup of chives, chopped

Shaved Parmesan for garnish

Where to get it:

Chicken thighs are available at Indigo Farms, which is also a wonderful source for fresh seafood and specialty meats. You can make ricotta yourself using whole milk available at the Blacksburg Farmers Market or from Homestead Creamery. Organic versions are available in the organic aisle in Kroger on South Main Street. Organic local vegetables and cheeses are also available at Oasis on South Main Street.  Fresh eggs are available from Cavalier Farms.

What to do:

Gently mix the ricotta, flour, egg, Parmesan, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl to blend. Be careful not to overwork the mixture. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for at least an hour and up to one day.

Place the dough on a floured work surface and divide it into four portions. Roll with your hands into a rope about a half-inch in diameter. Cut it into half-inch long pieces and place on parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining three pieces. Chill in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. You can also freeze it for up to two months or so. Freeze on the parchment paper and then store in an airtight container.

In the meantime, bring your broth to a boil in a large pot. Add the chicken thighs, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for twenty to thirty minutes until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken and when it’s cool enough to handle, shred into bite-size pieces.

Bring the broth back to a boil and reduce it to about eight cups or so.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk in six tablespoon of flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the roux is light brown. Add the roux to the broth and whisk until it is thickened (you may need to add more roux than this based on how thick you want it).

Reduce the heat to low and add the vegetables. Cook for about fifteen minutes until the carrots are tender. Add the shredded chicken and herbs. Season to taste.

Boil a pot of salted water and add the gnocchi in batches so they don’t stick together. Cook until they float, about two minutes.

Plate the gnocchi in a shallow bowl and pour the chicken over. Garnish with Parmesan slices and enjoy!

(Modified from Bon Appetit.)