Friday, February 25, 2011

Chicken Ragu Sauce over Creamy Polenta

In an effort to beat the winter doldrums around here (and to avoid having to brave the cold with a trip to the store!), I had in mind one afternoon to make a hearty, tummy-warming, soul-soothing meal that would be as comforting to make as it would be to eat.  In a flash of brilliant inspiration, I thought of hearty ragu sauce, only with chicken since I didn't have any ground beef.  Voila!  This meal was everything that I had hoped it would be....thick, aromatic, comforting, and simple really.  In an effort to make this version a bit more weeknight-friendly, I have included some crockpot action in the prep.  This is truly my favorite way to cook chicken that will end up being shredded.  Cook "low and slow" for a long period of time and it will shred easily with two forks.  That being said, make sure you give the sauce enough time over heat (an hour) in order for the flavors to meld and the sufficient liquid to evaporate, leaving you with a thick, hearty sauce.  (The polenta will be done in about 10-15 minutes).

Chicken Ragu Sauce over Creamy Polenta
adapted from The Italian Dish

1/4 cup olive oil
3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1/3 cup finely diced carrot
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced onion
large pinch of kosher or sea salt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 (14 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (or to taste)
ground fresh black pepper
1 recipe of creamy polenta OR 12 ounces dried small pasta  (any kind you like, penne would be a good choice)
grated parmesan cheese

Place 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the crock pot.  Cover the chicken halfway with water. Cook on low 5-6 hours, until chicken is fork-tender.  Remove from the crock pot and using two forks, shred.  Remove any fat and discard.  Set aside.

In a heavy bottom pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat the carrot, celery and onion and the large pinch of salt.  Stir together and let cook for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are soft and tender.  Do not brown, lower heat a little if you have to.  Add the garlic and saute for one minute.  Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, letting the paste caramelize a bit.  Add the wine, stir to combine, and cook for another two minutes.  Add the chicken broth and tomatoes.  Add the bay leaves, thyme and oregano and stir.

Add the shredded cooked chicken to the pot, cover, and let simmer on low for about an hour.

Taste the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.  Continue to cook, uncovered, until you like the thickness of the sauce.  Spoon over polenta and top with grated Parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.

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