Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

We only buy groceries maybe twice a month, mostly just at Costco, and in the summertime I also hit up the farmer’s market about twice a month, so you would think I must be a whiz at meal planning and shopping lists, but the fact of the matter is that we keep a basic set of pantry items on hand, and then I mostly just riff off whatever vegetables and proteins caught our eye at the market. Usually I don’t even have a dinner plan settled until after 4pm, sadly, and most of the recipes require significant tweaking and substitutions to work with the foods I have available. Sometimes I find this state of affairs horribly depressing and vow (to little avail, mostly) to be better at working out menus in advance; sometimes it actually gets my creative juices flowing and we end up with winning combinations that I never would have considered otherwise. However, I am always thrilled to come across a recipe that perfectly matches up with the ingredients I have on hand.

I had two whole chicken legs to cook, and half a head of leftover radicchio that needed immediate attention before it wilted. My original thought was something along the lines of risotto with the radicchio thrown in, but then I found a Florence Fabricant recipe for chicken baked with lentils that just happened to call for half a head of radicchio. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t a perfect fit: I didn’t have celery or fresh sage or pancetta. But I am perfectly alright with leaving celery out and substituting dried sage. I could only find one slice of bacon in the freezer (although I found another stack of it later that night), and it definitely could have benefited from a little more porky goodness.

Still, it was an easy, filling meal, perfect for fall, and great for cooking from your pantry—if you keep radicchio on hand! We served it over smashed red potatoes and had enough lentils leftover, along with a small portion of my chicken, to make a good lunch the next day: I warmed it up in the microwave to just about room temperature, refreshed the flavors with a little slosh of olive oil and red wine vinegar, and served it with freshly baked sourdough bread.

Chicken Baked with Lentils

1 T olive oil
1/4 lb pancetta or bacon, diced
2 whole chicken legs, patted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 C finely chopped onions
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
2 C finely chopped radicchio, about 1/2 head, cored
1 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried sage
1 C lentils
1 1/2 C chicken stock, more if needed.

Heat oil in a 4-quart ovenproof casserole. Add pancetta or bacon and cook on medium until golden. Remove. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add, skin side down. Sear until golden on medium-high heat, working in two shifts if necessary. Remove from pan. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan.

Add onions and garlic; cook on medium until soft and translucent. Stir in cumin. Add radicchio, vinegar and sage; sauté briefly. Add lentils, stock and cooked pancetta or bacon.

Return chicken to pan, bring to a simmer, cover and place in oven. Cook about an hour, until lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Lentils should be saucy but not soupy. Add a little stock if needed. Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed, then serve. Yield: 2-3 servings.

Source: Slightly adapted from NYTimes Online.

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