I’m so thrilled that it’s finally fall. I do a countdown from the first day of spring and just mark down the days until fall finally returns. It’s such a big deal for me that I’ve even started a tradition of celebrating the fall equinox with my husband. Every year, around September 22, I whip out some of my favorite ingredients that remind me of fall and make a delicious and romantic dinner for two.
Chicken with Figs over Buttered Gnocchi was an idea that I first got from an episode of Rachael Ray a few years ago. As she was cooking on her show, my stomach was growling just looking at how awesome this dinner looked. This is a dish she makes every year for her wedding anniversary as a tribute to the Tuscan town where she and her husband wed. It makes me wish I had a fall wedding. In Tuscany. You know, just something that the simple folk do.
Dried black figs and golden chicken chunks drowning in thick, delicious wine gravy…I knew I had to recreate this dish. Some adjustments I made include the part of the chicken I chose to cook. I’m not a big fan of dark meat, so instead of using chicken thighs, I opted for chicken breast. The dried black mission figs are a delicious treat in this dish, but don’t discount dried California figs. They have a terrific texture and lighter flavor that is just as yummy in this recipe. I also opted for my favorite Mondavi merlot instead of Rachael Ray’s choice of Montalcino wine. The Montalcino, while very tasty, just didn’t have the same delicious and savory bite that the merlot provided for my particular tastes. As with every recipe, I find that the original recipes are always great suggestions or jumping off points, but cooking should always reflect your own personal favorite tastes as well as your own creative spin.
With every mouthful of this dish, we celebrated the return of our favorite season. The sweetness of the figs mixed with the complex flavors of the red wine—I swear, you can just taste the purple! The smokiness from the bacon and the freshness from the chopped parsley was like digging into a perfect fall day. Just a touch of ground nutmeg sprinkled on the top of buttered gnocchi, you’ve got the perfect combination of a perfect first fall dinner.
Chicken with Figs and Buttered Gnocchi
Recipe inspired by Rachael Ray
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 4 turns of the pan
1/3 pound thick-cut bacon or pancetta, cut into chunks
2 pounds chicken breast, cut into large chunks
Salt and pepper
Flour, for dredging
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
14-16 dried figs, halved (either black mission or California)
1/3 bottle dry red wine, eyeball it
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup, a generous handful, chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, zested
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 package, 12 to 16 ounces fresh or frozen store bought gnocchi (potato pasta)
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, eyeball it
About a handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Heat a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil, 4 turns of the pan, and the cut pancetta. Brown the bacon or pancetta, 3 to 4 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Place a pot of water on the stove to boil for the gnocchi.
While bacon or pancetta browns, season the chicken chunks with salt and pepper and dredge in a little flour then add to the hot pan. Brown the pieces a few minutes on each side over high heat, then scoot the meat to the edges of the pan and add the onions, garlic and chopped figs. Sautee 5 minutes, combine chicken with onions and figs then add the wine and cook it down 5 minutes or so until only about 1/3 cup remains. Add chicken stock, parsley, lemon zest and thyme to the chicken and stir to combine. Reduce heat to simmer cook another 10 minutes, while you make the gnocchi.
Add salt and gnocchi to boiling water and cook to package directions, drain, 4 minutes for fresh gnocchi, 6 minutes for frozen. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Melt butter and brown it. Drain gnocchi and add to skillet. Raise heat to medium-high and lightly brown the dumplings. Season gnocchi with salt, pepper and nutmeg, turn to coat and add parsley, toss and remove from heat.
Adjust the seasonings on the chicken with figs. If you would like a little more sauce, shake another half cup of stock into the pan. Serve the chicken and figs in shallow dishes, the gnocchi piled in the center of the bowl on top of the chicken. Garnish with crisp bacon bits.