• The San Juan Daily Star

A sweet goodbye to pepper and tomato season

By Melissa Clark

The cool nights and crisp days of fall may have reached the Northeast, but that hasn’t lessened the flow of tomatoes and sweet bell peppers at my local farmers market, piled up in red and gold profusion.

Unlike their peak-summer counterparts, these autumnal specimens can be soft and a bit wrinkly at the edges. While no longer ideal for tossing raw in salads and slaws, they’re still full of flavor and perfectly suited to long, slow simmering into stews, soups and silky sauces.

When cooked until their flesh practically melts, bell peppers and tomatoes become velvety and rich, condensing and sweetening as their juices thicken and bubble away.

The two make up the backbone of this heady skillet chicken, where they’re simmered down into something that’s halfway between a sauce and a side dish.

Because both peppers and tomato turn so sweet in the pan, I like to include a bright, briny element to balance them. A handful of torn green olives does the job here, offering contrast and a tangy bite. But you can use capers, pickled pepperoncini or other pickled vegetables, or even some crumbled feta if olives are not your thing.

Once that’s ready, it can accompany almost anything. Adding protein turns it into a satisfying meal, whether you reach for pork chops or fish, tempeh or tofu, or eggs that have been scrambled, fried or even poached right in the sauce. (Shakshuka is born of this same basic technique.) For a lighter nibble, spoon the rich stew over crostini, maybe topped with a cloud of ricotta to make it that much plusher.

Or you could take this weeknight route and add chicken thighs. When seared until their skins crisp and render a sheen of brawny fat, they’ll lend richness along with sustenance.

Cooked as written, the sauce will probably turn out on the brothy side, great for pouring over rice or couscous, or for sopping up with hunks of soft-crumbed bread. But if you are looking for something heartier, remove the chicken pieces from the pan once they’re cooked, then simmer to reduce the sauce, stirring occasionally, for another 5 to 8 minutes. Return chicken to pan and stir in olives, then garnish with herbs to serve.

It will be a cozy meal to warm up a chilly evening — and just as tasty when the weather is warm.

Skillet Chicken With Silky Peppers and Green Olives

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 1/4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)

2 teaspoons kosher salt (Diamond Crystal), plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers (or a combination of colors)

5 garlic cloves

1 medium fresh tomato

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

1/8 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

3/4 cup pitted, roughly chopped green olives, such as Castelvetrano

1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley, basil, cilantro or a combination

Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Season all over with 1 tablespoon oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Set aside at room temperature while preparing the vegetables (or refrigerate for up to 24 hours).

2. Slice the peppers into 1/4-inch strips, removing the seeds. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves. Chop the tomato.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. When the oil thins out and coats the bottom of the pan, add chicken, skin side down, and sear until browned on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Do this in batches if necessary; don’t crowd the pan. Transfer the chicken pieces to a plate as they brown.

4. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and stir in peppers. Sauté until tender and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, remaining oregano and red-pepper flakes, and cook until garlic is lightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in tomato and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until tomatoes begin to release their juices, 3 minutes.

5. Lower heat to a simmer and nestle in the browned chicken, skin side up, pouring in any accumulated juices from the plate. Partly cover the pan and cook until chicken is cooked through and peppers are soft and stewy, 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed. In the last minute or two of cooking, stir in olives to let them heat up. Remove from heat, and sprinkle parsley or other herbs on top. Garnish with lemon wedges, if you like.

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