Autumn is finally here and another cool, wet weekend has begun. The perfect excuse to curl up on the couch, cuddle my pups and indulge in a catch up session of Rick Stein's Long Weekends. This week he's visiting Berlin and all of the heart warming food he's tasting makes me glad that I planned ahead to throw a few delicious ingredients into the slow cooker to bubble away while I sloth my afternoon away with Rick.
Earlier I got my hands on some baby fennel, which is my favourite thing to eat in at least a thousand different ways. With a sad wet day ahead of me I decided the best decision would be to get the slow cooker out and create a beautiful Italian style chicken dish using the fennel as inspiration. Better yet, it will ultimately cook itself, so it's the perfect lazy rainy weather dinner.
I'm not the bigger user of slow cookers but figure it's high time I used mine more often to create more meals that minimise kitchen time and increase relaxation time on my weekends. I know we all need a bit more of that in our lives. Despite this recipe searing the chicken prior to popping it in the slow cooker, I'm sure you'll be forgiven if you choose to take a short cut, dumping everything into the cooker, without following that step, and simply turning it on. The flavours will still be lovely and you'll have one less pan to wash!
If you need to fall in love with a little extra time for yourself in the day and don't want it to be at the expense of a boring dinner, dust off your slow cooker and get this meal together. Who knows what you'll get done in that extra little bit of time? Maybe it'll be more productive than my afternoon with Rick! Then again, what's better than that.
SLOW COOKER CHICKEN WITH FENNEL & EGGPLANT
4 chicken thigh fillets (skinless)
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
1 cup dry white wine
1 brown onion, cut into thin wedges
3 baby fennel, bulb cut into wedges (reserve some fronds for serving)
3 baby eggplant, halved lengthways
4 anchovy fillets
800g diced tomatoes
1 handful, fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Zest of one lemon
1 extra handful, fresh basil leaves
1. Heat a good swig of olive oil in a fry pan. Add the chicken thigh fillets, searing to slightly brown. When turning them over to begin browning the second side, add the smashed garlic cloves to slightly cook and flavour the oil.
2. As soon as the second side has begun to brown pour in the cup of dry white wine to deglaze the pan. The wine will appear cloudy, but this is fine as it's all of the 'flavour' from the pan. Remove from heat and turn stove top off.
3. In the base of the slow cooker scatter the onion and fennel. Top with the eggplant.
4. Using tongs, remove the browned chicken thighs from the pan and place them onto the raw onion, fennel and eggplant. Add the anchovy fillets.
5. Pour the diced tomatoes and wine with garlic from the pan over the chicken and top with a handful of basil leaves.
Place the lid on and turn the slow cooker to high for 4 hours, stirring occasionally throughout the cooking time.
6. After 4 hours, remove the lid and allow the chicken to keep cooking for another 30 minutes to 1 hour, to reduce the liquid.
Note: The chicken thighs will most likely break apart. This is part of the process.
Season to taste, stir through the zest of one lemon and serve immediately topped with some fennel fronds, fresh basil leaves and serve with some crusty bread.
To match not only the tomato base of this meal, but also the cooler nights, crack open a bottle of Syrah-Grenache (Shiraz-Grenache) and allow it to breathe as you remove the lid from your slow cooker. The addition of Grenache makes it a deliciously gluggable drop with my Slow Cooker Chicken, Fennel and Eggplant dish.
We're lucky enough to have a fantastic bottle of 2014 BARTON & GUESTIER Côté du Rhône Syrah-Grenache that we picked up via The Wine Society at the Taste of Sydney in 2016.
If you're in Sydney next weekend The Taste of Sydney is on again from Thursday 9th - Sunday 12th March in Centennial Parklands. The Wine Society will be there agin along with a huge number of brilliant winemakers, producers and foodie related stalls. It's like the Big Day Out for foodies. Amazing.
NOTE: I don't believe in sticking to "wine rules", so being that this is also a chicken dish, the addition of fennel and lift of lemon zest means you could also make this dish work with a nice oaked Chardonnay. Fennel and chardonnay are best friends. Trust me.
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