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Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Nov. 29, 2023

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The Beatles were wrong. All you need is chicken.

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
This chicken entree layers all the ingredients in one deep casserole dish and lets the flavors blend together during cooking.
This chicken entree layers all the ingredients in one deep casserole dish and lets the flavors blend together during cooking. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

What can you do with a pound of chicken, some leftover spaghetti sauce, a can of artichokes, an onion, a few carrots and a couple potatoes? You can make deep-dish chicken, that’s what — a multi-layered one-pot chicken-and-vegetable dish where everything cooks together.

We all need a few of these one-dish wonders up our culinary sleeves for days when dinner seems like a very daunting task indeed. I feel overwhelmed at least four nights a week. (Friday night is frozen pizza night and Saturday and Sunday nights are usually some combination of crackers, cheese, fruit and popcorn. We’re very sophisticated around here. And don’t judge me for the pizza.)

My point is, even for someone like me who enjoys cooking and allegedly knows a few things — a very few, I assure you — about how to make things tasty, dinner can be a chore. Once I’m actively engaged in the chopping of vegetables and the boiling and the sauteeing and the seasoning and the baking, I feel great. I’m in the zone. It’s the thinking about having to do it that’s the problem. It’s those moments when my workday is winding down and I’m coming into the kitchen and taking stock of ingredients that I feel inadequate for the task at hand.

I start to reminisce about the early days of our marriage, when I’d come home from work, toss my keys and purse on the table and do nothing more complicated than make toast. Even scrambling an egg was too ambitious. My husband didn’t care two hoots and would make himself a baloney sandwich or heat up a box of frozen pasta. We’d watch reruns on TV and talk about our plans for the weekend. It was responsibility-free bliss, but we didn’t know it at the time, caught up as we were in our rather adorable efforts to pretend that we were adults and not just a couple of big kids.

Now, here in our 50s, I suppose we’re officially grown up and responsible for all sorts of things. My daughter is not too far away from the age I was when I got married. She’s about to make her first foray into adulthood, when she can do all the terribly misguided things that people in their 20s do. (She’s already straining a few of my nerves on this count, bless her cotton socks.)

Deep-Dish Chicken

1 to 1½ pounds lightly salted chicken thighs, drumsticks or breasts (with bones and skin or boneless and skinless)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 whole onion, roughly diced

Handful of fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, rosemary or sage)

1 12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, with liquid

1 cup marinara sauce

1 or 1½ cups sliced carrots

2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes, skin on or off

Salt and Parmesan to taste

Set oven to 350 degrees. Layer ingredients in a 2.5-quart casserole dish. Start with olive oil on the bottom, then onion, fresh herbs, chicken, artichokes with liquid, marinara sauce, carrots and potatoes. Lightly salt the potatoes and dust generously with Parmesan cheese. Cover dish and bake for 1 to 2 hours, depending on amount of chicken. Chicken should reach 165 degrees. Serve all together in one bowl and spoon extra sauce over the top.

But back to dinner. Turn your oven on to 350 degrees and get out a 2.5-quart covered casserole dish. We’re going to build this entrée in layers. First, pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into the bottom of the dish, followed by a whole, roughly diced onion. (The onion doesn’t need to be in tiny bits but it shouldn’t be in giant chunks, either.) Sprinkle a few dashes of salt over the onions and a handful of fresh herbs like rosemary, parsley, oregano, sage or basil.

On top of the onions, place about a pound or a pound and a half of fresh or thawed chicken pieces, lightly salted. Any cut of chicken will do — thighs, drumsticks, breasts or even wings or chicken tenders. Bone-in, skin-on chicken will give you more flavor (as it always does) but you could just as easily use skinless breasts in this recipe because cooking with the lid on helps to keep the meat moist.

Next, pour an entire 12-ounce jar of marinated artichoke hearts, liquid and all, over your chicken. You can cut up the artichoke hearts or leave them whole as you wish, but the important thing is to use all that marinade because it’s a gold mine of zingy, lemony, herby flavor. Now slather a generous layer of marinara sauce, at least a cup, over the chicken. This is a great way to use up extra sauce if you don’t need the entire jar for pasta.

The next layer is carrots — slices, bite-size chunks, or whole baby carrots. I cut baby carrots diagonally in half and used maybe 20 little carrots (or about 40 carrot pieces, more or less). The top layer is potatoes. I cut two medium russet potatoes into one-inch chunks, peels on, and spread them over everything else. At this point, the chicken shouldn’t even be visible. It should just look like a big dish full of potatoes. Lastly, sprinkle a teensy bit of salt over the potatoes (but not too much because the chicken is salted and there’s salt in the marinara sauce and in the artichokes) and then dust them generously with Parmesan cheese.

Cover the casserole dish and bake in the oven for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on your total poundage of chicken and whether it contains bones. (Your chicken should reach at least 165 degrees to be safe.) My chicken thighs were quite large so I baked everything for two hours. You can take the lid off for the last 15 minutes to allow the potatoes to get brown and crispy, but I left the lid on and the potatoes browned just fine.

I served the chicken in a wide bowl and ladled extra sauce over the top. The vegetables were delicious and tender and the chicken was moist. Somehow, I’d made dinner again, for the (four nights a week for the past 16 years, minus two weeks a year for vacation and, say, another 100 nights a year for holidays or special occasions or because I just didn’t feel like it) thousandth time. Actually, it’s closer to the 1,600th time, but who’s counting?

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