Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer Pasta with Goat Cheese

Wunderground tells me that today in my neighborhood, Tierrasanta, the temperature will reach 92°.  As I write this I've got a large glass of iced coffee on my desk, my desk fan is circulating, blowing my hair--and hopefully sweat--from my face. And I'm writing about a way to create a summery pasta dish with a cream sauce you don't have to cook.

The sauce, that is. You do have to cook the pasta. But that's it. And that hot pasta will make your sauce for you and you toss together the ingredients.

For my summer pasta, I first minced a couple of cloves of garlic, added it to a small bowl, and then added a pinch of sea salt and several tablespoons of one of my favorite olive oils. I wanted to let that sit for an hour or so to let the garlic infuse its flavors into the oil.

Once I was ready for dinner I put a big pot of water on the stove to come to the boil. While I waited, I halved a bunch of cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives. I still have those green onions, so I diced one up and set it aside. I have a pot of gorgeous big-leaved basil growing on the counter behind my kitchen sink, so I cut off several leaves, then rolled them up to chiffonade them into aromatic thin slivers. I seeded and removed the membrane from a serrano chile before dicing that. Then I added a little sherry vinegar to the garlicky oil.

I was ready--except for one last item. Goat cheese.

The goat cheese would pull the dish together. Yes, it would be wonderful without it. But when the goat cheese hits the steam from the freshly cooked pasta it dissolves into tangy creaminess. You could do the same with a fresh mozzarella--but you wouldn't get that distinctive flavor the goat cheese imparts. So I go for the goat.

From this...

To this... Just by stirring.
Do you really need a recipe for this? Nah. Just start with your favorite dry pasta. Me? I really enjoy DeLallo biodynamic whole wheat pastas, like these shells. You'll also want tomatoes, kalamata olives, onions or chives, fresh basil, garlicky olive oil with just a little acid from a good wine vinegar (or try lemon juice), and if you like heat, a chile or red chile flakes.

I also like to add artichoke hearts or roasted shrimp, toasted pine nuts or walnut pieces, marinated eggplant or sweet peppers or fresh peas. There's just a world of options out there. The point is you can create a healthy, delicious meal for yourself in short order with little heat or effort even when the temps are soaring and the only thing that sounds good is a popsicle.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chilled Spinach and Green Onion Soup

Where are you on the gardening spectrum? I find myself drawn to spending time outdoors in my garden. I love watering and pruning, nibbling on cherry tomatoes or society garlic flowers. I have my successes--Meyer lemons, herbs, limes, cherry tomatoes, roses--but frustratingly frequent fails. And then there are those that fall somewhere in the middle--like the onions I harvested yesterday.

Now here's my problem. Clay soil. Clay soil that I work religiously with compost and gypsum until I'm ready to collapse. And as soon as I turn my back and put my shovel back in the garage, that damned soil smirks and tightens right back up. The dwarf fruit trees and rose bushes seem to defy it and thrive. But annual vegetables are suffocated by it--hence the fails.

The onion seedlings were gifted to me by my mom. I didn't look at the tag but assumed they were conventional onions. I duly went home and planted them in amended soil and waited. And waited. And waited. I planted them last summer and they grew, flowered, and when the tops finally started to turn brown I decided it was time to pull them. That was yesterday. They came out like green onions--no developed bulb. Was it the fault of the clay soil or were they destined never to fill out? I don't know. But, foolishly, I pulled them all.

So, yikes! Now I have tons of green onions. I gave some to my neighbor but still am overflowing. There's not even room in my fridge. Don't get me wrong. I love green onions--but I'm bursting at the stinky allium seams.

When you start poking around for inspiration on how to use them en masse, what you find is that green onions are pretty much limited to garnish or grilling material. That just doesn't do it under the circumstances.

Soup, I thought, would--and given the heat wave we're enduring right now, chilled soup. My inspiration came from Saveur and a soup they had made with spinach, chives, and yogurt. The green onions they included were grilled--and a garnish. But if chives, why not green onion? With that little start I came up with something my own I think you'll like.

I had spinach I was going to use for smoothies. I chopped up a bunch of the green onions. I added garlic. I was with my mom at her doctor's office and mentioned all this to her and she said, "Add dill." So, I went into my garden later that afternoon and cut off some dill. I also picked a Meyer lemon because I could tell this mixture, which had a base of yogurt and sour cream, needed some acid. The garnish would be panko crumbs browned in butter--and some more chopped green onion.

The soup is delightful--thick and creamy, and quite herbaceous. It's perfect for a steamy summer meal. Other than sautéing the panko, no heat is involved. Everything goes into the blender and poured into a bowl. If you want a more refined soup, puree all the greens first and then put the mixture through a sieve. Then add the yogurt and sour cream. I like a more peasant-style soup and on a hot day didn't have the patience for an extra step so I blended everything together.

The irony is, of course, it still didn't come close to using up the green onions. Any takers?

Chilled Spinach and Green Onion Soup
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

2 cups spinach, tightly packed
1 cup green onions, sliced (set aside a couple of tablespoons for garnish)
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup ice cubes
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups plain Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup low-fat or "light" sour cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces panko crumbs

1. Place all of the ingredients until the butter in a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
2. Chill the soup for at least an hour.
3. In a skillet, melt the butter and then add the panko crumbs. Stir and cook for about 30 seconds until the crumbs become slightly brown and crisp. Drain on a paper towel.
4. To serve, divide the soup between bowls. Garnish with the set aside slices of green onions and a sprinkling of the panko crumbs.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Daniel Wolinsky's Tagliarini with Hot Sausage and Clams

Last week I promised to share a pasta dish that Daniel Wolinsky, Chef de Cuisine at cucina SORELLA in Kensington, taught me how to make. Wolinsky, who teaches pasta-making classes at the restaurant, made a simple Tagliarni with Hot Sausage and Clams. Like many of us who cook at home, he created a "what's in the fridge" style dish. Initially he was thinking of a corn pesto, which intrigued me. But, there was no corn around that day. But clams and other seafood were. So we were going to go in a seafood and tomato pasta direction. Until he noticed his house-made sausage. Scratch the seafood. Instead it evolved into just clams with the sausage, along with garlic, and even green garlic (it is, after all, still spring), lemon juice, and white wine. Actually, there was fresh minced basil, too, which you can certainly add, although Wolinsky didn't include it in the recipe below.

If you don't know Daniel Wolinsky, it's probably because he's fairly new to San Diego. He came here from New York last year to open the restaurant. Originally from upstate New York, he grew up cooking as a kid. His mom, he said, is a great cook. He is especially fond of what he calls her "funeral" cookies--cookies packed with everything from coconut to walnuts to chocolate chips. They're the reliable cookie you bring to occasions like a funeral, he explained.

Wolinsky started out exploring food in Israel and returning to the U.S. to attend the New England Culinary Institute. He developed an interest in French fine dining, interning at a Michelin star restaurant, Auberge du Lac, in England as a young cook. When he returned to New York, he continued in fine dining for awhile, then worked at a Korean American restaurant called The Good Fork in Brooklyn, where he started making dishes like potato gnocchi. As his career continued Wolinsky segued back into French and Italian fine dining. In 2014, he staged at the three-star Michelin restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy under Massimo Bottura.

"The common denominator," he said, "was fresh pasta. The more I played with it, the more I loved it."

Surprisingly, Wolinsky doesn't leave cooking behind at the restaurant. He still loves to cook at home for himself and his girlfriend.

"It's hard to eat and be depressed so I also cook at home." He also hosts Monday night dinners for the staff with non-Italian food. "Our last dinner was Israeli. We've done Asian. And I hosted Passover."

Of the various restaurants in the Urban Kitchen Group, cucina SORELLA is the "pasta" restaurant. But given what he calls the micro cultures in Kensington, Wolinsky designed the menu to have something for everybody--gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian. He explained that he changes something on the menu every three weeks, making decisions based what's in the farmers market truck he buys from.

So, that explains the origin of our dish.

He started with making the pasta. He already had a batch of dough mixed that one of his line chefs had been turning into ravioli. This dough, rich in eggs, is a house specialty and Wolinsky felt it might be too difficult for home cooks not all that experienced in making pasta to get right. Instead, our recipe below is a little more user friendly with fewer eggs (three whole eggs instead of nine yolks) and your success that much more guaranteed.

The noodles Wolinsky prefers for a seafood pasta like this are thin. He explained that they cook quickly in water and in the broth of the seafood component they better absorb the flavors.

When running the pasta through the machine, you'll want to get it as thin as possible. When Wolinsky did his final roll, you could actually see the grain of the wood counter through the sheet.

The long flat pasta stretched about three feet along the counter so Wolinsky cut it into several pieces. Then sprinkled them lightly with flour so when he folded each up there'd be no sticking.

Then he sliced through the folded piece of pasta to create long, thin noodles of tagliarini.

With the pasta made we went into the kitchen to create the sauce. It was ridiculously quick. So first put a pot of water to the boil. Then grab a pan and add the sliced sausage. Sauté the coins until just golden brown on both side. If they don't give off enough fat, add a little extra virgin olive oil, and then add the garlic. Just before the garlic starts to brown add the clams and quickly cook together before pouring the wine into the pan. Cover the the pan so the clams will steam open--it'll take just a couple of minutes. Once the clams open, add the pasta to the boiling water and the green garlic to the pan. The pasta should be cooked in less than a minute. Pull it out of the water and drop into the pan and toss, adding the fresh lemon juice. Taste and add salt if necessary. If the dish is too dry for you, add a little of the pasta water to the pan.

At that point, it'll be ready to plate. Pour the pasta mixture into a bowl and top with the bread crumbs.

Tagliarini with Hot Sausage and Clams
from Daniel Wolinsky of cucina SORELLA
(printable recipe)
Feeds about 4 people

1 pound fresh tagliarini (Any long noodle will work but we recommend fresh long noodles; recipe below.)
8 ounces or 2 spicy Italian sausage links pre-cooked and sliced into coins 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped1 pound Little Neck clams (Manilla also work.)
3/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon green garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh toasted bread crumbs

1. Put on a 8-quart pot of water to boil and season heavily with salt.
2. In a large sauté pan over medium/high heat sear the sausage till golden brown on both sides.
3. Add the garlic and right before it starts to color add the clams and toss together. Cook for 30 seconds.
4. Carefully pour the white wine into the pan and cover to steam the clams open, about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. When the clams open drop the pasta to cook and add the green garlic to the pan.
6. Toss in the pasta and squeeze in the fresh lemon juice. Season the dish to taste with salt. If you like the dish more brothy, add a few tablespoons of pasta water.
7. Plate and top the pasta with a healthy portion of bread crumbs. Enjoy!

Fresh Pasta Recipe
3 whole eggs
300 grams 00 flour
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1. In a Kitchen Aid stand mixer add the flour and on a low speed with a dough hook slowly pour in the eggs and olive oil.
2. Mix for about 10 minutes (Note you may need to add a touch of water if it's too dry.). After the dough has formed wrap tightly in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
3. Roll the dough using a pasta rolling machine to the desired thickness and shape. I recommend, longer thinner noodles.

Cucina SORELLA is located at 4055 Adams Ave. in San Diego.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Make Your Own Pasta

In a recent LA Times story, Evan Kleiman, the host of KCRW's Good Food radio show and the woman behind the great Caffe Angeli on Melrose in LA (which I adored when I lived there), wrote about why shoppers should not buy supermarket "fresh" pasta.

"If imported Italian dry pasta were choice A and fresh pasta were choice B and I could only choose one to eat for the rest of my life, there would be no contest. I’d choose A, dry pasta. Many home cooks, bamboozled by the glut of fresh pasta in restaurants, have come to believe that if it’s the chef’s choice, then it’s the better product. It is not."

Now while she acknowledges her story is about her love of dry durum wheat pasta, she also readily acknowledges that fresh pasta made well and served with appropriate sauces is a great dining experience.

Making really good fresh pasta demands quality ingredients and skill--and it's something that with practice home cooks can do for themselves. Back in the 80s, the idea was to make it, then hang it on "pasta racks" or broom sticks to dry and then cook later. Today, of course, we recognize that you can put a big pot of water on the stove to heat and make your pasta while the water is coming to the boil.

Because I've spent a lot of time with a several chefs who have shown me their techniques--and because with summer almost upon us and fresh tomatoes being a perfect foil for a good pasta in many cases, I thought I'd do a round up of four of my favorite pasta-making experiences with San Diego chefs. And next week, I'll have a new one for you from Daniel Wolinsky, chef de cuisine at Cucina Sorella in Kensington, whose tagliarini is in the photo above.

Here they are:

Fabrizio Cavallini's Organic Handmade Pasta: Who better to teach the art of pasta making than an Italian chef? Fabrizio Cavallini of Bencotto and Monello demonstrated how seemingly easy it is. All it requires is high quality 00 flour and organic semolina, both of which are available locally at Mona Lisa, and eggs. Oh, and skill. But I have a video of Fabrizio's demo, which shows how you go about making the dough.

Nick Brune's Dark Roux Noodles: Nick Brune is a Louisiana native who lives in California and has combined his culinary understanding of the two states to create a Cali-Creole cuisine that was the focus of Local Habit in Hillcrest. No longer there (both Nick's affiliation with the restaurant and then the restaurant itself), Nick has turned his focus to his longtime catering company Eco Caterers. When I came for a visit, he taught me a dish that combined his Creole background with Southeast Asian flavors, based on his travels there. This dish places dark roux noodles into a pho-like soup, which is stunning. But you can also enjoy the noodles as pasta with your favorite sauce? What's the secret to these dark noodles? You'll have to read to find out!

Ryan Studebaker's Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese Raviolini: Ryan, of MIHO Catering, makes a lovely egg pasta that he turns into little pockets of savory cheesey appetizers, thanks to a variety of seasonal roasted vegetables blended with goat cheese. You can take his recipe full hilt with the raviolini or simple enjoy the pasta recipe, make noodles, and top them with his vegetable goat cheese mixture.

Amy DiBiase's Ricotta Gnudi: Okay, technically this may be considered the "anti-pasta" since "gnudi" means naked, as in ravioli without the pasta. But why not make a tender, creamy pasta-like dumpling that so easily takes a good sauce. Amy, who is now with Grand Restaurant Group, taught me this dish while she was at Tidal. It's so luxe it's a whole meal, depending on how you sauce it.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

My Simple Bowl of Beans Topped with Roasted Tomatoes

Are you a bean person? I mean do you adore beans as a stand-alone dish? Revel in their unique flavors and textures?

I'll admit. I haven't been. I like them well enough--I enjoy garbanzos in a salad or cooked and pureed into hummus. I'm all in for beans in chili or stews or soups. Barbecue baked beans are more a delivery system for sauce. Basically, I just haven't really pushed myself to seek out beans that stand up to taking a starring role in a dish.

Until recently. I'm a longtime fan of Rancho Gordo, which is bean heaven for aficionados, especially heirloom bean aficionados. I was noodling around on the site and came across Alubia Blanca beans. These small white heirloom beans are a customer favorite so I figured I'd order some and see what all the fuss was about.

I was gobsmacked. They've totally changed how I feel about bean potential.

Now, Rancho Gordo has lots of helpful, inspiring recipes on the site. The Spanish-style Alubia Blanca beans can be used in soups, salads, baked beans, bean dips, and pot beans. According to the website, they're marvelous cooked and spread on grilled Tuscan bread, topped with a green, fruity olive oil, chopped fresh sage, and grated hard cheese.

I did something different. I just cooked them, using a very basic technique that I'll share--and then I topped them with roasted tomatoes, peppers, and garlic. It was so simple, yet so profoundly perfect a meal it made me want to weep with joy. Beans! Who knew!

So, here's what I did.

First, I poured out about a cup of beans and checked them for debris. Then I put the beans in a medium-size bowl and covered them in water, letting them soak for about six hours. This speeds up the cooking process and lets the seasonings you cook them in permeate them more easily.

The cooking process itself was simple. In a saucepan, I sautéed half a diced onion with minced garlic in olive oil until I could smell their fragrance. I drained the beans and added them, along with some sprigs of fresh thyme. Then I added water to cover by about an inch. I brought the mixture to a hard boil, then reduced the heat to a slow simmer and let them cook.

I thought it would take a couple of hours for the beans to cook through. I'm so glad I checked after an hour because even then they already were nice and al dente. I added some sea salt, stirred, and removed them from the heat. And that was it. I gave them a taste and was amazed at how they had transformed into a mouthful of delicate, creamy sweetness.

While they were cooking, I addressed the topping. I had a large bowl of cherry tomatoes I couldn't keep up with and they were starting to go south. So I sliced them in half. To them I added a red bell pepper my mom had given me, cut that into bite-sized chunks. And I had a head of garlic from which I took about half of the cloves. I peeled those and tossed them with the tomatoes, pepper chunks, olive oil, and sea salt. I poured them onto a piece of foil and slow roasted them at 300 degrees for about an hour, when they had collapsed and made their own sauce.

I poured about half the bean mixture with its lovely pot liquor into a new blue and white speckled bowl I had recently purchased at the Empty Bowls fundraiser held annually at Coronado High School. Then I topped the beans with the roasted tomatoes. I could have added grated cheese, but I ate this bowl of beans as is and marveled at how the flavors of the beans and vegetables melded. At how simple and satisfying each mouthful was. I couldn't wait for the following day, when I could eat this dish all over again as leftovers.

So, yeah, I'm now a bean person.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lemony Buttermilk Olive Oil Cake

Funny the food you come up with because you need to use up some random ingredient. For me, it always seems to happen when I have buttermilk in my fridge. It would be so wonderful if the companies that package it would come up with a little carton--like the size of the ones that held milk at my elementary school cafeteria. But they don't and I hate to waste so then I'm off and running (often back to the market) to make something else with the remaining buttermilk.

As a result of recent cornbread with buttermilk, I had most of a pint left. I brined chicken with some but still have a good amount remaining. I started randomly googling buttermilk and saw cakes. Oh. How about pound cake? Oh, but all that butter (which I love, but still). Well then, how about substituting olive oil for the butter? (And does that mean it's no longer a pound cake?) I have a bumper crop of Meyer lemons so I could add lemon zest to the batter and, ah, that gorgeous bottle of homemade vanilla that Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared gave me. That would taste wonderful.

As you can see I was off and running. I did a little research to get a sense of how much oil I needed to substitute for the butter and it was just a matter of mixing it all together--then sprinkling some sugar on the top of the batter to get a nice crispy crunchy top.

All this is to say that if you're a home cook who feels comfortable riffing on chicken dishes or pasta dishes but believes you have to go strictly by the book with cakes, well, I'm like you--but I can now say I feel more comfortable taking some liberties with baking recipes.

The cake rose tall in the large loaf pan and was wonderfully moist. It had a nice lemony aroma and flavor. The buttermilk complemented the citrus with its tangy flavor and richness. For those who haven't had a great experience baking with olive oil, I guess it depends on what kind of olive oil you use. A young, very grassy oil may give you a little too much bitterness. But a more mature oil is actually more buttery in flavor and plays well in a cake--and, especially this cake.

You'll get a lot of slices out of this and it is rich. The good news is that it also freezes well.

And take advantage of the season but mashing ripe berries, adding a little Cointreau and sugar (if necessary) to top the cake slice when you serve it.

Lemony Buttermilk Olive Oil Cake
(printable recipe)
Yield: 1 loaf

13.5 ounces all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk
Baking spray
1 ½ tablespoons sugar


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and whisk together.

Place sugar, olive oil, and vanilla in bowl of stand mixer and beat at medium speed until thoroughly blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after adding each one.  Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture.

Spoon batter into a large (9 ½” by 5 ½”) loaf pan, coated with baking spray. Sprinkle top with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Cool pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then run a thin knife around the edges of the pan and remove the cake. Continue cooling on the wire rack until it reaches room temperature.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Chicken and Whole Grains Casserole

It's so easy for contemporary home cooks who consider themselves sophisticated in the kitchen to poo poo casseroles. Many of us grew up in the days of tuna embalmed in noodles and Campbell's mushroom soup. Or macaroni and ground beef. Yeah, we've all been there.

But think of it this way: lasagna is essentially a casserole and we all love lasagna. It's really a matter of what you do with the concept, which is basically a meal in a baking dish. For some, it's a way to use up leftover ingredients. For others, it's the quintessential dish you bring with love to friends or family who are too stressed (from grief, illness, new babies) to be able to make meals themselves.

I got to thinking about this recently when I saw a piece on casseroles in The Kitchn. They ran a list of casserole links and what was interesting was that recipes not only described how to prepare the dish but in advance of that, how to prep the ingredients for freezing and provide instructions to the recipient for then making it.

One of those recipes struck a chord with me. It was baked chicken with rice. Once I sorted through the freezing instructions, which I didn't need, I realized that this was a casserole I could fall in love with. After all, it takes two dishes I really enjoy--roasted or baked chicken and grains filled with vegetables and herbs and spices. All this does it put them together in an easy-to-make, one-dish dish.

Like all great casseroles, you can change this up, depending on the season or the ingredients you have or prefer. I happened to be at Specialty Produce recently and they had elephant garlic scapes. These are a rare find so I nabbed what I thought I could use (I usually make pesto with scapes) and decided to add some to my casserole, along with mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, and onion.

You could add sliced kalamata olives and capers for one specific flavor profile. Or you could go in a totally different direction with tomatillos, fresh poblano or Anaheim chiles. Or eggplant, zucchini, red bell peppers, pine nuts, and za'atar. Cooking for one? I am--I easily cut this recipe in half for two meals. I just used a smaller baking dish.

So, use this as a foundation for building your own one-dish wonder. I hope you'll share with me what you came up with.

Chicken and Whole Grains Casserole
(printable recipe)
Serves 2 to 4

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup of your favorite vinaigrette
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
½ cup garlic cloves sliced (or, when in season, garlic scapes)
1 cup marinated artichoke heart quarters
2 cups brown rice
¼ cup wheat berries, wild rice, farro, or other grains
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups water, white wine, or chicken broth, depending on your preference

1. The day before you make the dish, combine the chicken thighs and vinaigrette in a freezer bag. Seal and massage the bag to coat the chicken. Refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
3. Grease a 9X13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
4. Combine the vegetables, grains, and herbs and spices in the baking dish. Stir in the liquids. Remove the chicken pieces from the bag and place them on top of the grains mixture.
5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover the dish and bake for up to another hour. You want the grains to have absorbed the liquid and the chicken to be cooked through with crispy skin.