Chicken Parmesan Meatballs Spinach and White Beans
The kitchen looked more like a garden shed, there was no refrigerator, or sink and all I could see was a wok in the corner. What on earth was I going to cook?
Years ago I was travelling through Jogjakata, Indonesia, with a friend. It was not as cosmopolitan then as it may be now and we were fresh off the plane. We struggled in the the heat, to find somewhere to eat on our first day (there was no Internet in the olden days – before you ask). Throwing caution to the wind we saw a small restaurant, it looked clean, had plastic table clothes and cutlery, big pots of chilli on the tables and a fridge full of cold drinks down the back. There was no menu so we helplessly tried to sign language ” we’re gonna die if you don’t feed us” to order when a lady sitting at a table beside us suddenly piped up, “This is Nasi Campur, no menu you just eat what they cook. They give you rice and may be two or three different dishes, simple. You want?”
This lovely lady spoke perfect English and was on holiday from the maternity hospital where she worked and was in fact the Midwife and Matron. The hospital was an hour outside Jogjakarta, and by the time we finished dinner she had talked us into going out to the countryside to visit her. Apparently the women became bored while waiting for their babies to be born and it would be very exciting for them to have visitors. The price of a nights accommodation?. Well that would be ME cooking dinner!. She was beside herself with excitement that she would get to try Western Food. And so, here I was in front of the kitchen. OMG.
“So”, she said breezing into the kitchen
“What western foods will you make. You want a chicken? I got chicken, just killed, now plucking.” she said drawing a finger across her neck and then imitating feather pulling.
Note, to reader, there was no shops. We were literally in the middle of now where. As it turned out, it wasn’t so much a hospital as a safe house. The girls were bored because they were being hidden from public view until the birth of their babies. Besides this they didn’t speak English and were mostly very shy.
There was not much to work with. The garden had herbs and some sweet potato- like yams, eshallots, garlic, tomatoes and leafy green “kang kong” spinach. There were fresh beanshoots, not such a western ingredient, but I was stumped. The chicken was fresh as a daisy but no matter how I tried I couldn’t think of a way to roast it western style with only a wok. Roast chicken and sweet potatoes just seemed so western in my head and I got stuck. I figured they probably didn’t really know what was western anyway and as long as it was different to what they ate every day, anything would please them. So this is what I did. I whacked that chicken onto the bench and pretty much deboned it leaving only drumsticks and wings in tact, cutting it into serving size pieces. I guessed that they pretty much always cooked chicken on the bone, so this might be a change. I used garlic and coriander with tomato to make a sauce base, added terasi ( local fish paste) and sugar and simmered the chicken in this and finished it with chopped coriander- not too saucy not too foreign but different enough. I lightly steam blanched the sweet potatoes in a pot over coals before deep frying them. I served the kang kong leaves fresh with bean shoots and finely diced washed eshallots and a coddled egg dressing made with garlic, oil and lemon in the mortar and pestle. Done.
How I wish I had thought of this simple chicken dish. I didn’t have parmesan but I am sure I could have used some cold rice as a binder with egg. This is an Emma Knowles recipe from Gourmet magazine, that I have just tweaked a little. I also saw George Colombaris do a similar one too this week. Needless to say it is very quick and leaves quite an impression. It could become a weeknight runaway success.
Chicken Parmesan Meatballs Spinach and White Beans
- 500 gm chicken mince
- 60 gm Parmesan cheese grated
- 50 gm breadcrumbs preferably fresh or panko
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
- 750 ml chicken stock
- 60 ml olive oil 3 Tablespoons
- 100 gm onion finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 400 gm cannelini beans 1 can drained pre-cooked
- 150 gm spinach cooked frozen or use a bunch of fresh picked
- 100 gm red capsicum very finely diced
- 1 Tablespoon Thyme finely chopped
- 25 gm parmesan Extra for serving
- Combine all of the ingredients for the meatballs, adding a pinch of salt. Roll into walnut sized balls, setting aside till all of the meat is rolled.
- Bring the stock to simmer in a medium sized pot that is not too wide, so the meatballs are covered with the stock. Simmer 4-6 minutes till they are cooked and are firm to touch. Spoon them out and set aside.
- Using another pot warm the oil and add the onion, garlic, capsicum and thyme and gently sweat till softened. Add the remaining poaching stock to the onions and simmer till reduced by nearly half. (There will be about 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of stock remaining)
- Add the beans, chicken and spinach and simmer till they are all warmed through ( if you are using fresh spinach this will still be the same.
- Finish the dish with extra parmesan ( 2 tablespoons, or sprinkle on when serving). This can be served with pasta, barley or fregola, or just bread and salad
Have you ever been put on the spot….cooking wise?