Spicy roasted chicken salad with couscous, fregolone, roasted tomatoes and ricotta with saffron and herbs

Spicy roasted chicken salad with couscous, fregolone, roasted tomatoes and ricotta with saffron and herbs

If I am honest I have to admit that the attraction of Mediterranean spices, herbs and aromas can easily complement my family’s Bolognese culinary origins.

Since I was a little girl I’ve been very curious about different ingredients. And I loved all the new discoveries I would make whilst going food shopping with my grandmother at Bologna’s Mercato delle Erbe.

My beautiful childhood memories are full of the hustle and bustle of that market and its sweet, inviting smells of freshly baked bread as well as the pungent and overpowering aromas of mature cheeses and freshly roasted coffee beans.

I know that I drove my grandmother crazy by insisting on being let loose to go and browse everywhere by myself. While I was completely mesmerised by the thriving life of the place I remember my grandmother calling and looking for me. She was fretting with her shopping at the same time, dreading the idea that this time she had really lost me. But she always managed to find me and tell me, in typical melodramatic Italian fashion, that that was the last time she ever took me with her. Fortunately, the following week everything was ready to start all over again.

I remember once I was attracted to a small but neat market stall run by a North African man. There were colours everywhere, even his hat was full of them. He had beautiful, deep, rich-coloured mountains of spices on display and I just wanted to buy them all. It was challenging to convince my grandmother to buy some of these things that she didn’t really understand, but they were much cheaper than a Barbie doll, so I always managed to come back with a tiny parcel of spices wrapped in brown paper. I used to smell them on the bus home, hoping to learn how to cook with them one day.

So, after reading many cookery books, tasting dishes and experimenting in the kitchen (and guided only by my own intuition) I’ve put together an aromatic salad that has a balance of Mediterranean flavours as well as Bolognese DOC traditions.

I am sure that if my nonna was still alive she would say: “Grazie a Dio non ho speso quei soldi per niente!” (thank God I didn’t spend that money for nothing!)

Ingredients: serves 4

For the harissa and yoghurt chicken

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 100ml Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon of harissa paste
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper

For the baked spicy ricotta

  • 250g of crumbled ricotta
  • 2 good pinches of saffron stamens
  • 2 tablespoons of hot water
  • 1 tablespoon of liquid honey
  • 2 teaspoons of harissa paste
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

For the roasted summer squashes

  • 2 small summer squashes
  • 1/2 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of carraway seeds
  • leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • half a grated nutmeg
  • pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad base

  • 200g couscous
  • 200g fregolone sardo
  • 100g dry sultanas
  • 150g black pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1 jar drained sunblushed tomatoes or even better 200g of homemade slow roasted Roma tomatoes
  • 100g toasted almond flakes for decoration

Instructions:

The best way to prepare this dish is to start by marinating the chicken, preparing the squashes followed by the ricotta and then put all of them in the oven together. While these are cooking prepare the couscous and the fregolone.

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  • Prepare the chicken marinade by mixing together the harissa paste, yoghurt and olive oil.
  • Wash the chicken breasts, pat them dry, then make deep slits all over and coat with the spicy mixture.
  • Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Then place in a non-stick oven tray, add freshly ground pepper and cook in the oven for 15/20 minutes. When cool, shred into small pieces and set aside.
  • Prepare the spicy ricotta dressing by soaking the saffron in hot water for at least 10 minutes. Add liquid honey, olive oil and the harissa paste and stir well.
  • Place the crumbled ricotta on a large baking tray coated with oven paper. Drizzle the spicy dressing evenly on the ricotta, adding a sprinkle of cinnamon, then bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
  • Chop the summer squashes into big chunks, then toss in a container with the other ingredients, coat them well and place on a non-stick baking tray. Cook in the oven for 20/25 minutes.
  • Cook the couscous and the fregolone, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and mix them together.
  • Add the shredded chicken followed by half of the squashes, half of the ricotta, half the jar of sunblushed tomatoes, sultanas, black olives and fresh mint then mix well.
  • To serve spoon the salad onto 4 plates and top with the remaining squashes, ricotta and sunblushed tomatoes then sprinkle the toasted almonds.

Comments

  1. sisto accorsi says:

    Brava!

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