I first made this meal a few weeks ago when I came home from running errands to a living room filled with three friends (including my boyfriend). I was starving. But I tried to play it cool, pouring myself a whiskey on ice like they were all drinking, and calmly bringing out a tray of toasted squash seeds to munch on — a side project from an earlier experiment I had been doing with a roasted spaghetti squash. Of course, those infuriatingly little bits of seed wedged inside their salty shell only made my hunger worse. Soon after, I attempted to casually interject the subject of dinner into our conversation. It came out more or less like, “Who wants to eat dinner?”
Who doesn’t want to eat dinner? I guess I shouldn’t have worried beforehand. Either that, or the squash seeds had likewise tickled everyone’s tastebuds. I had brought a few groceries home with me, and since I usually cook just about enough for four people anyway, an intimate dinner gathering was surprisingly all set to go.
While the men went out to hunt for beer, my friend Sam and I stayed behind in the kitchen. Brevity and simplicity was going to be key, especially since the two of us could barely fit in my galley kitchen together. (Needless to say, I’m not used to sharing it with anyone.) I had gotten four chicken legs, thinking they might make an comforting wintry dinner. We spiced them up with a few minimal pats of cayenne, paprika and cumin. Down they went, skin-side, onto a searing-hot skillet. In the meantime, I pulled the other half of my roasted spaghetti squash experiment from the fridge. But after having eaten it in its natural strand-like form just the day before, I needed a change of pace. So once they were heated through, I broke out the hand blender and slushed them into a mild-tasting, buttery slurry. I had some fresh sage on hand, so we tore up some leaves and threw them in just for kicks.
Once the chicken was cooked through, I placed a bunch of kale I’d gotten from the Farmers’ Market earlier on the same pan, with some garlic and a splash of water and covered it. Two minutes later, the tastiest braised kale I’ve ever had emerged.
crisp, green and about to get greased
This two-pan meal was so easy and savory that I’ve made it — with variations in seasonings and vegetable choices — a couple of times since. The only regret I have about making it the first time around is the scarcity of photos. For some reason, pausing everything and everyone in the kitchen for three minutes while things are splattering away on the skillet feels like an entertaining no-no. Still, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Chicken, Kale & Spaghetti Squash Puree with Sage
(makes 4-5 servings)
4 whole chicken legs
1 bunch kale, coarsely chopped and trimmed of its thick ribs
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 roasted spaghetti squash (about 1 lb), roasted in a 400-degree oven for about 1 hour or until fully cooked and cooled
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 small shallots, chopped
3-4 fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cup water
Heat up olive oil in a large, heavy covered skillet or Dutch oven. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season both sides with the cayenne, cumin, paprika and salt. Place chicken skin-side down in the oil and let brown for 1-2 minutes without disturbing on medium-high heat. Peek underneath to check if the chicken is nicely browned. If not, leave on a few moments longer. Then flip and turn heat down to medium-low. Add 1 cup of the water and cover. Let cook 10-12 minutes (depending on how thick your chicken legs are), adding a little more water if the pan is scorching. Let cook uncovered until the water has evaporated and chicken is cooked through completely.
Meanwhile, sweat the shallots in the butter in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes. Scoop the spaghetti squash strands out of its rind with a large spoon and add them to the shallots. Season the squash with the cinnamon and a pinch of salt (optional). Stir to combine, turn heat to medium-low, and cover. Let cook for about 5 minutes (or as long as the rest of the cooking takes you). Add the cream. Using a hand blender, puree the spaghetti squash to a smooth consistency. Tear the sage leaves to small bits and add them to the squash puree. Taste or seasoning, and serve.
Once the chicken is finished cooking, transfer them from the pan to a serving tray. Return the pan to the stove and add the kale, garlic, 1/2 cup of water and a pinch of salt to taste. Cover. Open pan after 2 minutes, stir, and taste for seasoning. Once all the water has evaporated, remove from pan and serve immediately.
(for 4-5 servings)
4 whole organic chicken legs with bone and skin (at $3.99/lb): $8.00
1 bunch kale: $2.00
1 lb spaghetti squash: $1.00
3-4 sage leaves (from a bunch at $1.75): $0.50
2 shallots (at $3/lb): $0.30
1/4 cup heavy cream (at $2/pint): $0.50
1 tablespoon butter: $0.20
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.20
2 cloves garlic: $0.10
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, cinnamon: $0.10
Six brownie points: The peculiar thing about this meal is that there are virtually no carbs in it — and I didn’t miss them. In my mind, pureed squash seemed close enough to mashed potatoes to enjoy as a starch, and its faintly sweet flavor and silky texture was a surprising change of pace. Cooking the kale in the excess chicken fat was a bit of a shortcut to getting flavor (instead of, say, using a clean skillet and braising it in a bit of stock), and I paid for it in terms of cholesterol. But when a meal is this wholesome and overall nutritious (kale! squash!), I can’t feel that guilty about it.