Sheri Castle: Herbed Summer Squash and Pasta Salad with Crispy Chicken Thighs

 

Herbed Summer Squash and Pasta Salad with Crispy Chicken Thighs

This hearty salad makes a great all-purpose side dish or light meal. For the taste of Sunday dinner in one bowl, serve the salad with the crispy chicken. The moist, meaty chicken is capped with crisp golden skin and is full of flavor. Each of the recipes can be served separately.

The more colorful the squash, the prettier the dish, so try to include a variety of tender squashes that don’t have to be peeled. I’m partial to the firm texture and pretty scalloped edges of patty pans (cymlings) cut into thin wedges and to thinly sliced young striped zephyrs. I like to use pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous) in this salad, but other small pasta—orzo, riso, stelline, or ditalini—will also work.

Herbed Summer Squash and Pasta Salad with Crispy Chicken Thighs. Photograph © 2011 by Stewart Waller.

 

Makes 4 to 6 servings

8 ounces pearl couscous
4 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups diced assorted summer squashes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup lightly packed chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup lightly packed chopped flat-leaf parsley
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Crispy Chicken Thighs, for serving (recipe follows)

1. Cook the couscous according to package directions. Drain well, pour into a large bowl, toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and set aside, stirring from time to time.

2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the squash and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add to the couscous.

3. Stir in the cheese, basil, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, and pine nuts. The salad should be quite moist, so drizzle with more oil if needed. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, with the chicken if you wish.

Crispy Chicken Thighs

I am suspicious of any recipe that claims to be oven-fried chicken. So far as I’m concerned, fried chicken is either fried or it isn’t. However, this recipe shows that frying isn’t the only way to get crisp, golden chicken skin and moist, well-seasoned meat. The trick is to salt the chicken pieces and let them dry overnight in the refrigerator. The salt brings the excess moisture to the surface so that high heat can cook it away. It works like magic. Make sure the skin on each thigh completely covers the meat because any loose edges will shrink and roll up like a window shade when cooked, exposing and drying out the meat. You can use this technique with other chicken parts (so long as they have skin), but thighs will deliver the juiciest, tastiest meat. For best results, use organic chicken that has never been frozen.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

6 large bone-in chicken thighs with skin (about 2 1/4 pounds total)
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1. Rinse the chicken and pat it completely dry with paper towels. Gently pull the loose skin so that it covers the rounded top and sides of each thigh, taking care not to rip or tear the skin. Arrange the thighs in a single layer with sides not touching on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Generously and evenly salt the chicken. Place the chicken, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. The more time the skin has to dry, the crisper it will be when cooked.

2. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F. (Use the convection roast setting if you have it.) Roast until the meat is cooked through and the skin is very crisp and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. When the meat is pierced with the tip of a small knife, the juices should have no traces of pink. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh (avoiding bone) should register 165°F. Serve hot.

 

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Sheri Castle is a food writer and cooking instructor based in Chapel Hill, N.C. Visit the author’s website here. Become a fan of her book on Facebook here, or follow the author on Twitter @shericastle. To see when she’ll be doing readings, signings, and tastings near you, check out the events on her author page here.

Recipe from The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes by Sheri Castle. Copyright © 2011 by Sheri Castle. Photographs © 2011 by Stewart Waller.

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