One fine way to smuggle some of summer into winter is to cook with dried fruit.
Sunshine is packed into dried apricots, grapes (raisins), dates, currants, figs, plums (prunes), any number of both red and dark berries, pineapple, apples, mango, peaches and pears, even ginger. Did I miss anything? Oh, yeah, bananas.
Perhaps due to our British heritage, we tend to think that dried fruit, properly cooked or baked, belongs merely in sweet foods such as — seasonal shudder alert — fruitcake.
But the rest of the world uses dried fruit even more so in savory dishes: golden raisins or sultanas offering a sweet note in a Sicilian agrodolce or Moroccan tagine; dried apricots flavoring a Latvian pork loin braise; or dried cherries in a sauce for pan-seared duck breasts in southwestern France.
To a large extent, we segregate savory dishes from sweet ones. It’s the way we write restaurant menus or serve courses of food at the home table. Nothing wrong with that; it’s just helpful to note that it is our culture’s rubric, one of only a number of ways to enjoy a given mixture of foods.
Of course, we do treat dried fruit as a snack, but in the same way as the English love their biscuits or the Belgians their chocolates — as a break, even at fixed times of day.
However, bringing fruit into hot, seasoned dishes as part of dinner preparation is a good way to smuggle not only summer’s sun, but also more of what we tend to forgo in nutrition: our recommended daily allotment of vegetables and, well, fruits.
Plus, it seems far easier to eat a few apricots as a constituent of a pork roast than to pit a half dozen fresh ones as a snack.
Keep in mind, of course, that portion control is important when eating dried fruits. Because they are concentrated, they contain more calories than their prior, fresh selves. A cup of raisins, for example, is close to five times as caloric as a cup of fresh grapes.
Nonetheless, when our national sweet tooth is a big factor in our choice of food, perhaps tricking it into eating dried fruit instead of a candy bar is a more wholesome idea all told.
This recipe is my turn on the famed Chicken Marbella from one of America’s bestselling cookbooks, “The Silver Palate Cookbook.” What a splash that recipe made when it first was introduced to scores of dinner parties and lunch buffets in 1982.
And what strange things we needed then to face in a chicken dish: prunes, of all things, capers and vinegar. But acclimate we did, and Chicken Marbella became a most appreciated dish.
Instead of prunes, I use fat yellow raisins called sultanas. You may find them in commerce today more easily than in 1982, but regular golden raisins do just as nicely — or, for that matter and in keeping with the idea of this column, any dried fruit (chopped up if necessary) for which you have a fancy.
I also allow for trade-outs from the original recipe: tart apple juice for white wine; salted capers for the vinegared sort; and only chicken thighs for cut up whole chicken. Chicken thighs are more forgiving after an hour-plus in the oven, and also offer a more uniform selection of doneness to those served.
Chicken Marbella Silver Daddy
Adapted from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” (1982); serves 6-8
10-12 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in (about 6 pounds total)
1⁄2 cup good quality olive oil (a mild extra virgin, but not a strong, “peppery” one)
1⁄3 cup red wine or good quality balsamic vinegar
1 cup sultanas or golden raisins
1⁄2 cup pitted French or Spanish green olives such as picholine or manzanilla
1⁄2 cup salted capers, well rinsed and squeezed
6 bay leaves
10 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
1⁄4 cup oregano (Mediterranean, not Mexican)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry white wine or tart apple juice
1/2 cup light brown or turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Mix the olive oil, vinegar, raisins, olives, capers, bay leaves, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a bowl large enough also to accommodate the chicken thighs, then toss the thighs to coat well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Before cooking the chicken, bring the thighs to room temperature.
About 90 minutes before service, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the thighs, skin side down, in a single layer in a large shallow roasting pan or high-rimmed baking sheet. Spoon the marinade evenly over the thighs. Pour the wine or apple juice around the pan. Bake the chicken for 30 minutes, flip the thighs skin side up, baste everything, then evenly sprinkle on the sugar. Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes so that the chicken is nicely browned but also to the point when a knife cut into one thigh yields clear juice.
To serve: Remove the thighs to a warmed platter and set aside. With a slotted spoon, top the thighs with as many raisins, capers and olives as you can fish out of the juices. Over high heat, quickly reduce the juices down to 1/2 cup, thickening if necessary with a bit of butter. Pour the glaze over the chicken and garnish with the chopped parsley.
Reach Bill St John at email@example.com