I was 18 and living in Florence. My friend Gabrielle took me to the market, where we bought a chicken and a large bunch of basil. Once back at her flat she proceeded to teach me this most simple of meals. I have continued to cook it over the years – for me it is very nurturing and nostalgic.
Chicken with rice and basil
- 1 free-range chicken, about 1,6kg, jointed into 6 pieces
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 30ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 dried red chilli 100g risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
- 750ml dry white wine
- large bunch of basil
- extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
Season the chicken joints well all over with salt and pepper. Place a large flameproof casserole over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is sizzling, brown the chicken pieces in batches, skin side down, without turning, until they are golden brown; this will take about 5 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
Pour off any excess fat, leaving a little in the casserole. Lower the heat, add the onion and sweat gently for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent.
Add the garlic and crumble in the chilli. Stir once or twice, then tip in the rice and toss it through. Increase the heat slightly, pour in the wine and return the chicken to the pot. Put the lid on, turn the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. By this time the chicken should be cooked through and the rice will have a gentle bite.
Tear the basil with your fingers and scatter over the chicken. Stir through, then taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary; it will almost certainly need more salt. 5 Serve in warm soup plates, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil. Buttered spinach and little glazed carrots are nice accompaniments.
In a classic risotto, the rice is fed slowly, ladle by ladle, with simmering liquid – usually stock – until it is just cooked. Here I have added only wine – cold and in one go. This way, the rice takes on the flavour of the wine quite profoundly and the addition of roughly torn basil at the end is a good complement to the flavour.