Start with a light, lemony chicken dish, then turn the leftovers into a comforting chili (because no Maine spring is ever easy)
Springtime is a magical, if fickle, time of year in Maine. Delicate snowdrops appear around the warmth of sundrenched ledge outcroppings, sometimes even bravely defying stubborn mounds of snow and the threat of frosty nights. Daffodils and tulips make their way onto the landscape, tentatively emerging through piles of leaves. The air is redolent with the smell of damp, loamy earth, while pale green buds emerge on the trees, each one a promise of the longer, warmer days of summer.
There is a hopeful giddiness that infects Mainers as we settle into spring. We are delighted with sporadic warm, sunny weather, but also resigned to the fact there will be a parade of cold, damp days to keep our soaring spirits in check.
My food choices reflect the season’s capricious nature. At this time of year, I’m ready to shift from hearty comfort foods like beef stew or macaroni and cheese, to lighter fare that reminds me of the glorious bounty of the season to come. Visions of summer salads and grilling dance in my head.
Still, the often cool, damp weather of a true Maine spring reminds me there is always a place for seasonal comfort food. On spring nights when there is still a chill in the air, I love the light and satisfying simplicity of White Chili Primavera, a riff on my tried and true White Chicken Chili recipe. This spring version has many of the same flavors and ingredients, but is also loaded with veggies that bring the earthy taste of spring to the mix.
This recipe also includes chicken thighs braised in white wine. When I make these, I prepare a large batch and get two meals out of one preparation.
⇓ WINE-BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS
These wine-braised thighs are deliciously moist and flavorful and are perfect when paired with asparagus and served over brown rice. Serve half the thighs immediately and save the remaining thighs for chili later in the week.
8–10 medium skinless chicken thighs, bone in
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 bay leaf
1 medium lemon, cut in thin slices
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, cut in thin slices
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Season chicken with salt and pepper and arrange the thighs, bone side up, in a large skillet. Add wine, bay leaf, garlic and lemon juice. Over medium high heat, bring wine to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 30 minutes.
Turn chicken over and arrange lemon slices on chicken. Cover again and simmer for about 15 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a platter and discard lemon slices.
Reserve liquid. Save half for the following White Chili Primavera recipe. With the other half, make a simple roux with one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of flour. Melt the butter over medium low heat in the skillet, add flour and stir continuously, cooking until golden, about 3–5 minutes. Whisk in the reserved cooking liquid, adjust the seasoning and serve over the chicken.
WHITE CHILI PRIMAVERA
A light and cozy meal, just right for a rainy spring night. You can make this with meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken, but the braised chicken thighs are melt-in-your-mouth tender and have a bright lemony taste. They’re well worth the effort if you have the time.
Meat from 4–6 braised chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 15-ounce cans of white beans—navy, cannellini or Great Northern—rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots diced, about 1/2 cup
2 celery stalks, diced, about 1/2 cup
5 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces baby kale, spinach or arugula
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
Cracked fresh pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups chicken broth (use broth from braising the chicken thighs and add additional broth if necessary)
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large stockpot and add onions, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3–5 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and minced garlic. Add cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper to coat the vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened and have released their liquid.
Add chicken, beans and chicken broth and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15–20 minutes.
Add greens and stir to combine and wilt, but not long enough to lose their bright green color.
If you want to thicken the liquid, mash some of the beans with a fork and incorporate into the chili.
Candace Karu makes her living writing about food, fitness and travel. Follow her on Instagram @candacekaru or at candacekaru.com