Lamb Shanks & Orzo

While today’s recipe may not readily be associated with late spring, it turned out to be the perfect dish for a mildly chilly San Diego evening. The real impetus behind it though was an incredible sale on lamb shanks at the supermarket that I couldn’t pass up.

When I started to look for recipes I immediately turned to books for slow cookers, but then I came across one for a slow oven braise by Ina Garten that adds orzo to the dish in the final step. As with the aforementioned sale, I couldn’t pass it up.

One thing I realized after making this dish is just how different lamb tastes when braised in the oven for two and a half hours as opposed to being cooked in a slow cooker for eight. Although I can’t deny the convenience of the latter method, the former yields in my opinion a better textured lamb with deeper flavor.

The recipe is from Garten’s cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof but can also be found on the Food Network’s website. My only variations were substituting olive oil for the recipe’s grapeseed oil and, as I was cooking for two, halving the number of lamb shanks. Note that I did not reduce any of the other ingredients as I figured any left-over orzo would make a good weeknight supper.

The Ingredients Prepped

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 lamb shanks (1 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
3 or more tablespoons grapeseed oil (I substituted olive oil.)
2 tablespoons good olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 to 3 onions)
2 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 5 carrots)
2 cups medium-diced celery (3 stalks)
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, including the liquid
2 cups canned beef broth
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, plus extra for serving
2 bay leaves
2 cups orzo (Use a good quality orzo that will stand up to long cooking.)

Directions

1-Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2-Combine the flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and dredge the lamb shanks in the mixture, shaking off the excess.

The Shanks Dredged

3-In a large (13-inch) Dutch oven such as Le Creuset, heat 3 tablespoons of the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 lamb shanks and cook for 10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until browned on all sides. Transfer the shanks to a plate, add more grapeseed oil, and brown the remaining 2 shanks. (Don’t rush this step; make sure to get a good brown on the lamb.)

The Shanks Browned

4-Wipe out the Dutch oven with a paper towel, add the olive oil, and heat over medium to medium-high heat.  (Do not be tempted to skip this step as it really does reduce the amount of fat in the final dish.)

5-Add the onions, carrots, celery, and rosemary and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.

Adding the Vegetables and Herbs

6-Add the tomatoes, beef broth, wine, 4 teaspoons salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper. Add the lamb shanks, arranging them so they’re almost completely submerged in the liquid. Tuck in the bay leaves and bring to a simmer on top of the stove.

Lamb Shanks Submerged

7-Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 2 hours, turning the shanks once while they cook.

8-Stir in the orzo and return the lamb shanks to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the orzo is cooked and the lamb shanks are very tender. Discard the bay leaves, stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons of white wine, and taste the orzo for seasonings. Serve hot.

The Finished Dish

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir

The Dish Finished

Calabrian Chili Pasta

I know this recipe may offend some traditionalists; nevertheless, I’m posting it for two reasons. First of all, it’s my first encounter with Calabrian chili paste, an unctuous spicy condiment that I see becoming a staple in my pantry. Secondly, the recipe takes an innovative approach to cooking pasta that eliminates using a dedicated pot for its boiling. I admit that I was skeptical about this method, but for someone who cooks at home almost every night, having one less pot to clean seemed most appealing.

This relatively quick and easy recipe is from an episode of Giada DeLaurentiis’s “Giada at Home” that I saw while having breakfast early on a Sunday morning. The finished dish looked so good that immediately after church I made a trip to my local Italian specialty store to look for the chili paste. I was surprised to find there a couple of varieties, both imported and domestic, but chose the imported one from Tutto Calabria.

My only variation on the recipe was using heaping tablespoons of the chili paste, which although quite spicy, is not very hot.

Rather than pairing this dish with a southern Italian red, I opted for a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo–perfect for a warm spring evening.

Here’s a link to the original recipe and video.

Ingredients

1 pound penne pasta
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup grated pecorino
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 tablespoons Calabrian hot pepper paste
1/3 cup chopped chives
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice, from 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a 10-inch high-sided saute pan, bring 1 inch of water (about 4 cups) to a boil over high heat. Add the penne and the salt.

Pasta with about an inch of water

Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, about 9 minutes; there should be a little water left in the pan.

The cooked pasta

Sprinkle the pecorino over the pasta; toss to coat. (Work quickly, making sure that the cheese doesn’t clump together and is evenly distributed.)

Add the tomatoes, chili paste, chives, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil, and toss.

Wine Pairing: Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo or Sauvignon Blanc

Pasta con Ceci

A few years ago, I posted my family’s recipe for pasta with chickpeas, Pasta Ceci. It’s always been one of my favorite dishes passed down to me during my grad-school days from my Sicilian mother.

Recently, however, I came across another version of this dish on the Food52 website, adapted from Victoria Granof’s cookbook, Chickpeas. This recipe seems to have Neapolitan roots, with much of its flavor derived from frying tomato paste in garlic infused olive oil.

What made this dish immediately appealing for a weeknight meal is that it requires only one pot, as the pasta is cooked along with the chickpeas with a minimal amount of water. My only variations on the recipe were sautéing some crushed red pepper flakes along with the olive oil and garlic, adding some chopped rosemary during the last five minutes of cooking, and doubling the amount of pasta.

I also recommend using the imported double-concentrate Italian tomato paste in a tube. I find it has deeper flavor than most canned varieties.

While this may not be the most authentic version of this dish, it is nonetheless most delicious and quite satisfying.

VICTORIA GRANOF’S PASTA CON CECI Adapted from FOOD52

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons good tomato paste (I used heaping tablespoons.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup uncooked ditalini pasta (or another small shape, like macaroni) (I used a full cup)
2 cups boiling water (You may need to adjust the amount of water if you add more pasta.)
Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (I added the crushed pepper to the pasta during the last 5 minutes of cooking.)

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until it becomes lightly browned and fragrant.

Browning the Garlic

Stir in the tomato paste and salt and fry for 30 seconds or so.

Frying the tomato paste

Add the chickpeas, pasta, and boiling water.

Adding chickpeas and pasta
Adding the water

Stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, lower the heat, and simmer until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Adding the rosemary
The finished dish

Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, ladle the pasta into shallow bowls, sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes, and drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on top.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Asparagus Frittata

Asparagus Frittata

I’ve always like omelets. Growing up in an Italian household, my introduction to them was through frittatas. Large and made with plenty of eggs and grated Romano, they typically featured fried peppers or potatoes and sometimes even left over spaghetti, which was sautéed until a light crust formed on the pasta.

I remember how my aunt stood over the frying pan, wooden spoon in hand, pushing the eggs towards the center allowing the more liquid portion to fall to the sides. “You can’t rush these,” she’d say. Then came the moment of the flip, where she placed a large plate over the pan and, in a flash, inverted the frittata and then slid it from the plate into the pan to finish cooking. Another few minutes of slow cooking followed during which she’d gently shake the pan. When I asked, how did she know it was done, she replied “il naso,” the nose. “You can smell when it’s done.”

The finished frittata was puffy and light, never dry, and the eggs seemed like pillows to whatever the filling.

Eventually, I discovered the French omelet; totally different from the Italian, but that’s a story for another post.

One morning, not too long ago, over breakfast I saw Lidia Bastianich prepare an asparagus frittata on television. The 10 minute spot evoked memories of my aunt and so I decided to make one for dinner that evening. Below is her recipe along with a link to the video i saw that morning.

I modified the recipe by adding a generous handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the eggs before beating. I also flipped the frittata as my aunt did to finish cooking the other side.

Wine Pairing: Falanghina

Lidia Bastianich’s Asparagus Frittata

Ingredients

1 pound pencil-thin asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs

Preparation

1. Remove and discard the tough lower ends of the asparagus. Cut the spears into 2-inch lengths.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, sauté the asparagus spears in olive oil, sprinkling them lightly with salt. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until asparagus is tender but still firm, about 5 minutes.

3. Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl with salt and pepper. Add the eggs to the asparagus, scrambling the mixture lightly with a fork. Cook 2 minutes, or less depending on the texture desired, until eggs are set, and serve immediately.

Video Link

Wedding Anniversary Dinner

Anniversary Dinner

What does it say about your marriage when you opt for celebrating at home over dining out? After four years together, I think it says we don’t need anymore than we already have to be happy and that most of all we treasure our time together alone.

Our menu was simple. After Champagne with smoked salmon on pumpernickel (OK, maybe a bit of a spurge), we sat down to one of our go-to meals: roast chicken, stuffed with lemon and herbs accompanied by roasted potatoes with rosemary, a mushroom gratin, and roasted cherry tomatoes.

The recipe for the chicken comes from Mark Bittman’s tome, How to Cook Everything. Here’s a link to the basic recipe and some variations:
http://www.howtocookeverything.com/recipes/simplest-whole-roast-chicken-six-ways

Roast Chicken

As you can see, I opted to add some herbs and lemon wedges.

The sides were family classics, all of which went into the oven along with the chicken at different intervals. The potatoes went in at the start and the tomatoes and mushrooms about 15 minutes later.

Roasted Potatoes

The potatoes are cubed, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary. About midway through, turn the potatoes.

Mushroom Gratin

For the mushrooms, I combine dry bread crumbs with minced garlic, finely chopped Italian parsley, grated Romano cheese, sat and pepper and moisten the mixture with some olive oil. I the sprinkle the crumbs over sliced button mushrooms and roast for about 35 minutes.

Roasted Tomatoes

For the tomatoes, I take a pint of grape tomatoes, several cloves of peeled and smashed garlic and a generous pinch of crushed red-pepper flakes and drizzle with olive oil. Toss the tomatoes to make sure they’re coated with the oil and roast for about 30 minutes.

Our wine choice was a simple Chianti Classico.

In my youth, I would have probably gone for a far more elaborate meal to celebrate an anniversary, but now nearing seventy, I’ve begun to take a more relaxed approach to cooking and dining but nonetheless still insist on warmed plates, polished flatware, and most important candle light.

Beef Short Ribs with Red Wine and Chile

Given the reluctance of spring to appear in New York City and finding a $6.00 off a pound sale on short ribs at my local market, I chose to make a braised dish more suitable for winter. The recipe is from the New York Times Cooking website and its blend of spices and prunes with fennel and leeks made it most appealing for a chilly weekday night supper.

I had also planned to photograph the preparation of this dish, but just as I started to cook, our cable repairman showed up. What I thought would be a twenty-minute service call wound up taking almost three hours, including assisting the repairman with un-mounting a wall-mounted 55” television, which given the disparity in our heights (he stood 6’ tall and I’m 5’3”), was not an easy task. As a result, I had to rush to get the ribs into the oven for a three-hour braise so that we could have supper on the table by 9PM.

Despite the gloomy cold day and the cable madness, our day ended well thanks to this truly delicious braise. Although the recipe calls for a pressure cooker, the website gave options for a Dutch oven as well as for a slow cooker. I chose to braise the ribs in a enameled-cast iron Dutch oven in a 325°F oven for 3 hours.

If you’re not a fan of highly spiced food, you may want to reduce the amount of chipotle chile powder. I also found that the amount of liquid called for (1 cup of wine) resulted in a rather thick sauce. This amount may work for a pressure cooker, but if you choose to oven braise, I’d recommend at least doubling the amount of liquid.

Ingredients
2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 to 4 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
1 tablespoon olive oil or other fat (like bacon fat or duck fat), more as needed
3 leeks, whites only, chopped
2 large fennel bulbs, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
½ cup pitted prunes, diced
Fennel fronds or sliced scallions, or both, for serving

Preparation

  1. If time permits, rub salt, coriander and pepper all over beef and let marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, or, ideally, overnight.
  2. Set electric pressure cooker to sauté function and add oil (or use a large skillet on the stove over medium-high heat). Sear beef until evenly browned on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. You’ll probably have to do this in batches. Transfer to a plate as the pieces brown. Or if using a skillet, transfer them to pressure cooker
  3. Add leeks, fennel and pinch of salt to hot pan and cook until soft, about 8 minutes, then add garlic, chile powder and tomato paste; cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in wine. Add prunes and beef (or add prunes and fennel-wine mixture to the meat in the pot).
  4. Cover, then cook for 35 minutes on high pressure. Manually release pressure. If sauce seems thin, pull out beef pieces and reduce sauce using sauté function. Serve with fennel fronds or scallions, or both, for garnish.

Wine Pairing: Zinfandel

Pot Roast

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Last night we entertained several friends and decided to keep things simple. It was going to be a busy day for me and the forecast was for a chilly night. So I turned to my slow cooker to free me from the kitchen. I thought a pot roast would be perfect. For a recipe, I turned to Martha Stewart’s collection of one-pot recipes, one of which called for beef chuck roast that didn’t need to be browned before braising. Even better–more free time. The recipe along with a video is also available here online.

I particularly like this recipe because, without any herbs and a minimum of seasoning, it really lets the flavor of meat shine. My only changes to the recipe were the addition of a bay leaf, a few more carrots and potatoes as well as a slightly larger roast than called for. I also opted for 8 hours on low rather than 5 on high since I think it makes for a more tender roast.

I served the meat with egg noodles tossed with chopped flat leaf parsley and olive oil.

Our guests must have enjoyed this dish as much as we do as there were no leftovers whatsoever.

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Ingredients

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste (I recommend the Italian imported paste in a tube.)
1.5 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and halved
3 large carrots, quartered and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 beef roast (3 pounds), preferably chuck, trimmed of excess fat and well tied
4 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste

Directions

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, stir together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons broth until smooth.(I prefer to make this slurry in a small dish and then add it to the cooker.) Add remaining broth, tomato paste, potatoes, carrots, onion, bay leaf, and Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper and toss.

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Season roast with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and rub with garlic.

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Place on top of vegetables. Cover and cook on high until roast is fork-tender, 5 hours (or 8 hours on low).

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Transfer roast to a cutting board; thinly slice against the grain. Place vegetables in a serving dish; skim fat from pan juices, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve, if desired. Serve roast and vegetables drizzled with juices.

Wine Pairing: Cotes du Rhone, Syrah

Spaghetti and Meatloaf

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Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. Meatloaf, not meatballs, was served with spaghetti. What’s more, the meatloaf was leftover. We’re both fans of this most comforting of comfort foods, so much so that I generally make one once a week. Because I’m generally preparing dinner just for two, we often have at least a half loaf left over, from which we typically make sandwiches or use to serve with fried eggs.

But last night I thought I would use the meatloaf as a substitute for meatballs in a red sauce. I cut the leftover loaf into 1½ cubes, which I then cooked in a plain tomato sauce for about 30 minutes.

The recipe for the sauce was Marcella Hazan’s Tomato, Butter, and Onion. Place an onion cut in half along with a 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes (crushed) and their juice, 5 tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook at a slow simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done remove the onion.

My meat loaf is a combination of recipes, but is made from ground dark meat turkey or beef, diced pancetta, bread crumb, parsley, garlic, cubed feta cheese, raisins, eggs and milk and seasoned with salt, pepper, and cumin. I think however that you could substitute almost any meat loaf you like.

After adding the cubed meat loaf to the sauce, cook for 30 minutes stirring occasionally but be careful not to break the cubes. When done, transfer to a large skillet.

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Just before serving, place the cubes of meat loaf on warmed serving plates.

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When the pasta is just shy of al dente, transfer it to the skillet and toss with the sauce and some grated cheese, either Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

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Transfer the sauced pasta to the plates with the cubed meat loaf.

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Not a fancy dish; but on a chilly winter weekday night, it provides loads of comfort and joy.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Herb-Roasted Pork Loin

More often than not, I let what’s available or on sale at my market determine what I will be making for dinner that night. When I found pork loins on sale for $4 off a pound at my local Whole Foods, my menu was set. Knowing that I would be cooking only for two, I chose a small two-pound center-cut roast.

Originally, I though I would prepare it braised in milk, a recipe that I have previously posted on this blog. But when I returned home, a bottle of Chianti Classico that we had received as a Christmas gift caught my eye and it brought to mind the many times I enjoyed this wine with a classic roasted pork loin whenever I was in Tuscany, where it is commonly known as arista.

In the past, I’ve always made this roast for a get together and used a larger piece of meat. But mind was now set on having arista even if it would be a diminutive aristina.

The recipe I chose was from the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian cookbook. Although the recipe called for a five-pound roast, I didn’t adjust the amount of herbs or oil for my two pounder. I did, however, reduce the number of garlic cloves to three, and not having any fresh sage at home, I doubled the amount of rosemary. Because it was quite late when the roast was done and we were both starving, I skipped the pan sauce. The roasted onions were enough of a condiment.

I also served Italian roasted potatoes, which I cooked at the same time as the roast. Although the recipe I used called for much hotter oven (425°F), I simply let the potatoes cook at the same temperature as the roast (325°F) and they were perfectly done at the same time as the meat.

As you probably noticed, there are no photos in this post. I can only say that while I was cooking, my photographer was at work, and by the time the food was on the table, neither of us was thinking about the blog. But despite not having any photos, I thought this dish was so good, I had to write it up.

Herb-Roasted Pork Loin from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Italian

Ingredients
4 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 bone-in pork loin roast, about 5 lb
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, halved and sliced
1 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio

Directions
Preheat an oven to 325°F.

Using a chef’s knife, very finely chop together the garlic, rosemary and sage. Transfer to a small bowl, add the fennel seeds, season with salt and pepper, and mix well. Make slits 1/2 inch deep all over the pork roast and insert some of the mixture into each slit. Rub the roast with the remaining seasoning, then rub with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the meat in a roasting pan just large enough to hold it.

Roast the meat for 1 hour. In a bowl, toss the onion slices with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and scatter them around the meat. Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast, away from the bone, registers 155°F, or the meat is pale pink when cut into at the center, about 1 1/4 hours more. Transfer to a warmed platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Let rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Note: I cooked my two pound roast for two hours. Although it was very good, the next time I cook such a small roast, I might reduce the cooking time slightly.

Meanwhile, pour off most of the fat in the roasting pan and place the pan over medium-low heat. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Simmer until the sauce is slightly reduced.

Carve the roast and arrange on a warmed platter. Spoon the pan sauce over the pork and serve at once.

Wine Pairing: Chianti Classico, Rosso di Montalcino

Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs

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Almost every week I roast bone-in skin-on chicken thighs on a sheet pan the same way, with a mix of fresh thyme and rosemary, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and olive oil. It’s a staple of my comfort-food repertoire. But yesterday, I opted out of my comfort zone and went for a spicier dish: Mark Bittman’s Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs posted on the New York Times Cooking website. Having all the ingredients for the spice rub in my pantry, except for a small jalapeño, also contributed to my choosing this dish.

After reading some of the reader comments on the site, I made a few changes to the recipe. I halved the amount of lemon juice and upped the amount of tomato paste, cumin, and coriander. Unfortunately, I did not increase the amount of salt. I also let the thighs marinate in the fridge for almost 3 hours and then lightly drizzled them with olive oil before putting them into the oven.

The result was delicious, but benefited from some additional salt and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice at the table.

This is a recipe you can play with (as I plan to do in the future).

A camera malfunction (really user error) resulted in my not having any prep photos, but with such an easy recipe I don’t their absence matters.

Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs (adapted from Mark Bittman on the New York Times Cooking website.)

8 chicken thighs, with skin, pierced all over with a small knife and trimmed of any excess skin and fat.
5 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded
Zest of 1 whole lemon and juice of half
3-4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1.5 teaspoons cumin powder
1.5 teaspoons ground coriander.

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put trimmed chicken thighs in a bowl. Finely mince garlic, ginger and pepper. Toss with all remaining ingredients or put in a small food processor, and grind to a paste. (It is O.K. if the coriander seeds are not fully pulverized. They will add a little crunch.) (I recommend the small food-processor option.)

2. Rub mixture thoroughly into chicken. At this point, you can cover, and refrigerate for up to a day.

3. Put thighs, skin side up, in a roasting pan (I prefer a rimmed sheet pan). Roast for 35 to 45 minutes or until done.

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Yield: 4 servings.

Wine Pairing: Dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc