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Dinner Together: Italian-inspired slow-cooker recipe helps beat the late-winter blahs

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 28, 2017, 5:26 p.m.

Chicken breast works just as well as thighs in this slow cooker version of Balsamic-Braised Chicken with Swiss Chard. (COURTESY PHOTO / COURTESY PHOTO)
Chicken breast works just as well as thighs in this slow cooker version of Balsamic-Braised Chicken with Swiss Chard. (COURTESY PHOTO / COURTESY PHOTO)

This slow-cooker recipe was recommended by a friend and proved to be a huge hit at my house.

Its earthy Italian-inspired flavors were familiar enough to entice my family to try it, and the sweet-and-sour tang helped bust us out of our usual rotation and remedy the late-winter blahs.

I’m not a fan of slow-cooker recipes that promise easy prep but require you to sauté and sear everything before it goes in and then babysit the slow cooker all day, adding ingredients.

Balsamic-Braised Chicken with Swiss Chard does call for browning the aromatics and reducing the vinegar before the rest of the ingredients go into the pot, but it’s not onerous. Plus, it smells delightful.

Since I didn’t have chicken thighs on hand, I substituted chicken breast. Also, I used anchovy paste (about 1 teaspoon) and skipped the red wine. Instead, I drained the tomatoes and added a 1/4 cup of that liquid back into the slow cooker to substitute.

The chard is chopped and added to the pot at the end of cooking, but by that time you’re in the kitchen making polenta. I also found versions of this recipe online in which families substituted green beans for the chard, since it wasn’t their favorite.

And the leftovers? Well, let’s just say that my husband and I both wanted the largest share for lunch the next day.

Balsamic-Braised Chicken with Swiss Chard

From Cook’s Illustrated

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, minced

5 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 anchovy fillet, rinsed and minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup dry red wine

2 bay leaves

12 (6-ounce) bone in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed

Salt and pepper

6 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and leaves cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, thyme, tomato paste, garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes and cook until onion is softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in vinegar, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps; cook until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes, and transfer to slow cooker.

Stir in tomatoes, broth, wine and bay leaves. Season chicken with salt and pepper and nestle into sauce. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.

Gently stir in chard, cover and cook on high until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to serving platter and tent loosely with foil. Let braise liquid settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon. Discard bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon 1 cup sauce over chicken and serve with remaining sauce.

Yield: 6 servings

Quick Polenta

Bring 6 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt to a boil in large saucepan. Slowly pour 1 1/2 cups instant polenta into water, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and smooth, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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