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Braised chicken with peppers turns Rosh Hashanah into a Roman holiday

Braised chicken with peppers is perfect for a Friday evening Rosh Hashanah celebration.  (Rey Lopez/Washington Post)
By Olga Massov Washington Post

Are you, like me, scratching your head about where the summer has gone? Did your Tomato Girl Summer also get thwarted by exorbitant airfare prices? Do you feel that Rosh Hashanah, which starts Friday evening, has snuck up on you out of nowhere?

Welcome to my world.

While my normal approach to the Jewish New Year is to go big or go home – think brisket or pot roast, alongside the usual chicken soup, potato kugel, a grain salad and a decadent dessert or two – this time I’m planning on something different, something that’s affordable and cooks in a reasonable amount of time; with easy-to-find ingredients and not many of them, either. Bonus points if it can transport me with one bite.

Enter this unassuming braise of chicken with roasted peppers from Leah Koenig’s latest cookbook, “Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen.” As the title suggests, the recipes hail from the Roman Jewish culinary canon, which is marked by scrappy, humble ingredients with bold flavors.

At first glance, the dish looks too simple for a celebratory meal, but don’t let it fool you – those ingredients come together in a flavorful and sublime braise.

While Koenig suggests this braise for Shabbat, I think it makes an ideal Rosh Hashanah main course, especially because the start of the Jewish New Year falls on a Friday evening this time.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that it’s difficult to plan for a holiday meal at the end of the workweek. But this luscious dish feels especially doable. In under two hours – even less time if you skip roasting the peppers and go the jarred route – you have a festive main course, that while nontraditional in the context of Rosh Hashanah, will taste comforting and familiar.

Chicken With Peppers

Adapted from “Portico” by Leah Koenig (Norton, 2023).

4 medium red, yellow or orange bell peppers, washed and dried

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks, excess fat trimmed

1/4 teaspoon fine salt, plus more as needed

Freshly ground black pepper

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1/2 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or soave

1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes

Chopped fresh basil leaves, for serving

Roast the peppers: Position a rack about 6 inches from the broiling element and preheat the broiler. Arrange the peppers on a large, rimmed baking sheet and broil, turning every 3 to 5 minutes with tongs, or until they are blistered all over and collapsing on themselves, 15 to 20 minutes total. (Keep an eye on the peppers as they can go over the edge in seconds.) Transfer the peppers to a medium bowl, cover with a wide plate and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the skins and seeds, slice the peppers into 1/2-inch-wide strips and set aside on the cutting board. If not using right away, transfer to a lidded container and refrigerate until needed.

Make the chicken: While the peppers are cooling, in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Pat the chicken dry and season lightly all over with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add the chicken, skin side down, to the pot. Sear, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes total; transfer the chicken to a plate.

Decrease the heat to medium and add a drizzle of oil if the bottom of the pot looks dry. Add half of the roasted peppers, the garlic, and red pepper flakes, if using, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is tender and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and let cook down by about half, 1 to 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, with their juices, in the same bowl you used for the peppers and gently break them up into small pieces. Add the tomatoes with their juices to the pot, along with the 1/4 teaspoon salt and a generous amount of black pepper.

Nestle the chicken pieces in the sauce, spooning some of it over the top. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is tender, about 45 minutes.

Uncover, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook at a lively simmer, stirring often, until the sauce thickens a bit, about 10 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed.

Stir in the remaining pepper strips, taste, and season with more salt, if desired.

Serve hot, generously sprinkled with chopped basil.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Make ahead: The peppers can be roasted and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days in advance.

Substitutions: No time to roast peppers? Use a 101/2-ounce jar of roasted peppers.