Leftover chicken, mashed potatoes, butternut squash and peas usually call out to me to make soup, but there was so much chicken that stew for dinner seemed like a better idea. I love it when a few simple steps can transform leftovers into a whole new meal.
Take a chopped onion, a couple of sliced carrots and a bit of garlic and saute them in olive oil. I had a parsnip, so I tossed that in too. Deglaze the pan with a little chicken broth. Add the chicken, potatoes, squash and peas. Add enough broth to create a stew-like consistency. A small amount of mashed potatoes is a good thickening agent. I had about a quarter of a cup each of frozen corn and green beans, so that got added as well. In case you haven't notice, pretty much anything goes here. Let your instinct (and your leftovers) be your guide. I seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper, along with a bit of dry tarragon. Your call here. We really like tarragon, but thyme or any herb that you like would work just as well.
Since dinner came under the heading of leftover central, I decided to get a little creative for the base for the stew. Enter polenta. I like Pastene quick cooking polenta. Boil two cups of salted water. Add a cup of polenta to the boiling water in a slow, steady stream; stirring constantly for two to three minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in some butter, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Adding some Parmesan cheese is a nice touch, but not necessary. At this point, you can use the polenta as a soft creamy base for the stew.
If you want to elevate this to another level, spread the polenta on a flat surface to cool and harden. I spread it out on parchment paper on a quarter sheet pan. It will harden pretty quickly. Putting it in the frig makes the process go even faster. I used a wide mouthed glass to cut circles, but simple squares work equally well. Check out the pictures with this blog to see the process.
Just before dinner, fry the polenta in a combination of olive oil and butter until both sides are light brown and crispy. The inside will be soft. Spoon some stew over a couple of pieces of polenta and enjoy.
I love this kind of cooking. The end result makes it hard to believe that this all started with a few leftovers and a cup of cornmeal!