Dolce far Niente

Italian saucy chicken with Green olives and fennel,
with Buttery polenta


It is days like this when I wish I was back in Italy.
It has grown cold here over the last few days, and I would love to be back in Tuscany frolicking around in the fields and eating sticky warm grapes in the vineyards.

The phrase "La dolce far niente" really is what they say it is. The Italians have perfected the art of "the sweetness of nothing" or "the sweetness in doing nothing". Sometimes I forget that life is more than just trying to get somewhere, and often I rather focus on the destination, overlooking how important the journey is.

In Italy I really learnt how important it is to focus on living simply and enjoying what you have, when you have it.

Seasonality is also very important, and makes life so much easier when you focus on what is available rather than chasing after that elusive packet of frozen chestnuts.

I have never been a fan of liquorice, so I was really surprised to find that I enjoyed a dish of thinly sliced fennel bulb fried in olive oil, and splashed with vinegar. Fennel imparts any dish with a clean, herby taste, and helps to cut through and mellow greasy and acidic dishes.

Fennel is used a lot in Tuscany, I noticed that black pepper is very seldomly used, but things like Bay leaves, Kale, Mint, Basil and Parsley are predominent, but this will differ from region to region. Basic rule of thumb is, if you can grow it in the garden, use it.

Polenta is the golden cousin of pap, and is cooked in the same manner. They both thicken on cooling, and make perfect accompaniments to saucy dishes and can be eaten with your fingers (Yay!).

I remember seeing Francesca pour out the steaming polenta onto a large wooden slab and then cut it into thick wedges like bread, magnificient!

Italian saucy chicken with Green olives and fennel served with Buttery polenta.
serves 4
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 chicken breasts, on the bone.
2 cloves of garlic, sliced.
500 ml Rosé or white wine
1 tin (226 g) of peeled whole Italian tomatoes
100 g green pitted olives
1 Tbsp sugar
Salt to taste
5 g fresh fennel leaves


Preheat the oven to 180C.

Heat the olive oil in a casserole dish. Brown the chicken breasts for 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic, and stir well. Pour in the wine, and add the tin of tomatoes. Add the pitted olives. Stir in the sugar and season with salt. Roughly chop the fennel and stir into the dish.

Place in the preheated oven and cook for 50 minutes.

Polenta:
1 L water
250 g instant polenta
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter

Bring the water to boil, and add the polenta.
Boil for three minutes. Add the salt and butter and stir in well.

Watchpoint: Polenta boils like hot lava. It will spit everywhere when it boils, so be careful.

So for now, I will snuggle by the fire with a steaming plate of Italian cuisine, with Tosca at my toes, keeping me warm (he has had another run in with Thomas Hunter, the squirrel, and has been confined to being inside with me. Although he thoroughly enjoys being inside and snug by the fire, he occasionally stares outside with his sad brown eyes. Being part labbie, he has that forlorn look down to an art.)

We are both just going to sit here. Ah, the sweetness of nothing.

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