Rosemary Cream and Roasted Garlic Chicken Chowder, Salami Crisps, Buttery Cheddar Croutons

Winter has officially descended upon New England, which means it’s time for soups and stews and chowders, oh my!  There is nothing like filling your soul and stomach with something warm and oozy when it’s windy and wet and cold outside… especially when you know this is merely the early stages of a looooong season of even worse weather before better weather returns to the region.  I had the vague idea that a chowder was necessary for tonight’s repast, and after Tastespotting for a while, I landed on this post of inspiration.  With a few alterations and Lolitaesque additions, I whipped up a silky creamy chicken chowder richly redolent of rosemary and roasted garlic, puffed with potatoes and studded with white beans, served with hot-buttered cheddar croutons and crispy rounds of spicy baked salami.   How does one define an order of magnitude above and beyond super-satisfaction?  If you figure it out — let me know: I’ll rename this post in your honor…

Rosemary Cream & Roasted Garlic Chicken Chowder, Salami Crisps, Buttery Cheddar Croutons

1 (6-8oz) boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 small baking or russet potato
1 medium white onion
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
4″ sprig of fresh rosemary
1 can white beans (these are Great Northern, but Cannellini would work well, too)
EVOO
1 qt chicken broth
2 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbs cornstarch
4 slices salami or pepperoni
4 thick slices of fresh baguette
2 tbs melted butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
garlic powder, sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO, snipped chives

I start by searing my chicken breast in hot EVOO, salt, and pepper – flipping often to keep from charring, and to cook through thoroughly.  This takes about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I roast my garlic.  Lacking any fancy terracotta equipment, I go the easy route: I separate some cloves – retaining their papery skins – from a healthy head of garlic, I toss them with EVOO, salt, and pepper and layer them in a ceramic ramekin.  They go into a 400º oven for about 2o minutes, until they’re…

… roasted through to squishy soft.  But alas, I get ahead of myself!

After the chicken has seared mostly through, it’s time to add the aromatics.  I’ve chopped my onion, peeled and diced my potatoes, and harvested some rosemary from the bush still thriving on my roof deck.  Oh, and I fish a bay leaf out of the pantry.

I remove the chicken to a holding platter, and throw into the warm oily pan almost everything I just listed above – holding the potatoes back for a step.

After the onions, bay leaf, and rosemary sprigs have heated through, I reintroduce the chicken to the pan — but only after I’ve chopped it into nice bite-sized bits.  It’s OK if there’s a little pink in the fattest nibbles; I’m going to simmer this soup for some time, so everything will cook through to the optimal point of  “falling apart”.

Now it’s time for the potatoes — and the chicken broth.  Into the pan they go, everything is brought to a boil, before reducing the heat to low to induce a constant simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes soften and the is liquid thoroughly laced with the scent of rosemary and the woodiness of bay leaf.

Since I have such a crap-ass kitchen, I often have to jerry-rig my meager equipment to make happen what I need to happen.  To wit: no microwave means creativity is required to melt butter.  No worries!  Using my metal tongs as a bridge and my smallest metal nesting bowl for my vessel, I suspend my butter over my simmering soup, creating a makeshift double-boiler.  A few minutes later, I’ve got the juice I need to lube up my croutons – but for now I set it aside.

Meanwhile, now that my roasted garlic cloves have cooled, I remove the leathery skins and mash their softened and caramelized insides into a nutty pulp.  This I add to the pan.

The rosemary and bay leaf have done their jobs, so I fish ‘em out and give them the 21 gun salute before composting them.  I cut 2oz of cream cheese off an 8oz block, and pull out my heavy cream.

Along with my beans, I add my two creams – returning the heat to a medium boil so the cheese solids will melt and emulsify with the scented, potatoey broth.

After this has simmered for about 10 minutes, I ladle about 1/2 cup of soup from the pan into a bowl containing a small proportion of corn starch.  Using a fork, I whip this into a thick sludge before scraping the whole mess back into the pan.  This – along with crushing some of my potato pieces, as pictured above – will thicken my soup into the chowder I’m hankering.

While this simmers and thickens for the last 10 minutes or so, I prepare my garnishes.  A few errant slices of Spanish salami, and 4 planks of baguette drenched in my melted butter and scattered with sharp cheddar cheese, all layered on a parchment papered cookie sheet, all chucked into a 350º oven.

Although today was sunny and bright, the breeze was still chilling and clumps of snow still clung to low-hanging tree branches and gutter corners.  But there is something supremely comforting about swallowing steaming spoonfuls of warming white chowder when frigid white frost tints the edges of my living room windows — the kind of comforting this bowl of satisfaction ideally encapsulates.  A thick, rich, deep and creamy  soup base; an amazing aura of rosemary and roasted garlic aroma; fork-tender seared chicken chunks and toothsome legumes; cheese-encrusted buttered toast and peppered discs of crispy cured meat — a medley of flavors, a melody of deliciousness; a symphony of self-gratification.  This isn’t the most sophisticated meal I’ve ever made, nor the fanciest – but the thrill and savor each spoonful engendered was of a level usually only the finest restaurants can boast.   Clayton and I tucked into this meal as if it were our last; if it was, it was worth it.