Cooking | Magazine

Weeknight recipes: Balsamic tarragon chicken and quick mascarpone mousse

A three-course, Italian-inspired meal fit for a weeknight, with each dish taking 30 minutes or less.

White balsamic chicken with tarragon.
White balsamic chicken with tarragon.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

At Milk Street, we’ve learned that bold ingredients — not lots of time — are the keys to better home cooking. Here we offer a three-course meal fit for a weeknight, with each dish taking 30 minutes or less. Sweet-tart white balsamic vinegar and tangy Peppadew peppers bring flavor and color to crispy chicken thighs. We give Brussels sprouts a good char, then toss them with ground almonds and the bright citrus flavors of lemons and lemon grass. For dessert, mascarpone and pillowy egg whites — plus a dash of rum — make for a lighter, speedier alternative to classic Italian zabaglione.


White Balsamic Chicken With Tarragon

Makes 4 servings

White balsamic, which is not cooked and aged as long as regular balsamic vinegar, has a mellow acidity that complements the Peppadews, a variety of small, sweet peppers from South Africa. They add slight heat and additional sweetness, as well as a vivid splash of red. Find them jarred at most grocery stores, and sometimes at the olive bar.

Take your time rendering the fat from the skin on the chicken thighs. The skin should be golden brown and have a crisp feel. When reducing the sauce before serving, add water if the liquid is less than 1 cup.

3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed and patted dry

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon grape-seed or other neutral oil

3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 medium shallot, minced (about 1/3 cup)

¾ cup white balsamic vinegar

¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/3 cup pitted green olives, chopped

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, divided

1/3 cup drained Peppadew peppers, chopped

Heat the oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. In a 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and heat until smoking. Add the chicken, skin down, and cook until the fat is rendered and the skin is golden brown, about 5 minutes.


Transfer the chicken, skin up, to a plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the skillet. Add the garlic and shallot to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the vinegar and broth and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin up. Transfer to the oven and bake until the chicken reaches 175 degrees at the thickest part, or a skewer inserted into the thickest part meets no resistance, 12 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken, skin up, to a deep platter and return the skillet to the stove top (handle will be hot) over medium-high heat. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook until it reduces to about 1 cup, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the olives, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Off the heat, stir in half the tarragon, then spoon the sauce around the chicken. Top with Peppadews and the remaining tarragon.

Charred Brussels sprouts with garlic chips.
Charred Brussels sprouts with garlic chips.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Charred Brussels Sprouts With Garlic Chips

Makes 8 servings

The seasoning combination for these sprouts was inspired by a dish we enjoyed at Angus An’s Maenam restaurant in Vancouver. Garlic balances the brightness; to keep it from burning, we cook it separately from the sprouts, thinly slicing and frying 20 cloves. The crispy fried garlic chips add a savory note. Leftover oil from frying the chips can be used for salad dressings or drizzled on pasta.


Browning the almond-lemon grass mixture well helps it develop a rich, toasty flavor while tenderizing the lemon grass. Using a heavy-bottomed skillet helps ensure even browning without scorching.

The sprouts are best served on a platter, not in a bowl that would cause those on the bottom to soften.

20 medium garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced (about ½ cup)

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon grape-seed or other neutral oil, divided

Kosher salt and ground white pepper

2 pounds medium Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

¼ cup slivered almonds

2 lemon grass stalks, trimmed to bottom 6 inches, dry outer layers discarded, thinly sliced (about ¾ cup)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, divided, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon white sugar

Heat the oven to 500 degrees with a rack in the middle position. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the garlic and ½ cup of the oil. Cook, stirring, until uniformly light golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a small heatproof bowl. Strain the mixture, then transfer the garlic chips to a paper towel-lined plate and season with ¼ teaspoon salt. Reserve the oil.

In a large bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with ¼ cup of the reserved garlic oil. Arrange the sprouts cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender when pierced with a knife and well browned on the cut sides, 15 to 20 minutes.


Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the almonds, lemon grass, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon white pepper, the sugar, and 1 tablespoon of the garlic oil. Process until finely chopped, about 45 seconds. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet set over high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon grape-seed oil and heat until beginning to smoke. Add the almond mixture, immediately reduce to medium-high, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and deep golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large heatproof bowl.

When the sprouts are done roasting, immediately add them to the almond mixture along with the lemon juice and remaining 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Toss, then taste and season with salt and white pepper. Transfer to a platter, then sprinkle with the garlic chips and drizzle with the garlic oil.

Mascarpone mousse (crema al mascarpone).
Mascarpone mousse (crema al mascarpone).Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Mascarpone Mousse (Crema al Mascarpone)

Makes 4 servings

The Italian dessert known as zabaglione, a rich concoction of whipped egg yolks, sugar, and sweet wine, is a classic for a reason, but it can be heavy and too sweet and/or boozy. This five-ingredient mascarpone mousse we encountered in Milan is both lighter and simpler. Unlike zabaglione, which uses only yolks and is cooked over a double boiler, the mousse (known as crema al mascarpone) uses egg whites as well, making it airy and light. It requires no cooking (note that the eggs are raw) and comes together in minutes — just be sure the mascarpone is softened to cool room temperature so it combines easily with the egg yolks.


A hand mixer makes easy work of whipping the egg whites, but you also could use a whisk and a little elbow grease. A dusting of cocoa adds visual appeal as well as a hint of chocolate flavor; fresh berries or crisp cookies also are excellent.

Remember to thoroughly clean the bowl and beaters or whisk that you’ll be using to whip the whites. Any residual fat will prevent the whites from attaining the proper loft.

2 large eggs, separated

3 tablespoons white sugar, divided

8-ounce container mascarpone cheese (1 cup), softened

4 teaspoons dark rum

Cocoa powder, to serve

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 1 tablespoon of sugar until smooth and pale yellow in color. Add the mascarpone and whisk until well combined, then whisk in the rum; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. With a hand mixer on medium-high speed, whip until they hold soft peaks when the beaters are lifted, 1 to 2 minutes; do not overwhip.

With a silicone spatula, fold about a third of the whipped whites into the mascarpone mixture until just a few streaks remain. Fold in the remaining whites, taking care not to deflate the mixture. Serve right away or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 45 minutes. Dust with cocoa just before serving.

Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.