We all like chicken.
~Malcolm X

Shortly after my fetching daughter’s glorious wedding in a mountain field, I felt compelled to write about rabbit cacciatore (July 24, 2013).

Today’s cacciatore recipe goes to show (as with coq au vin) just how many myriad versions exist of this rustic braise, so many of which are luscious. Really, what are “authentic” kitchens and “classic” recipes anyways — especially when your lands or regions have been invaded, conquered, occupied or colonized by other culture(s) over time?

For instance, tomatoes (pommodori) are often traced from origins in Peru, where they were domesticated by the Mayans and later cultivated by the Incas. These divine fruits likely entered Europe by way of Spain, after conquistador Hernán Cortés‘ early 16th century conquest of the flourishing Aztec city-state of Tenochtitlán, on a swampy island on the coast of Lake Texcoco in the valley of Mexico. When these globular red (often yellow) berries arrived on Italian shores, they were strictly a curiosity for those who merely studied or ruminated about plants, but not anything anyone would ever consider eating. Tomatls (an Aztec term) were considered “strange and horrible things” — aberrant mutants, even feared as poisonous. It was not until later that tomatoes finally were embraced in Italy as pomi d’oro, or “golden apples.” Imported tomatoes assimilated easily to the Mediterranean rim climate and finally became a vital part of Italian cuisine in the 17th & 18th centuries and beyond — over two millennia after they were first domesticated in South and Mesoamerica. The sometimes tortured path of food.

The notion of pollo alla cacciatore seems a rather amusing take on hunters who utterly fail to nab anything while pocketing hearty fare from home. Gentle souls, they must be.

And yes, Malcolm, chicken is unforgettably irresistible.

CHICKEN CACCIATORE (POLLO ALLA CACCIATORE)

4-5 leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 C all purpose flour

1 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 T extra virgin olive oil

3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t rosemary leaves, chopped
1 t oregano leaves, chopped
1 T fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Sea salt

1/2 C dry red wine
1 C chicken broth
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes in juice, diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C crimini and/or shittake mushrooms, trimmed and thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rosemary sprigs, for serving
1/2 C basil, ribboned, for serving
2-3 T capers, drained, for serving

Penne, rice, risotto or other pastas, cooked according to instructions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high in a large, heavy skillet until shimmering. Meanwhile, season the chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper and then dredge in flour, shaking off excess, so the leg-thighs are just slightly coated. Brown, in batches if necessary, for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl as they are done and loosely tent. Discard the olive oil and chicken fat from the pan.

Next, turn to a Dutch oven, place on medium heat, add the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and the onion, heirloom tomatoes, and carrot, as well as a pinch of sea salt. Cook and stir, until the vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, oregano, parsley and sea salt to taste. Cover, turn the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is barely soft and the garlic not brown.

Turn the heat back up to medium, stir in the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook while stirring, until the mushrooms are just tender.

Stir in the wine, vinegar and stock and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes, until the wine-vinegar-stock mix has reduced by about a third. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, so they are well submerged in the tomato mixture. Cover and braise over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the juices run pale yellow from the chicken.

Place pasta, rice or a simple risotto in large shallow bowls and place over a chicken quarter and ladle with sauce. Strew the rosemary sprigs, chiffonaded basil, and capers over the top and serve with a Sangiovese.

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Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one’s arms around a side of beef.
~Tom Stoppard

One time, a velveteen skinned, stranded sea lion came to me on a beach much like a tired, whining and throaty barking hurt dog. We were both, well all, naked (as if that matters), and we did not know what to do as cell phones were inoperable due to canyons and obtusely did not know what the recovery timing was then.

He/she was not totally emaciated and did not appear close to death, so the dance was confusing and misguided for both of us. Whether to pet, touch, caress or simply feel or hug — never a good time to be bitten by a potentially sickened sea mammal. But, there appeared a cry for help. I had read about the starving sea lion population, particularly those who needed nursing that had “washed up” on the Channel Islands and California coasts. It seemed apparent that this sea lion was a victim of the consequences of climate change and rising ocean temperatures — confused, somewhat gaunt and forlorn. I could not even tell how old she/he was due to my ignorance. Later in the day after staying nearby she/he walked away, and the sea lion was hopefully rescued, rehabilitated and ultimately released.

Then again, who really knows?

CARPACCIO

8 or so ozs lean beef, such as tenderloin or top round, trimmed of fat, sinewy membrane, or silverskin (connective tissue)
1 T capers, rinsed
Arugula leaves and/or micro-greens, washed and spun dry
Extra virgin olive oil

Parmigiano reggiano, shaven into curls
Lemon wedges

Chill the beef (and platter) in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes. Cut beef against the grain into thin slices with a very sharp knife, trimming away any fat or gristle. Put each slice between layers of heavy duty plastic wrap or waxed paper and gently pound beef flat with a meat mallet to a thickness to about 1/16″ (about paper thin). Refrigerate flattened slices in plastic, until chilled, almost frozen.

Peel plastic from each slice and invert onto a chilled platter and top each slice with capers and arugula and/or micro-greens. Drizzle each portion with olive oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper.

Garnish atop carpaccio with shaven parmigiano reggiano and lemon wedges, squeezed, and serve promptly.

Buon appetito!

Pourboire: other times, carpaccio is slightly covered in pickled shallot, fine anchovies, garlic, chopped red onion, sliced grilled fennel, chives, even cherry heirloom tomatoes. Your call, but I prefer simplicity.

Life itself is the proper binge.
~Julia Child

So, the conservative (J)ustices who reverently, or perhaps irreverently, have hailed their Catholic heritage were conspicuously absent for Pope Francis — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito — should be wearing their usual political cloaks of shame with heads bowed. Please do not tell anyone, dear (J)ustices, that you had other commitments, as you were wholly transparent “no shows” to make an intentional, childish statement.

Are you that politically pugnacious, gentlemen? Will you, as does the House, not branch compromise? Will you value theatrical protest over governance, even as the “judiciary branch?” Will you seriously take a pass on this opportunity to hear words from the leader of your church?

Apparently, this was a “let-them-eat cake obliviousness to the needs of others” moment to quote Justice Scalia. Whatever his old man palaver means.

Even as an agnostic or atheist, you should feel utterly disgraced.

A simple, yet resplendent, meal — thank goodness, we can gracefully slide home.

MISO CHICKEN (TORI MISOYAKI — 味噌チキン)

4 T unsalted butter (1/2 stick), softened to room temperature
1/2 C red or white miso
2 T local honey
1 T “plain” rice vinegar (hon mirin)
1 T sake
2 t sesame oil
2 t ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 t garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

8 skin on, bone in chicken thighs

Peanuts or walnuts, chopped
Cilantro leaves

Bok Choy (optional?)

Preheat oven to 425 F

Combine butter, miso, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and black pepper in a large glass bowl and mix well.

Add bird to the bowl and carefully massage the miso, et al., blend into it. Marinate in a large ziploc bag for a couple of hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan and genteelly slip (skin side up) into the preheated oven. Roast for about 40 minutes or so, turning the chicken pieces over twice with tongs, until the skin is golden brown and crisp, and when pricked the juices run pale from the thighs. Serve over rice or rice noodles and top with chopped peanuts or walnuts and cilantro with baby bok choy as a side.

A Horizontal Culture

September 24, 2015

Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.
~George Bernard Shaw

Since Pope Francis addressed and postured (rightly so) before the chambers of discontent, the 114th U.S. Congress, please allow me to again pontificate about cheese.

Ricardo C. Rodríguez de la Vega, PhD. is a bespeckled, seemingly unassuming professor and evolutionary biologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and University of Paris-Sud, who enjoys savoring the wares at local fromageries (cheese shops) along with his colleagues. Been there, done that, but not in such a scientific manner. There are sound reasons for this repetitive behavior…well, besides the sublime aromas and delectable pungencies. These scientists are attempting to reconstruct the genetic natures of molds used to make cheeses.

So, to craft Roquefort, cheese makers use Penicillin roqueforti and mix them into the fermenting curds and then drop the loaves into limestone caves. The resultant mold spreads throughout and not only gives the cheese its characteristic blue stripes but also the singular saltiness. On another note, cow’s milk, soft brie is inundated with Penicillin camemberti or candidum which diffuses over the outside of the cheese and thus becomes the bloomy rind — which I flat adore.

But, turns out that it is more just than the human induced mold. These same live molds drew, unknown to their captors, from new varieties of dioxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from even distantly related species, also known as horizontal gene transfers. So, a cheese organism will grab some DNA from foreign species and absorb it into its own genome. A heavenly exercise in evolution.

PARSNIPS AND TURNIPS AU GRATIN

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves + 1 stick of unsalted butter

1 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced
1-1 1/2 lb turnips, peeled and sliced
1-1 1/2 C Gruyère, grated

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Thyme

1+ C cream

Heat oven to 375 F

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin dish with a crushed garlic clove and then butter the dish well with the end of a stick of butter.

Layer the parsnips, turnips and cheese in a gratin dish, sprinkling every other layer with salt, pepper and thyme.

Carefully and slowly pour in cream.

Roast in the oven until the root vegetables are tender and easily pierced with a fork, some 45-50 minutes.

Pourboire: speaking of, why do Americans persist in wrapping soft cheese beforehand in cling wrap when waste is notably prevalent, and other cultures gently place cheese, just after slicing, in waxed or parchment paper? Oh, and serve at room temperature, especially with soft cheeses.

Fools make feasts and wise men eat them.
~Benjamin Franklin

Provence — a poetic, mystical southern land which extends from the French Alps on the upper edge, bordered by the bank of the lower Rhône River on the west, abutting the Italian border on the lower east and finally falling into the Mediterranean Sea to the south.

Where villages-perchés seem to cling to bluffs, where marchés quietly demand that you explore serendipitously, and where the sun kisses you throughout the year. The clarity of light, the luminosity is nearly unsurpassed…not to mention the sprawling vistas, microclimates, cobblestone streets, earth tones tinted in brilliant ochres, sparse yet gentle landscapes, lavender fields, from squat olive to narrow pine and cypress trees, an achingly azure shimmering sea with pristine shores and grottoes. There is a feeling of isolation there. An evocative feast for the senses.

Grande destinations include Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Carcassone, Gordes, Arles, La Camargue, Eze, Grasse, St. Tropez, Cassis, St. Raphael, La Luberon, Vence (to name a few). Remember, the papal capital was in Avignon and seven successive popes were housed in France, not Rome. Provence only joined France in 1860, so think Italy too.

Then again, there are some places like the Marseille ghetto with its infamous high rise slums and notorious drug related violence and gang wars. Best avoid (or repair) those.

POULET PROVENCAL et SALADE DE MESCLUN

6-8 bone in, skin on, chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
3 T olive oil
3 T unsalted butter

Herbes de Provence (see below)
1-2 lemons, quartered
10 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
12 Niçoise olives, depending upon size
4-6 medium shallots, peeled and halved
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine
1/4 C pastis

1-2 T fresh local honey

8 sprigs of thyme, for serving on each plate

Preheat oven to 400 F

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow bowl, and lightly dredge the chicken, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.

Heat and swirl the oil and butter in a large roasting pan on the stove, and place the floured chicken in the pan, skin side up. Season the chicken on the skin side with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemons, garlic cloves, olives, and shallots around the chicken, and then add the chicken stock, white wine and pastis to the roasting pan.

Put the loaded roaster in the oven, and cook for 25-30 minutes, and baste several times with pan juices. Continue roasting and basting for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, adding the honey scantily during the last 15 minutes in a slow drizzle — until the chicken is quite crisp and the meat shows yellow juices when pricked. Allow to rest for about 8 minutes before serving.

Serve on plates or on a platter with warmed pan juices spooned over the chicken, garnished with thyme sprigs. Present with a mesclun salad with blueberries, French feta cheese, hazelnuts (June 28, 2010) and champagne vinaigrette (see below again).

Herbes de Provence

No doubt you can find herbes de Provence with your spice monger or even at the market. But, you can always and ever easily prepare your own.

3 T dried thyme
2 T dried savory
1 T dried oregano
3 t dried rosemary
2 t dried marjoram
1 T dried lavender flowers

Combine herbs, and store in an airtight container at cool, room temperature.

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t local honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a glass bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, shallot, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens (ideally mesclun) you are serving.

As you may recall, mesclun is a varied amalgam of dainty salad leaves which originated in Provence.

There is nothing better than picking up sun warmed tomatoes and smelling them, scrutinizing their shiny skins for imperfections, thinking of ways to serve them.
~José Ramón Andrés Puerta(a/k/a José Andrés)

So little to be said about this sublime salad from the Island of Capri, found in the Tyrrhenian sea off the Sorrentine peninsula, on the south side of the gulf of Naples — a timeless tricolored culinary classic (sometimes).

INSALATA CAPRESE (CAPRESE SALAD)

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 lb fresh mozzarella (di bufala if possible), sliced 1/4″ thick
1/4 C packed fresh basil leaves

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

On a platter, alternately arrange fine quality tomato + mozzarella slices + basil leaves, overlapping them. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Pourboire: subtly shower with aged balsamic vinegar in lieu of extra virgin olive oil or better yet with the EVOO even though the two will not meld. Then again, add a few slices of fresh avocado or eggplant or try substituting arugula (with fresh oregano), kale, swiss chard, pesto, or watercress for your green.

TOMATO COULIS

1 lb red & yellow heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut
Sea salt, to taste

1-2 TB extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Raw sugar (turbinado)

Peel, seed, and slice the tomatoes into 2-3″ wedges, and drop in a food processor fitted with a steel blend or simply a blender. Process or blend on high speed with cut garlic until smooth. Pulse the food processor or turn the blender to low, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add salt, wine vinegar and raw sugar in dribbles as needed and pulse or blend low. Do not strain and refrigerate, if necessary, until ready to serve.

Commonly, tomato coulis is served underneath grilled, roasted or sautéed meats, fish or vegetables or even used as a dip for fritters, sandwiches or other finger fodder. Just a slightly subtle divergence from an earlier post.