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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Apulia (Puglia) forms the heel of the Italian peninsular boot. A tangled history of conquest and repression—Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Normans, Angevins, Turks, Austrians, Spaniards, French all held sway over time. To the chagrin of the oppressed, Puglia has been a perfect cauldron for supreme cuisine.

Orecchiette pasta of Puglia, those “little ears” that fondly show their makers’ thumbprints, date back to the 13th and 14th century domination of the region by relentlessly expansionist Angevins. Under the English monarch King Henry II, the Angevins were a landed aristocracy whose holdings covered much of the British isles, France, northern Spain and even parts of southern Italy. The Angevin were originally the Dijon born Plantagenet feudal nobility who ultimately dominated English royalty from 1154 to 1399, and also were the dynasty that ruled southern Italy during that era.

So, it is surmised that orcchiette has cross cultural origins. The pasta resembles French crosets likely migrating south from Provence and then morphing into those elaborately imprinted round lasagnes called corzetti. Crafted in nearby Liguria, these ornate pasta disks are served by upper crust families to display wealth and status. Orcchiette are strangely French and Italian, even English, by birth it seems.

ORCCHIETTE WITH TOMATOES & GOAT CHEESE

1 1/2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded
1/2 T honey
A splash of red wine
Sea salt
Bouquet garni of fresh parsley, thyme and basil sprigs

1/3 C chèvre or other mild goat’s cheese
3 T heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t balsamic vinegar
1/4 C basil leaves, cut into ribbons

1 lb orcchiette
Sea salt

Fresh basil leaves cut into ribbons (chiffonade)
Capers, rinsed and dried
Grated parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large and deep skillet or even a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and just lightly golden. Add the minced garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until fragrant but not burned, about 1 minute. Add the quartered tomatoes, shredded carrot, honey, red wine, salt, and bouquet garni and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down and the sauce is thick, about 30-40 minutes.

Remove the bouquet garni, and then put through a food mill or purée with an immersion blender. Whisk in the goat cheese and cream. Taste and adjust seasonings. Return to the skillet and keep warm at low heat.

Add finely chopped tomatoes to the 2 minced cloves of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and ribboned leaves of basil.

Then, bring a large, heavy pot of cold water to a boil, and salt generously. Add the pasta, and cook al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the pasta well, and then toss with both the warm tomato sauce and then finish with the uncooked, chopped tomatoes.

Serve with fresh ribboned basil, capers and equal parts of grated parmiggiano and pecorino.

Sandwiches, Anew

April 2, 2010

Too few people understand a really good sandwich.
~James Beard

Stated otherwise, Mom always reminded us that “a sandwich is always much better if someone else makes it for you.” Something about inspired, yet minimal, textural play, fine bread, and a good schmear with no shortcuts. A gift of sorts — a labor of love, knowledge, devotion and that pampered touch, I suppose. Mom always seemed to choose her aphorisms judiciously so they tended to ring true. They have born repetition more than I could count.

These may not be the precise lobster rolls she so coveted during trips to coastal Maine, but hopefully they assimilate distant cousins. Probably just some no frills freshly trapped boiled or grilled lobster, mayonnaise, simple seasonings and a toasted bun would even suffice.

Mom was an almost unparalleled tomato zealot and egg sandwiches were a house staple, so the BELT (bacon, eggs, lettuce & tomato) is simply a natural. The basics to create an incandescent BELT are: fresh eggs, ripe heirloom tomatoes, slab artisanal bacon preferably from heritage pork (The Berkshire, The Tamworth, The Duroc, et al.).

As for the last sandwich, tins of sardines and kipper snacks commonly adorned our pantry. Maybe they were period pieces—food stashed for that ominous Cold War nuclear armaggedon we ever awaited, cowering under our school desks. Now, beyond their gentle sea flavors, canned sardines are known for their nutritional omnipotence. One nutritionist dubbed sardines “health food in a can.” Health food advocates assert that they do nothing less than:

• Prevent heart attacks and strokes
• Build healthy cell walls
• Improve cholesterol levels and help to lower triglycerides
• Lower blood pressure
• Protect brain development and improve cognition and mood
• Improve memory problems associated with aging
• Alleviate inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis
• Provide essential support for joint and skin health
• Slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
• Maintain blood sugar balance, thus reducing risk of diabetes

Both impressive yet sadly ironic given that the Stinson plant in Maine, the last sardine cannery in the United States, is shutting down this month. For those who may wish to extend life expectancy or slightly slow the aging process, buy a case of these wunderkind. That even goes for those who think enhanced health care coverage is “armaggedon” too. More sardines and less orange skin dye may help you in the long run, Rep. Boehner. A nearly comical faux terror alert carrot facial hue. Is that cream applied head to toe or just above the collar? ~Sincerely, I am Curious Yellow

For the aioli recipes, chose from any of those in the Aïoli, Aïoli, Aïoli (and Rouille), 01.25.09 post.

LOBSTER ROLLS WITH TARRAGON MAYONNAISE

2-1 1/2 lb whole live lobsters
Sea salt

2 T finely chopped red onion
3/4 C tarragon mayonnaise
1 T dijon mustard
2 T coarsely chopped tarragon leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Hot dog buns (preferably top loading) or petit pain (french roll), sliced open
Extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter, softened

Prepare a large ice water bath. Immerse lobster in a large pot of boiling salted water, until they turn bright red, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, plunge the lobsters into the ice water for a few minutes, then drain.

Twist off the lobster tails and claws and remove the meat. Cut the lobster meat into 1/2″ pieces and pat dry, then transfer to a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour.

Gently combine lobster and next seven ingredients in a large bowl.

Split the rolls and brush with olive oil or butter. Grill, open side down, until golden, around 40 seconds. Fill each roll with some of the lobster salad and serve immediately.

Tarragon mayonnaise:
2 large fresh egg yolks, room temperature
1 T dijon mustard
1 T fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1/2 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

2/3 C canola or grapeseed oil
1 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Separate egg whites from yolks. With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, tarragon, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick and creamy enough to hold its shape.

Pourboire:  consider using marscapone and heavy whipping cream in lieu of tarragon mayonnaise…a difficult choice, but such is the kitchen.

BELT (BACON, EGG, LETTUCE & TOMATO)

4 thick slices good quality slab bacon, sliced

2 thick slices of ciabatta or other rustic white bread, toasted
1-2 T aioli
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 fresh heirloom tomato slices
2 butter lettuce leaves

1 T unsalted butter
2 large eggs

In a heavy skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat, turning, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Spread aioli on both slices of bread. Season with salt and pepper on the top piece.

In a heavy, nonstick skillet, melt the butter. Add the eggs and fry over moderate heat, turning once, until slightly crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes. The yolk should still be runny. Assemble the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, bacon, then eggs, and close with second bread slice. Serve promptly.

SARDINE ‘WICH

2 tins boneless, skinless sardines packed in olive oil
3 T aioli
1/4 C cornichons, drained and finely chopped
2 T capers, rinsed and drained

Ciabatta, sliced and toasted or grilled
Aioli
1 avocado, seeded, peeled and sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 C fresh arugula
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove sardines from tin, draining oil. Transfer to a small bowl, and combine with aioli, cornichons, and capers.

Lay out ciabatta slices and lightly paint each with aioli. Then top with sardine mixture, avocado, tomato, arugula, and egg. Salt and pepper to taste, and then finish each with an aioli painted slice of bread.

A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins.
~Laurie Colwin

A curious word for a dish: flognarde. Sounds like some form of physiological aberration or flagelum, even a particular variety of birch rod. But, I do like the way it rolls off the tongue. The “gn” like oignon, agneau or bagnoire followed by the letter “r” which is arguably one of the more difficult consonants to properly articulate in the French tongue.

Last weekend I learned that heirlooms will be making their seasonal opening act at the local farmers’ market on Saturday. That not only brought a smile, but it signaled the beginning of a long stretch of culinary ecstasy and sounded a change in daily eating habits. While we do lack an ocean or mountains—something that becomes unnerving at times—we do have a tomato season which is worthy of worship.

Handed down for generations, Cherokee Purples, Green Zebras, Brandywines et. al.,…these tomatoes are heirloom plants, which are open pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivars. Heirloom varieties have been commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but were eschewed by modern agribusiness. The relatively recent revival of these jewels at city markets has been nothing less than a blessing. They possess a rich tapestry of colors, coupled with a diversity and depth of flavors that is tough to match in the food world.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO FLOGNARDE

2 lbs ripe multihued heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded, peeled and quartered
3 large organic, free range eggs
2 large organic, free range egg yolks
1/3 C heavy whipping cream
1/3 C gruyère, grated
1/3 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 t fresh rosemary, stemmed and finely chopped
1 t fresh thyme, stemmed and finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F

Drain the tomatoes on paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Make sure they are fully free of juices before proceeding. In a bowl, combine the eggs, egg yolks, cream, and half of the cheeses and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper and whisk together. Layer the tomatoes in a baking dish, then cover with the batter. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and herbs.

Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.