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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Flatfish & Mussel Ceviche

August 24, 2009

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
~William Shakespeare, (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3)

A friend just returned from Peru where she visited the mystical pre-Columbian Inca site of Machu Picchu. Our mummy bag accompanied and warmed her at night on her life journey. Machu Picchu by osmosis. Her homecoming was a shameful reminder that, to date, only one ceviche recipe appears on the site (see Ceviche: Debated Ancestry 03.27.09). Time to remedy that oversight.

FLATFISH & MUSSEL CEVICHE

1 lb white skinless fish fillets, such as flounder or sole
1 lb fresh shelled mussels, cleaned and rinsed
1 C fresh lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 t salt
1 plump fresh garlic clove, peeled and finely diced
2 fresh serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 T chopped parsley
1 T chopped cilantro
1/4 C yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1/4 C red onion, peeled and finely diced

2 C corn kernels
1 lb sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ slices, then half disks
1-2 avocadoes, halved, peeled and sliced

Chill bowls in the freezer.

Cut the fish fillets horizontally into 2″ x 1/4″ slices. Soak the fish and mussels in lime juice for at least 2 hours. Add the salt, garlic, and chili and refrigerate for another hour before serving.

Roast the sweet potatoes in the skin until a fork pierces the meat easily, about 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. Cool, then peel, and cut into 1/4″ slices, then half disks

Just before serving, fold in the parsley, cilantro, and onion and slice the avocadoes.

Divide and mound the ceviche in the center of each bowl. Surround with fanned sweet potato and avocadoes slices topped by corn. Serve immediately.

Thsufferin Thuccotath! You didn’t have to overdo it!
~Sylvester the Cat (Sandy Claws, 1954)

Lima beans were named for the capital of Peru, where this legume has been grown for some 7,500 years. Cultivation spread northward through the migration of indigenous tribes— probably through Central America and Mexico into the American Southwest, then eastward. Spanish explorers likely introduced dried beans to Europe, and the Portuguese took them to Africa.

These little beans are nutritional darlings, packing protein, fiber, iron, manganese, folate, thiamin, potassium coupled with a modest calorie count, little fat and no cholesterol.

A basic dish of corn and lima beans, Succotash is a word derived from the Narragansett word msíckquatash, roughly meaning “stew with corn” or “boiled corn kernels.” The Narragansett are a centuries old Native American tribe of the Algonquian language group who controlled the area west of Narragansett Bay in present day Rhode Island, and also portions of Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts.

In the Great Swamp Massacre (1675) during King Philip’s War, a band of marauding Puritans from Plymouth and Connecticut massacred a group of Narragansett (mostly women, children, and elderly men) living at an Indian winter camp. Following the massacre, many of the remaining Narragansett retreated deep into the forest and swamp lands in the area of what is now southern Rhode Island. Those who refused to be subjected to white colonial authority fled elsewhere or were hunted down and summarily executed. Some Narragansett were even auctioned into slavery to the Caribbean, while others escaped to upstate New York and Wisconsin.

Another proud native peoples absorbed, decimated, and nearly eradicated by white war, disease and expansion. Years later, these practices were termed Manifest Destiny. What a lofty notion— to the contrary, it was a rapacious marketing scheme of the darkest origins with euphemistic icing. Seems more synonymous with those ever divinely ordained concepts called genocide, ethnic cleansing or holy war.

SUCCOTASH WITH BACON AND TOMATOES

5 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
2 C fresh corn kernels
3 C fresh or frozen baby lima beans
3/4 C chicken broth
2 t fresh tarragon, chopped
2 C fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For fresh beans: place limas in just enough salted water to prevent sticking and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until almost tender. Check occasionally and add more water as needed.

For frozen: simply thaw.

Cook bacon in large heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons fat from skillet. Return skillet to medium heat. Add shallots and sauté 3 minutes. Stir in corn, lima beans, stock and fresh tarragon. Cook uncovered until lima beans are tender and most of stock evaporates, stirring often, about 5-6 minutes for fresh and 12-14 minutes for frozen.

Add bacon and tomatoes. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

SUCCOTASH WITH POBLANO AND CREAM

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 C fresh or frozen (thawed) baby lima beans
2 T unsalted butter
Grating of nutmeg
1/4 C heavy whipping cream

2 C fresh corn kernels

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium high and sauté the onion, garlic and pepper until tender, about 5 minutes. Add lima beans, butter, nutmeg and cream, reduce heat and simmer and stir occasionally until tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the corn kernels to the pan and cook another 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I could have a roomful of awards and it wouldn’t mean beans.
~Bobby Darin

Sometimes called turtle beans, black beans (Phaselous vulgaris) derived from a common legume ancestor that originated in Peru. From there, these hard, shiny, ovoid beans were spread throughout South and Central America by migrating indigeneous peoples. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish explorers, returning from New World voyages, introduced these beans to Europe. They were subsequently strewn throughout Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders and are now savory staples in cuisines throughout the world.

Like other legumes, black beans abound in dietary fiber and are rich in antioxidant compounds. They are also a fine source of protein, as well as calcium, iron, folic acid and potassium.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

16 ozs black beans, washed and picked over for stones. debris and damaged beans
2 qts water

2 T canola oil
1 T bacon drippings or duck fat
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 t lightly toasted cumin seeds
2 t chipotle chili powder

Sea salt, to taste
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, seeded and finely chopped

Lime juice, from 1 lime

6 green onions, chopped
Plain yogurt or queso fresca
1/2 C chopped cilantro

Soak the beans in the water overnight. Then rinse well with clean water. Grind cumin seeds in a spice grinder or coffee grinder assigned that kitchen function.

Heat the oil and bacon drippings or duck fat over medium high heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, until hot and then add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about three minutes, and add the garlic, cumin and chipotle powder. Continue cooking, until fragrant, about one minute, then add the beans and soaking water. The beans should be covered by about two inches of water. Add more water as needed, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and skim off any foam that rises. Cover and simmer one hour.

Add the salt and chipotles. Continue to simmer another hour or so, until the beans are soft, and the broth is thick and fragrant.

Scoop out two cups of whole cooked beans with a straining spoon, then partially purée the remaining mixture using an immersion blender, or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Return the purée and whole cooked beans to the pot or Dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with green onion, yogurt or queso fresco, and cilantro. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Pourboire: To shorten the prep time, skip the overnight soak and boil the beans for two minutes. Remove the pan off the heat, cover and allow to stand for two hours.

Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, are all very good words for the lips…
~Charles Dickens

An ultimate comfort food.

Potatoes are starchy, tuberous herbaceous perennials from the Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family. Peru has been recognized as the birthplace of this highly nutritious culinary staple which has been cultivated for as many as 10,000 years. The potato was introduced to Europe in the 16th century and spread by sailors throughout the world’s ports, eventually finding its place in fields across the continents.

The English “potato” derives from the Spanish “patata.”

Smashed potatoes, a rustic version of mashed potatoes, are ample proof that lumps are not evil—rather they impart an intensely rich potato flavor. This does not imply that the satiny, silky version of mashed potatoes are in any way inferior, just different. It just presents a sweet dilemna and depends on the evening’s mood whether they are mashed buttery smooth or left with a luscious, lumpy texture. Leaving skins on (at least in part) gives the potatoes a deep earthiness, and if you love that soil soul shun the peeler and leave them fully clothed.

SMASHED POTATOES WITH TRUFFLE OIL

3 lbs russet or yukon gold potatoes, halfway peeled and quartered

2 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground pepper
1 t cayenne pepper
2 t white pepper
1 t dried thyme, crumbled by fingers
3/4 C heavy cream
1 stick+ (8 T) butter, room temperature
1/2 C milk

Truffle oil

Warm cream and milk either in microwave or in a pan on the stove.

Put potatoes into a pot with liberally salted cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat some and gently boil about 15-20 minutes, or until tender—a fork should easily pierce the kids. Undercooked potatoes do not mash properly. Drain water from potatoes in a colander and return to still warm pot. The additional time in the pot dries them a bit so they absorb the fats better.

In stages (not all at once) add cream, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and thyme. Use a potato masher to smash the potatoes, and then a strong spoon or dough hook to beat further, adding milk to achieve a coarse consistency, being careful to leave in some lumps. Whether coarsely smashed or mashed smooth, do not overzealously beat the potatoes or they will morph into glue or library paste. Add a few drops of truffle oil and continue to beat some. Salt and pepper to taste…I prefer them somewhat peppery. Tasting throughout the process is crucial to attaining the preferred flavors and textures.