Spaghetti Puttanesca

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It’s always a pleasure to find serious, well-researched, and eloquently written cookbooks that, like those of Elizabeth David and Alice Waters, promote and celebrate seasonal cooking. Recently, I came upon such a cookbook: The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen, authored by Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca.

Looking through the book’s summer section, I found a recipe for one of my favorite pastas: spaghetti alla puttanesca (spaghetti in the style of the prostitute). Although I’ve made this dish many times before, I was intrigued by the recipe’s instruction to make a fine mince of two of its main ingredients: the capers and half of the olives. I discovered that this simple step shifted the focus of the dish from the tomatoes and emphasized its olive and caper flavors, which was in line with the authors’ belief that true puttanesca is “not so much a tomato sauce with olives as an olive sauce with tomatoes.”

I adapted the book’s recipe to our tastes and used considerably more anchovies and capers than called for and opted for the stronger flavor of oil-cured black olives. Unable to find good tomatoes, I also substituted the canned San Marzano variety.

I must admit that this version of puttanesca was the best I’ve had and it made the perfect dish for a hot summer night’s  dinner on the terrace.

Spaghetti Puttanesca (Adapted from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen by Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca)

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Ingredients
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
½ cup oil-cured Moroccan-style black olives
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
2 small dried diavolino pepperoncini
8 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 28-ounce can of imported San Marzano tomatoes, drained and crushed
1 pound spaghetti
Salt

Directions
Mince the capers together with half of the olives.

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Minced capers and olives

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic, and peperoncino and sauté until the garlic just begins to turn a light gold. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Remove the garlic and the peperoncino.

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Sautéed garlic and peperoncino

Add the anchovies and sauté, stirring until they dissolve.

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Dissolved anchovies

Add the minced capers and olives, followed by the tomatoes and whole olives.

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Adding the minced capers and olives
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Adding the tomatoes and whole olives

Reduce the heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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The finished sauce

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in well-salted boiling water following package directions for al dente.

About a minute before the pasta is finished cooking, using tongs transfer the pasta to the skillet and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce.

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Finishing the pasta in the sauce

Serve on heated plates.

I do not recommend serving cheese with this dish.

Wine Pairing: Frascati, Vermentino, Sauvignon Blanc

 

 

 

Chicken Cacciatore, Yet Again

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One of the cookbooks I remember from my youth was chef-restaurateur Romeo Salta’s The Pleasures of Italian Cooking, which was published in the early ‘60s. In its time, Salta’s New York City tony restaurant was a haven for celebrities and was well reviewed by the likes of Mimi Sheraton and Gael Greene. In fact, Sheraton is quoted in Salta’s NY Times obituary as saying: “New York has never had an Italian restaurant as good as Romeo Salta was in its heyday.”

The only recipe I vaguely recall from Salta’s book was one for a chicken cacciatore that, compared to my Neapolitan aunt’s, was far more involved and more heavily sauced.

About ten years ago, I came across another recipe for this classic dish in Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Italianthat evoked a recollection of Salta’s. Since that time, I’ve cooked it often, tweaking it and, in so doing, have probably made the dish less authentic and more Italian-American. Nevertheless, it’s one of my favorites and so I decided to share it here with my readers, even though I’ve already posted at least two others for this dish.

I’ve included a link here to the original  De Laurentiis recipe.

Ingredients

Ingredients--missing tomatoes
Ingredients–missing tomatoes

8-9 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (approximately 3 pounds) well trimmed of excess fat and skin
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup all purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, cut into 1.5- to 2-inch chunks
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¾ cup dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano whole tomatoes with juice, crushed
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 to 4 tablespoons non-pareil capers, rinsed and drained
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1.5 cups frozen peas, thawed
1.5 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
¼ cup coarsely torn fresh basil

Directions

1. Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper.
2. Dredge the chicken thighs in the flour to coat lightly, shaking off any excess.

Floured chicken
Floured chicken

3. In a large heavy sauté pan, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and sauté until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, sauté it in 2 batches.

Browned chicken
Browned chicken

4. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. You may also want to remove any excess fat from the pan.
5. Add the bell peppers and onion to the same pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
6. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant about 1 minute, being careful not to burn it.

Sautéed Peppers, Onions, and Garlic
Sautéed peppers, onions, and garlic

7. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.
8. Add the broth and simmer for another 2 minutes.

After wine and broth reduction
After wine and broth reduction

9. Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth, capers and oregano. Return the chicken pieces to the pan, along with any juices that may have accumulated in the dish, and turn them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer.

Chicken returned to the pan
Chicken returned to the pan

10. Continue simmering uncovered over medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
11. Add the peas and the mushrooms.

Adding peas and mushrooms
Adding peas and mushrooms

12. Cook for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Finished cooking
Finished cooking

13. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter. If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Spoon off any excess fat from the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the basil and serve.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Sauvignon Blanc

Chicken Scarpariello

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A request from my better half for chicken scarpariello, which by the way I had never had, led me to search my cookbooks for a recipe. None of them, however, contained one that met his expectations. Consequently, I expanded my (now our) search to the Internet, where we finally found a recipe by Anne Burrell on the Food Network website that came close to meeting all the requirements.

This Italian-American dish appears to have originated in New York City. Its name, scarpariello, or shoemaker style, has been attributed to its being “cobbled” together from several ingredients that play a key role in it: chicken, sausage, and cherry peppers.

Although a good number of versions call for cutting up the chicken into small pieces to better absorb the sauce, I chose to use whole thighs, which allow for a slightly longer cooking time to reduce the sauce without drying out the chicken. For the same reason, I also cut my sausages and peppers slightly larger than called for by the original recipe. Finally, rather than using hot cherry peppers, I opted for peppers that were labeled “hot & sweet” in order to reduce the heat and keep older digestive systems happy.

Chicken Scarpariello (Adapted from Anne Burrell on the Food Network Website)

Ingredients

Ingredients
Ingredients

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound fennel sausage, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
3-pounds skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cup hot and sweet cherry peppers halved or quartered depending on size
1/2 cup pepper juice, from the jar
1 cup chicken stock, plus a little more if needed
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions

Coat a large, wide, heavy-bottomed pan with olive oil and bring the pan to a medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown well.

Browning sausage
Browning sausage

Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Trim any excess skin and fat from the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper and add to the pan that the sausage was browned in. Brown the chicken well.

Browning chicken
Browning chicken

Once the chicken is brown on all sides, remove it from the pan and reserve.

Drain the oil from the pan and return it to the heat. Coat the pan lightly with new olive oil, add the onions, and season with salt. Cook the onions over medium heat until they are translucent and very aromatic, 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Browning onions and garlic
Browning onions

Add the wine to the pan and reduce it by half. While the wine is reducing, scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan.

Reducing the wine and deglazing
Reducing the wine and deglazing

Return the sausage and chicken, along with any accumulated juices, to the pan and add the cherry peppers, cherry-pepper juice, chicken stock, and oregano.

The chicken and sausage
The chicken and sausage
Adding the peppers, pepper juice, stock and oregano
Adding the peppers, pepper juice, stock and oregano

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer, partially covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for 5 to 10 more minutes; add more chicken stock if the sauce has reduced too much.

The finished dish
The finished dish

Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. The finished dish should be slightly soupy, spicy, and delicious.

Wine Pairing: Chardonnay, Riesling