Back in graduate school, when my friends and I began to set up our new apartments and started to entertain and have one another over to dinner, one friend in particular stood out from the rest. She had a certain sense of style. I used to describe her as being “VSFA,” or as the store’s advertising campaign would add “Very Saks Fifth Avenue.”
As a graduate student in the mid-seventies, I was living in a fifth-floor walk-up studio on New York City’s, not-yet-gentrified, Upper West Side. The apartment was on the top floor of a converted brownstone and consequently had a tiny kitchen, my very first, maybe 6-feet long by 3-feet wide. Yet it was here that I began to take a serious interest in cooking.
Perhaps many of you who are sheltering in place during this pandemic are like me and are often faced with produce about to go bad or with other products nearing their use-by dates. I can only attribute this situation to my buying more food items than necessary for fear that when I need something, it won’t be available.
When it comes to cooking, Tuscany may be famous for its Florentine beefsteak, crostini with chicken-liver spread, thick ribolitta soup, and even its panzanella bread salad, not to mention extra-virgin olive oil and truffles. I believe few, however, would associate the area with fried chicken. Indeed, even after numerous trips to this region and having enjoyed many meals there, I never came across it. In fact, I only discovered it recently while preparing a recipe for a chicken and onion stew from Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, which I wrote about here a few weeks ago.
When I saw this chicken recipe on Diane Darrow’s Another Year in Recipes blog last week, I knew I had to make it. Diane is among the most intelligent and eloquent food writers I know. Along with her wine-maven husband Tom Maresca, she’s authored two cookbooks on Italian cooking and can always be relied on for expert advice on the subject of authentic Italian cuisine.
Diane found the recipe in Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, published in 1978 and has been writing a series of three posts from it that cover three standard courses of an Italian meal (primo, secondo, dolce). Her description of the book, along with the posted recipes, motivated me to purchase a used copy of it, which I’ve found to be an unsung gem, both instructive and engaging to read.
Once again, my post results from a request from my husband for a recipe he found in his email. It’s one of those increasingly popular sheet-pan dinners from The New York Times that have become a go-to for us while under quarantine.
I don’t know how you are coping with this pandemic, but given our ages, we’re sheltering in place, trying to stay calm and carry on. To this end, preparing comfort food has helped a lot.
A case in point. Last night, after a hectic day trying to set up a work-from-home connection, we were both not at our best. So with what we had on hand, I decided to make something easy and comforting: an improvised Chicken Parmigiana.
As some of my readers here may know, I’m a fan of Alison Roman of the New York Times. Her unaffected, simple approach to food so often leads to some of the tastiest dishes I’ve made. In fact, one of my most popular posts was based on her recipe for Vinegar Chicken with Crushed Olive Dressing. A modicum of ingredients and minimal preparation yielded an extremely flavorful and vividly colorful weeknight supper.
Well recently I came upon another of Ms. Roman’s recipes on the New York Times “Cooking” website: “Wine Braised Chicken with Artichoke Hearts.” What intrigued me most about it was her use of canned artichoke hearts. Yes, canned.
On Sunday, I attended a lecture sponsored by our local Italian cultural organization that was titled “Italy’s Third Golden Age.” After citing the Roman Empire and the Renaissance as the first two of these eras, the speaker turned to the post World-War-Two era as the beginning of the third. In support of her thesis, she cited Italy’s accomplishments in the cinema, automotive engineering, fashion, and food.
Although her talk was entertaining and illustrated with abundant slides of cinematic, fashion, automotive, and culinary icons, it seemed to focus more on the popular theme of la dolce vita than on any serious cultural achievements equal to those of the first two golden ages. I’m sure the Italian Trade Commission would have been quite content both with the turnout and the audience reaction.
I, on the other hand, was disappointed by some of her omissions from the roster of achievers, one of which led me to prepare the subject of today’s post. That oversight occurred in the speaker’s brief tribute to Italy’s culinary accomplishments, which began with Chef Boyardee and concluded with Lidia Bastianich.
The subject of today’s post was inspired by Sam Sifton’s weekly New York Times “Cooking” newsletter for January 22, which proposed a “no recipe recipe” for roasted miso chicken with butternut squash and red onions. Indeed, ever since Sifton introduced these free-style recipes last year, I’ve been a fan and was more than pleased last night with the results from his latest.