In a house with a kitchen dominated by two women, one Sicilian (my mother), the other Neapolitan (my aunt), it was rare that my father took to the stove. Born around Naples and coming to the States when he was around 10 years old, he only cooked twice that I remember. And only once did he share a recipe with me. (I can’t remember why but no one else was at home.) It was a recipe so simple that he must have leaned it as a child back in his home town, Cappacio, in the province of Salerno.
Perhaps the most classic pasta from Puglia, orecchiette, Italian for “little ears,” provide the perfect shape for one of the region’s most popular dishes, Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage. Italian food authority Michelle Scicolone explains why in her Williams Sonoma cookbook, Essentials of Italian: “As you toss, both ingredients [broccoli rabe and sausage] become trapped in the hollows of the ear-shaped pasta, making every bite wonderfully flavorful.”
Today’s post is pretty much a repeat of one I did four years ago. It wasn’t until we sat down to supper that my husband asked if we hadn’t had this dish before. Well, I checked after dinner and, sure enough, he was right. There was, however, one major difference. The first time I prepared the dish, I used chicken thighs; last night, I used a whole chicken cut into 10 pieces as suggested by the recipe.
When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, we really didn’t dine out that much. My family enjoyed such good food at home that the only reason for going to a restaurant was to give my mother and aunt a break from cooking. More often than not, the restaurants we chose were Italian. In fact, two of our favorites are still going strong in Brooklyn: Michael’s on Avenue R and Gargiulo’s in Coney Island. A third favorite, Patsy’s, continues to be popular in Manhattan. All three served then, as they still do, typical Neapolitan dishes that were similar to those we enjoyed at home but, at least in my aunt’s opinion, never quite as good.
In the early 50s, however, southern-Italian restaurants were being challenged by northern-Italian competitors. These new style establishments strove to distinguish themselves and, with some condescension, frowned on the heavy use of garlic, olive oil, peperoncino, and even dried pasta like spaghetti. Butter took the place of olive oil; cream sauces replaced tomato based ones; herbs like rosemary and thyme and spices like saffron and nutmeg lent more nuance than did basil or oregano. Southern dried pasta was replaced either by the fresh egg variety or by risottos, often finished with flair at tableside.
Last week when I wrote about chicken cacciatore, I invited my readers to submit their favorite recipe for the dish. Well, fellow blogger and cookbook author, Diane Darrow, who publishes “Another Year in Recipes,” an extremely informative and culinarily literate food blog, submitted her recipe.
It was for a Campanian version of the dish, which intrigued me for two reasons. First, it did not require browning the chicken, thus eliminating the dreaded cleanup associated with this process. Second, before any tomato is added, the chicken is infused with the flavors of a battuto, a mince of carrots, onion, and celery.
So last night I decided to make the recipe exactly as it was presented on Diane’s blog. I’m happy to report that it turned out perfectly, with succulent chicken napped in aromatic and savory sauce.
Since her recipe is richly illustrated, I chose to provide a link to it below and use only one photo of my finished dish. I strongly recommend trying this recipe as well as checking out Diane’s blog. Here is the link: Campanian Chicken alla Cacciatore.
Wine Pairing: Greco di Tufo, Sauvignon Blanc
One of my go-to books for Neapolitan cooking is Naples at Tableby New York based food maven, Arthur Schwartz. The book is a veritable tome of authentic recipes gathered by the author during his travels in Campania, a region in southern Italy, the capital of which is Naples.
The “Introduction” provides a wealth of background information on the history and culture of the region and the prefaces to each of the book’s sections, as well as the many sidebars, are chockablock with culinary advice and guidance. Arthur’s encounters with home cooks personalize many of the recipes, like the one I chose for dinner last night: Pollo al Limone di Agata Lima (Agata Lima’s Lemon Chicken).
This dish does require some babysitting to ensure that the chicken pieces do not stick to the pan, but with good company in the kitchen and a glass of wine, the time passes quickly. I should also point out that since the recipe does not call for any browning of the chicken and all the cooking is done over a low flame, the chicken takes on only a pale-gold color. Nevertheless, the dish’s intense lemon and herb flavors compensate for any chromatic deficiency. In fact, the finished dish reminded me of many chicken or rabbit offerings on Italian trattoria menus labeled “in bianco.”
As you will see from my italicized parenthetical comments, I made very few departures from the original recipe. I substituted well-trimmed, skin-on, bone-in thighs for the cut up chicken because we prefer dark meat. I also added the zest of one of the lemons to intensify the citrus flavor.
I served the dish with some string beans which I had on hand, but I think a side of rosemary and garlic oven roasted potatoes would have been a welcome addition.
Pollo al Limone di Agata Lima
From Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz
Serves 4 (at least)
1 3½- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces (I opted for 10 well trimmed bone-in skin-on thighs.)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed
12 or more large sage leaves
2 or 3 6-inch sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped off the stem
½ cup dry white wine
2/3 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (I added the zest of one lemon.)
1 rounded tablespoon finely cut flat-leaf parsley
1. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
2. Arrange the chicken (skin-side down) in a skillet or sauté pan that can hold it all in 1 layer – a 10- to 12-inch pan. The chicken may crowd the pan. Tuck in the garlic, the sage, and the rosemary. Do not add any oil or fat. (I cheated here and lightly misted my pan with some olive oil.)
3. Set over low heat and continually shake the pan or jiggle the pieces of chicken so they don’t stick to the pan. After a few minutes, the chicken’s fat and juices will start running, and this will become less of a problem.
(Note: This first stage of cooking took approximately 10 minutes, which is the amount of time I waited between each of the subsequent turns of the meat.)
4. Turn the chicken pieces. Continue to cook over low heat, turning the chicken frequently. It will not brown, but will take on color. If the chicken juices accumulate in the pan, more than just skimming the bottom of the pan (because the chicken is particularly moist), increase the heat slightly.
5. After about 15 minutes, when the chicken has taken on some color, add ½ the white wine. When the first addition of wine has nearly evaporated, in about 10 minutes, add the remaining wine. There should never be more than a skimming of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Keep turning the chicken frequently.
6. When the second additional of wine has evaporated, add ½ the lemon juice (and, if using, the lemon zest). When the first addition of lemon juice has reduced, add the remaining juice. Altogether, the chicken will cook about 50 minutes. In the end there should be very little sauce – just a few spoons of reduced juices and fat.
7. Arrange the chicken on a platter. Scrape whatever is left in the pan – herbs, garlic juices – into a strainer. With a spoon or spatula, Press the juices out of the solids and let them drip over the chicken.
8. Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley. (As you can see from my photos, I forgot the parsley.)
Wine Pairing: Frascati, Fiano di Avellino
Our dinner last night was based on a recipe from The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz. He’s an authority on the cooking of this region and writes with an informed passion for it that makes one, or at least me, want to rush to the market, get the ingredients for a particular recipe, and come home and cook.
The recipe that caught my eye yesterday was for Salt Seared Swordfish with Garlic and Mint. A minimum of ingredients are combined to create an unctuous raw sauce of olive oil, garlic, and dried mint, which is used to dress swordfish steaks that are quickly seared over a layer of coarse sea salt in a blazing hot skillet.
This is not a recipe for those averse to indulging in garlic or salt but, although used liberally, their flavors along with those of fine extra-virgin olive oil and dried mint seem to heighten the already rich taste of the swordfish.
Make this dish on a weekday night, and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to a seaside trattoria in Sicily.
Salt Seared Swordfish with Garlic and Mint Adapted from The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz
1 tablespoon dried mint (You may need more than a tablespoon of dried leaves to make a tablespoon of sieved.)
6 to 8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped (I used a microplane grater for the garlic.)
At least 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (Use the finest you have for the most flavor.)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (I added a little more than a tablespoon.)
2 tablespoons large-crystal sea salt (You may need more depending on the size of your skillet.)
2 (1/2-inch thick) swordfish steaks, skin removed (My steaks were about an inch thick. I also chose to leave the skins on. I think doing so makes it easier to turn the fish.)
With your fingertips, push the mint through a fine sieve onto a large platter. (To end up with 1 tablespoon of dried mint powder, I used a little more than the 1 tablespoon of dried mint leaves.)
Add the garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Blend with a fork. (Using a microplane for the garlic makes it easier to blend the garlic into the sauce.)
Sprinkle the bottom of a heavy 9- to 10-inch skillet (black cast iron works best) evenly with salt. Place over high heat. When the pan is so hot that you can’t leave your palm 3 inches over it for more than 5 seconds, place the swordfish on top of the salt and cook for 3 minutes. (I’m not an expert on non-stick cookware, but since you’ll be getting the pan very hot, a non-stick skillet may not withstand such a high temperature.)
Turn the fish and cook another 2 to 3 minutes for medium-well, without a trace of pink in the center. (For my 1-inch thick steaks, I went for a full 3 minutes on each side.)
Lift the fish from the pan with tongs or a fork and brush off any large pieces of salt clinging to it. (Since we really like salt, I left a few crystals on our steaks.)
Place the fish on the platter and turn it to coat with the raw sauce, finally spooning some of the sauce on top.
Wine Pairing: Grillo, Falanghina, Sauvignon Blanc