Saturday, March 12, 2005

Pollo alla Scarpariello

Did you ever get the impression that I like chicken? Well, it just so happens I do. It's versatile, inexpensive (by comparison) and if you get the right brand of chicken, it can be, well, gastronomically orgasmic. (I hope that is not offensive to anyone - if it is, tell me and I will change that term.) When buying chicken, try to get 'air-chilled' chicken, not water chilled. And there's only one producer of air-chilled pollo in the U.S.A - MBA Poultry - Smart Chicken. In New England, you can find it at the Big Y stores. Water chilled chicken is the stuff you buy, and when you open the package all the reddish slime water pours out. The chicken should be thoroughly rinsed at best before cooking. Don't ask me how they do it, but Smart Chicken cooks in half the time, and is actually jucier. Enough!! On to the recipe.

Scarpariello means "shoemaker-style", and it is thought that the name might have originated as the result of chicken bones protruding from your mouth as you eat them much like a shoemaker might hold tacks in his mouth as he works.

Another southern Italian origin to the name comes about from the fact that even the family of a poor shoemaker in southern Italy could afford to make this dish, while another version is that all of the ingredients in this dish can be easily "cobbled" together. Whatever the source of it's name might be, the dish is delicious. Some versions of this dish add sausages and vinegar in place of the lemon. All of the recipes I have come across use cut up chicken pieces. (*)

Cut the chicken breast into 2 or three pieces to ensure all of the chicken pieces cook evenly. You can remove the skin as well if you prefer. I like to serve simple side dishes to accompany this dish such as mashed potatoes or polenta, linguini pasta, and a nice crisp green vegetable.

1 (2 1/2 to 3 Pound) Chicken Cut Into Pieces
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
Salt & Pepper
1 tsp Oregano
4 TBS Olive Oil
3 Cloves Garlic, Peeled & Sliced
1/2 Cup Chopped Onions
1 Sprig Fresh Rosemary
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup White Wine
Juice From 1 Lemon
3 TBS Unsalted, Softened Butter
1 TBS Flour
1/4 Cup Chopped, Fresh Parsley

Preheat the oven to 400F. Mix together the flour and oregano, and season with salt and pepper. Rinse and dry the chicken pieces, and then dredge them lightly in the seaoned flour mixture. In a heavy, ovenproof skillet, large enough to hold all of the chicken pieces, heat the olive oil, and then brown the chicken well on all sides over medium heat. Be careful not to burn the oil by using too much heat. Once all of the pieces are well browned, remove them to a plate.

Pour out the left over oil in the pan, leaving just a tablespoon or two with the browned bits at the bottom. Add the onion and cook until soft, and then add the garic. As soon as the garlic begins to sizzle, add the wine, and stir the browned bits at the bottom while you reduce the wine by half over medium high heat.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Break up the rosemary into pieces, and add it to the sauce. Return the chicken pieces to the skillet, and spoon the sauce over top. Bake the chicken until done, about 20 minutes

Remove the chicken to a warmed platter, and bring the remaining sauce to a boil. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Mix the tablespoon of flour with 1 tablespoon of softened butter. Add the remaining butter to the sauce in the skillet, and mix well.

Remove the rosemary pieces from the sauce. If the sauce is thin, stir in a little of the flour and butter mixture, wisking continuously to prevent lumps. Once the sauce has thickened, add the chopped parsley, and pour the sauce over the chicken on the platter. Serve immediately.

(*) Y'know, you could avoid the bone-in chicken, and use boneless/skinless chicken breasts; or, boneless/skinless thighs. Either way, it's exquisite. Mangia, mangia!! AND, be sure to have some Chianti or Bordolino on hand. IF, and it's real iffy, you can find or order a bottle of white chianti, you will be in for a treat beyond belief. REAL garlic bread is a must here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Polish Kielbasa

This recipe is an Easter, Christmas, and New Year's treat that we've made for a lot of years. It's great served with lots of HOT horseradish and brown mustard.

5 lbs, lean boneless pork shoulder or butt
3 tsp. salt
6 cloves garlic, crushed and very finely chopped
2 TBS. mustard seed
2 TBS Crushed Peppercorns
1 TBS ground Marjoram
1 TBS flaked marjoram
1 Cup of crushed ice
3-4 feet of well-rinsed hog casings- inside and outside

Cut the meat into small chunks (1/2” to ¾”) removing all gristle, bone, skin and any silver membrane. It will be much easier to trim if the pork is partially frozen. Add seasonings and mix well; refrigerate overnight. Next day, grind the meat mixed with the seasonings into the casings. Use a 5/16" or 1/4" cutting blade. Smoke in your outside smokerin apple wood chips following the manufacturer’s directions, or you can place the sausage in a casserole, cover it with water. Bake at 350 degrees F. until water is absorbed, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If you choose not to smoke the sausage, just grind into casings, coil, vacuum seal, and freeze until ready to cook.

When making sausage by hand, tie a knot about 3 inches from one end of a cleaned and well rinsed – outside and inside – sausage casing. Fix the open end over the spout of a wide based funnel, easing most of the casing up onto the spout then knot. Spoon the mixture into the funnel and push it through into the casing with your fingers or a dowel if you don’t have a grinder, or grind it directly into the casing if you do have a grinder. Knot the end and roll the sausage gently on a firm surface to distribute the filling evenly.

To cook, place stuffed casing into cold water and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer for 1-hour. We like it boiled and served with brown mustard and fresh horseradish served with Slavic sweet bread, and a veggie tray with dips.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Powdered Spices

More and more recipes are calling for powdered rosemary, basil, oregano, and many other spices. The only problem is they are hard to find, and very expensive if you can even find them.

You can buy the most inexpensive dried spices, and turn them into an intensely flavored powder. All you need is a Krups or other coffee bean grinder. The powder goes twice as far because you need half as much as the recipe calls for. AND, the grinder will pay for it self in a VERY short time.

Just make sure you store the powder in a dark place, and seal the spices. We use a food saver for vacuum sealing just about everything. It's worth the investment.

La Pastiera Napoletana.

This sweet cheese pie is made with cooked grain, and is flavored with lemon or orange. Other rich, sweet ricotta based cheesecakes or pies are popular in many regions, but as the title suggests, it's a prominent pie from the Naples region made around Easter.

It's a cheesecake, but one that has cooked wheat berries added to it which changes the texture considerably. The pie is lightly flavored with citrus, and cinnamon, and it is unbelievably delicious.

These days, you can find cooked wheat in many Italian specialty stores, but if you wanted to, you could easily cook your own following these directions:

1/4 Pound purpose flour
1/2 Cup powdered or confectioners Sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon Orange Juice
8 Tablespoons unsalted, cold butter cut into small pieces
1/4 cup milk
6 eggs
1 Tablespoon grated orange zest
1 Teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, or lemon extract
2 1/2 Cups granulated sugar
2 Pounds Ricotta Cheese
2 Tablespoons candied citron, cut into tiny diced peices
2 Tablespoons toasted, slivered almonds
1 egg white beaten with 1 Tablespoon water for topping

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Mix together the flour, and powdered sugar. Make a well in the center, and add the two egg yolks, and orange juice. With your fingers or a pastry cutter, mix in the butter until the dough is in pea sized pieces. Add just enough milk so the dough comes together.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of 1/8 of an inch. Place the dough in the bottom of a deep 10 inch pie pan. Trim excess dough around edges and reserve for topping. If the dough is too soft to roll, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, orange zest, lemon extract, and sugar. Add the ricotta and mix well. Stir in the cooked wheat, candied fruit and chopped almonds. Mix well.

Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared pie pan. Using the remaining dough, cut strips about 3/4 inch in width, and place them in a crisscross pattern over the cheese. Brush the strips lightly with the egg and water mixture, and then bake the pie for about 1 1/2 hours until lightly. browned on top. A topping of fresh strawberries adds to the visual impact and the taste,.

Cool before serving.

(Cooking Your Own Wheat: Take 1/4 pound skinless wheat and soak it overnight in cool water in the refrigerator, changing the water three or four times. Cover with lightly salted water in a heavy saucepan, and cook for about 1 hour. Drain, and rinse the wheat in cool water in a sieve. Use as needed.)

This is a special project for special guests.