Food and music. They belong together. Where would barbecue be without blues music? Where would brunch be without a harp? So now here’s something interesting, fun, and a blending of good food, wine, and Italian music – and the color pink. A fundraiser to support Italian music to the Berkley College of Music in Boston … hosted by one of Boston’s most prominent chefs, Marisa Iocco of Gennaro’s 5 North Square. October 22. It’s a night defined by rose wine, all pink, staff in pink, wear pink. Make your reservations early and get discounted tickets for this night of delicious offerings from the kitchen and an array of rose wines – all for a good cause.
Okay, here it is, as promised. A chicken dinner for any Sunday.
But this is not my grandmother’s chicken dinner. Not a whole chicken, unless you buy the chicken in cut it into serving pieces yourself. Something I do not suggest as it takes up unnecessary time. I usually go to my favorite meat guy, and have him do it for me. I am perfectly capable of cutting up a whole chicken myself, but have no time to waste, either cutting or cleaning it up. I have him cut out the backbone, cut off the wing tips, then cut the rest of the chicken into 8 serving pieces. I take home the backbone and wing tips for stock. (I don’t consider making my own stock a waste of time.)
Anyway, this chicken dinner long preceded my grandma, who I think threatened to leave heaven to slap me upside the head if I didn’t make a civilized Sunday dinner. Napoleon’s chef is said to have cooked this either before or after the battle of Marengo. Versions of the story vary. But since it was a battlefield dish, his soldiers pilfered most of the ingredients from nearby farms – chickens, eggs, etc. Don’t ask me where they got the shrimp.
The fried eggs are very trendy. Who knew Napoleon’s troops would be trendy in an American big city in the twenty-first century?
POLLO AL MARENGO (CHICKEN MARENGO)
Makes 6 servings
2 ½ pounds chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
olive oil to film the bottom of the pan
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup dry white wine
6 or 12 slices French bread rounds (for crostini)
6 large eggs
6 extra large shrimp
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon (4 tablespoons)
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in skillet. Add chicken, and cook, in batches, until golden on both sides. Remove chicken from pan; set aside. Pour off and reserve the remaining oil.
- Heat 2 tablespoons fresh olive oil in the skillet. Add garlic, swirling it around the pan until it is lightly golden, to flavor; discard garlic. Return chicken to the pan; add tomatoes, salt, pepper, and wine. Cook until the chicken is tender, cooked through, and reaches about 155 to 160 degrees, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Reheat pan. Add the bread; cook until golden on both sides; set aside.
- Break eggs into pan, and cook as preferred, sunny-side-up or over-easy. Set aside. Add shrimp to pan; cook until pink.
- Arrange all the elements on a serving platter: Place the chicken pieces in the center. Surround them with the pan-toasted bread (crostini) and lemon wedges. Top half the crostini with eggs, the remainder with shrimp. Sprinkle parsley over everything.
I’m not a bad girl. Haven’t been since kids and the responsibilities that go along with them cured me. But this week, I did some bad things in my kitchen.
First, and worst: I planned to make tacos on Sunday. My grandmother, if she knew, would come right down from heaven and smack me upside the head. Sunday was a day for a family dinner. A civilized roasted whole (and only whole) chicken with potatoes and carrots. Rosemary and garlic seasoning them. A green salad with homemade oil and vinegar dressing after it. And pasta before it. On Sunday, dessert was permitted. From a bakery.
In my head, I was arguing with her that I had already thawed the ground beef. Her answer.
“Look around your kitchen. You got eggs, parmesan, bread, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil. Staples. Make meatballs. Put them in tomato sauce. And go buy a chicken! What kind of cook are you, anyway!”
My second bad was with knives. In a hurry to wash up, I put them in the sink. I was alone in my kitchen. No one got hurt. But if my culinary students knew I broke my priority knife safety rule, I’d never live it down.
My third bad happened at the Farmers’ Market. No eco-friendly shopping bag. Okay, I never bring one. I object to them. They get dirty, from lovely just picked from the earth – as in dirt as we city slickers call it. And I bet none of those reusable bag devotees ever think of turning the bags inside out to throw into the wash.
Tomorrow I will apologize in spirit to my grandmother and post a favorite chicken dinner recipe. Right now, I gotta go cook it.
“…cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing or music …” Julia Child
For many cooks Julia Child was the beginning. For me the beginning was my grandmother. She cooked by feel. She rolled out lengths of dough, as big as bolts of cloth, for pasta or pizza. She would stand over a simmering pot, so tall that a child couldn’t see its contents, but could guess by the aromas lifting to the ceiling, bouncing down to kid-level.
“You knead and roll the dough,” she would say as I barely got eyelids to tabletop level, “when it feels right, it is. You taste the sauce as you stir; when it tastes right, it is”
She did her cooking early in the day, before it warmed, as she learned in her tiny Italian hill town. Transported by marriage to a cold New England kitchen, heat only mattered in July and August, a few sharp days in September. Still, she meticulously followed her routines. By afternoon, kitchen sparkling clean, Nonna settled into her green wingback chair tuning the TV to a fuzzy Julia Child on prehistoric PBS.
Much later, I realized my grandmother’s fascination with the show: a woman cooking on television gave the act status. Nonna felt like a culinary poet.
So, although I’ve never consider kneading dough, I know my way around a kitchen because of her. I can slice, dice, pare, saute, braise, stew, and deep fry. Anyone can. It just takes some reading, some watching, some attention. No mysticism. No camera angles. Just information and ease of play.
It’s September. Time for new beginnings. Yesterday, in their sparkling kitchen whites, a new crop of culinary students towered over me as we reviewed safety, practiced knife skills. Julia was the past, but not their past. They, who know her only from a movie or grainy re-runs, are the future.
Fogged in. Second morning in a row. Yesterday, only a few swirls over the water. Today it permeates the whole town. Up and down the coast as well. Can’t see boats in the harbor. Gives the gown a misty fairytale quality. Fog horn wails in the far distance. Just right for the waning days of summer.
Good day to walk to the fish market and get the fixin’s for chowder. Think I’ll skip the clams today. Just don’t want to deal with shells. Watching the fog makes me lazy. Going to grab a couple of pounds of chowder fish. It’s the neatest thing, a variety of white-flesh fish left from cutting fillets. Already cut up for you. No fuss. Great start. Got everything else I need. Good bacon. A carrot or two. Potatoes. A box of fish stock in the pantry. Fresh parsley growing outside the back door. A walk in the fog will do me good.
LAZY DAY FISH CHOWDER
Makes about 3 quarts.
Start with nice big hunks of bacon and half the butter; add small white creamer potatoes cut into halves. No flour in here, works for gluten-free diets.
½ cup butter
3 cups diced onions
¼ cup finely grated carrots
1 pint white creamer potatoes, cut in halves
- Heat butter in stockpot. Add onions, carrots, potatoes; cook until slightly softened, stirring, about 7 minutes.
½ cups fish stock
4 pounds chowder fish mixture
- Heat stock separately. Add to vegetable mixture. Reduce heat; simmer, 12 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
- Add fish. Simmer 10 minutes longer.
2 cups light cream or whole milk
½ cup finely grated cheddar cheese
Salt, ground black pepper
- Stir in cream, or milk, and cheese; simmer until cheese melts, about 5 minutes.
“I don’t cook nutrition.” My job as a chef means cooking food that tastes good, not necessarily cooking food that is good for you. I make no excuses, no apologies. Cooking is my art form. And my living.
Until recently I only thought of nutrition regarding my children, and I blindly followed the USDA Food Pyramid or other highly regarded guidelines. Yesterday I picked up a book called Wheat Belly by William David, M.D., and although I usual look at these one-food-cures-everything diets as just a way for a physician to sell books and make money during retirement, this one is an eye-opener.
He talks about the all-pervasiveness of wheat in our diets, how wheat has been genetically altered since 1985, and the health consequences of a.) that alteration, and b.) too much wheat, It certainly has made me sit up and take notice.
As my kids say, “just sayin’.”
Ten o’clock. The neighborhood’s quiet has finally been broken by the hum of lawnmowers somewhere down the street. For the last two hours, I’ve enjoyed quiet. Throwing open the back door and looking out to my garden of basil and rosemary and lemon thyme with some geraniums woven in for color. I indulged myself in the rare morning quiet, listening leaves clicking softly against one another in the wind, a pair of cardinals calling to each other. I lost myself for an hour in a book, a a pot of strong coffee, a toasted English muffin slathered with butter and raspberry jam, and glances at an American flag flickering its red stripes in the spaces between leafy branches. The computer and piles of work sat accusingly on the desk, jealous that I hadn’t yet paid them attention.
Now, I’ve snapped to back to reality, vacation over, the coffee pot practically drained, the cardinals flapping furiously away. The lawnmowers buzz like a swarm of crazed bees as more landscapers unload equipment around the neighborhood. The refrigerator starts depositing ice cubes furiously into its bin. I’ll turn on sports radio full blast to my favorite broadcaster, as long as he’s talking baseball. Pick up the kitchen. When the noise stops, I’ll move the computer outdoors and try to outrun the sun.
Maybe later, I’ll put together a berry crisp with my cache from the farmers’ markets: they’re just about to go too soft to put on my Cheerios.
ANY BERRY CRISP Makes about 6 servings
5 to 6 cups mixed berries, any kind
1/3 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 cup AP flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ cup rolled oats
1/3 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or any combination)
Whipped cream for serving
- Heat oven to 350F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.
- Toss together berries, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl.
- Toss together flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in another bowl. Cut in the butter with this flour mixture until large crumbs form. Mix in oats and nuts.
- Transfer berry mixture into baking dish. Cover with flour mixture.
- Bake for 35 minutes, until top is golden and crisp, juices are bubbling. Cool for 10 minutes before serving plain, topped with whipped cream or with vanilla ice cream.