Fricasseed Chicken Abruzzi-style with Rosemary, White Wine, Cherry Tomatoes, and Olives
For 4 persons
Small, ripe, thin-skinned, very savory cherry tomatoes have become extremely popular and widely available in Italy in recent years. They are destined for the salad bowl, but one can certainly cook with them, if one is careful about choosing a preparation where they will show to best advantage. If you are making a sauce in which you need a lot of tomato, it would be more efficient and economical to use the plum or round varieties grown for the purpose. But when I had this particular chicken, I thought I saw in it a good opportunity for the miniature tomato.
In the original dish there was tomato of conventional size cooked the necessary 20 minutes or more, and the taste was close to the familiar one of chicken cacciatora. It seemed to me that I could capitalize on the brief cooking time cherry tomatoes require to achieve favor that was fresh and sprightly. Thus you will see that the tomatoes are put into the pan when the chicken is already done, and they stay no longer than is necessary for their skin to begin to crack. The resulting sweet and juicy taste is just what I was hoping for.
With that taste, olives similar to the strong-flavored ones of Abruzzi no longer seemed to be the most congenial ones to use, so I chose taggiasche olives, the small, mellow ones of the Italian Riviera. If you cannot find them, you can substitute French nicoise olives, which are similar.
I rarely have an occasion to mention how attractive an Italian dish is because presentation doesn't get much attention from this cuisine. This chicken, however, whose nut-browncolor is a rich foil to the red of the nearly intact whole tomatoes and the black of the olives, appeals no less to the eye than it does to the palate.
A 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 or 5 whole peeled garlic cloves
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves, chopped very fine
Chopped hot chili pepper, 1/4 teaspoon or to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
Two dozen cherry tomatoes if no larger than 1 inch or proportionately fewer if larger
A dozen small black olives in brine such as Italian Riviera or French nicoise olives; see headnote
1.Wash all the chicken pieces in cold water and par dry with kitchen towels.
2.Choose a skillet or sauté pan that can contain all the chicken pieces in one layer without crowding. Put in the oil, garlic, and rosemary and turn on the heat to high. Add the chicken, the skin side facing down. When that side has been well browned, turn the pieces and do the other side. Sprinkle with salt, add the chili pepper, and with a wooden spoon turn over the contents of the pan three or four times.
3.Add the wine and as it bubbles, scrape loose with the wooden spoon any browning residues sticking to the bottom of the pan.
4.Put a lid on the pan and turn the heat down to low. Cook for about 35 minutes, turning the chicken over from time to time. If you should find that the-juices in the pan have become insufficient to keep the meat from sticking to the bottom, replenish them when necessary with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water.
5.When the chicken is very tender--the meat should come easily off-the bone--add the tomatoes and the olives. Continue cooking just until the tomatoes' skin begins to crack. Transfer all the contents of the pan to a warm platter and serve at once.
Ahead-of-time Note: You can cook the chicken through to the end of step 4 several hours in advance. Rehear gently bur thoroughly when completing the recipe. Add the tomatoes and olives only after the chicken has been fully reheated.
Simplest Leek and Chickpea Soup
4 ample, 6 moderate portions
We had the briefest of honeymoons, Victor and I, a single winter night in a pensione in Sirmione, a narrow peninsula at the southern end of Lake Garda, a tongue-like extension of land impudently stuck into the underbelly of the huge lake.Sirmione has since been devastated by tourism and the cheap shops and souvenir stalls that cater to it, but it was empty then, and the most romantic of places.We clambered over the ruins of a Roman bath, past a grove of olive trees planted before the birth of Christ, to reach the lake's icy edge, our exhalations dissolving in the wintry mist as we gaily chucked stones to see who could send them bouncing farthest over the water.
The evening we arrived the pensione served us leek and potato soup, an event that to this day Victor seems to recall more sharply than anything else that took place during our stay.It was, admittedly, a splendid soup, and both of us have adored leeks ever since.
I use leeks in many ways, nearly always in combination with another vegetable, such as the dish of leeks and artichokes in one of my previous books, a great favorite of ours.None of the things I do, however, is so simple as this aptly named "simplest" soup.Except for trimming the leeks and slowly cooking them in olive oil--not a daunting task for even the least expert of cooks--the most difficult things you have to do are opening a can of chickpeas and grating some Parmesan.
There is something about the flavor of chickpeas that yearns to be coupled with a member of the onion family.There are many such matches, but none more congenial than this one.
2 1/2 pounds leeks
3 tablespoons extra virgin
One 16-ounce can
A beef bouillon cube
Black pepper ground fresh
1/2 cup freshly grated
1.Trim away the root end of the leeks and any part of the green tops that is wilted, bruised and discolored, or dry.Cut the remainder into thin disks.Soak in several changes of cold water.Drain and spin or shake dry.
2.Put the leeks in a medium saucepan, add the olive oil and salt, turn on the heat to medium low, cover the pan, and cook the leeks at a slow pace, turning them over from time to time, until they are nearly dissolved.
3.While the leeks are cooking, skin the chickpeas by squeezing off the peel between your fingers, When the leeks are very soft and creamy, add the chickpeas, enough water to cover by 1 to 2 inches, and the bouillon cube.Turn over the contents of the pot with a wooden spoon, put back the lid, and cook for another 15 minutes.
4.Take two or three ladlefuls out of the soup and puree them back into the pot through a food mill, or chop briefly in a food processor.Add liberal grindings of black pepper to the pot, swirl in the grated Parmesan, cook for 5 minutes longer, taste and correct for seasoning, and serve.In the final stage of cooking, adjust density to suit you.This soup tastes best to me when it is neither too thick nor too runny.
Ahead-of-Time Note: You can prepare everything even a day in advance, up to, but not including, the moment when you add the pepper and Parmesan.When resuming cooking, warm up thoroughly before executing that last step.