the chicken whisperer

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view of my hometown Perugia from my parent's place (photo T. di Luca)

view of my hometown Perugia from my parents place (photo T. di Luca)

CHICKEN ALLA CACCIATORA a.k.a HUNTER STYLE or  CHICKEN CACCIATORE.

I spent my youth in a huge house overlooking my hometown Perugia. My parents where civil servants and in their free time took care of the large garden, the olive trees and the pets.

To be precise, my father took care of breeding the pets and my mother fought against the proliferation of pets. We had a dog and a cat and the occasional gold-fish of course. Even a guinea pig once.

That was fine with my mum.

The dog and the cat were actually treated to pasta al ragù just like us. Even with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top.

The problem was, my father had pet chickens. They were allowed to do anything they wanted. He talked to them.  They kept each other company. They – the chickens – ravaged the geraniums.

We never ate them. You don’t kill your pets do you? Occasionally he would deem one of the oldies suitable for a meal. They were so tough they were invariably only good for stock. For a roast or a stew like this one, she went to the market and bought a good freeranger from her favorite butcher.

And planted new geraniums.

Recipe

  • 1/2 free-ranging chicken cut into serving pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers,
  • 4 tablespoon spoon good quality olives, not pitted
  • 1 sprig rosemary,
  • a handful sage leaves
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • zest of 1/4 lemon
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil

Using a large thick bottom or non stick pan, sear chicken pieces in one tablespoon olive oil until golden on all sides. Good quality chicken should not produce any fat, but if it does drain it and wipe clean the pan before proceeding.

Turn heat to low, return chicken to the pan, add onion and stir frequently until caramelized.  Add minced garlic cloves, capers, olives, rosemary and sage leaves.

Please don’t use the inexpensive, pizza style, bland black olives. They are generally unripe green olives that have been dyed with iron salts (ferrous gluconate) after artificial ripening.

Season with just a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

When everything is fragrant add one cup of wine, cover and simmer very slowly until the chicken is tender. This might take 45 min to 1 and 1/2 hours depending on size and quality of the bird. Add some water if the sauce gets too dry while simmering.

When ready to serve add the lemon juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. Taste and add more lemon if desired as it brings out the flavor of all other ingredients.

This dish is lovely with a side of steamed greens dressed with a fruity extra virgin and a splash of lemon juice if you like. If you need your starch, accompany it with homemade potato puree or polenta. Italians would never serve it on pasta or rice.

Serves 3-4 depending on initial size of chicken.

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

arrosto riposato al timo

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a succulent roast flavored with thyme, lemon and garlic

a succulent roast flavored with thyme, lemon and garlic

“RESTED” THYME AND GARLIC ROAST BEEF. This is definitely not a traditional Italian recipe. However, the resulting flavor is deeply Mediterranean without the effort of the slow cooking and basting endured by our mothers. The concept of the roast is that you must cook the meat briefly on high heat.  Then cover and let it rest in a draft free area of your kitchen. This way the  indirect heat of the pan cooks it some more but keeps it wonderfully tender.

Recipe

  • 1 kg/2 pounds topside or silver side lean beef
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 6 fresh thyme sprigs
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • white wine
  • extra virgin olive oil

Bring the beef at room temperature. Preheat oven at 220 °C/430 °F.

To prepare the dressing, remove leaves of 4 thyme sprigs and place them in a bowl with the lemon juice, 3 tablespoon olive oil, 1 clove of finely minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a cast iron casserole pan over medium-high heat and when hot add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the meat and brown it evenly, turning every few minutes. This step will take about 5-10  minutes, depending on the size of the roast. Keep the pan covered so you do not mess up the stove!

When the roast is well browned on all sides add 5 unpeeled garlic cloves, 2 thyme sprigs and 1/2 cup white wine. Cover with a heavy lid and transfer into the preheated oven.

Roast for 30 min turning every 10 min adding more white wine if necessary. Remove from the oven and cover the meat quite tightly with foil and again with the lid. Let it rest for at least 15 min in a warm place then slice thinly and place the slices back into the pan. Squeeze the cooked garlic cloves out of their papery husks into the dressing. Drizzle the dressing over the meat and leave to infuse for 5-10 min.  Transfer slices and juices on a pre-heated dish and serve. The meat will be only slightly warm.

This recipe can be made with either fresh rosemary or sage or dried oregano instead of thyme.

Serves 4-6