Friday, September 09, 2005

Chicken Vesuvio with roasted Brussels sprouts and caponata

I decided to take my chicken dinner in an Italian-American direction.

First I made this caponata out of my baby zebra eggplant from the other day's farmer's market trip. I sliced these up about half an inch thick, salted them for an hour, and sauteed in a generous drizzle of olive oil. Then I added sliced onions, green and red peppers, red chile flakes, garlic, tomatoes (still peeling 'em with the serrated peeler, still considering it the gadget of the century), raisins, and walnuts. Walnuts? Ok, I should have left them out. I also added a few pinches of sugar and about a quarter cup of red wine vinegar. I turned the heat off and let this cool to room temp. (This salad owes an apology to Bittman's How to Cook Everything.)

You can cook practically anything well by tossing it with olive oil and salt and roasting it in a hot oven. That's what I did with these sprouts.

And the chicken:

Chicken Vesuvio is one of Chicago's many culinary classics. (Some others? Hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, deep dish pizza, shrimp de Jonghe.) I had never had it before I started spending time with E's family in Chicago and now it's a favorite. The idea is to cook chicken and potatoes together in wine and herbs. The best part is actually the spuds, which soak up not only the garlicky wine but also the fat and juices that run off the bird. Chicken schmaltz might be better than butter. As John Wayne once said in a much different context, I'd hate to have to live on the difference.

How I made chicken Vesuvio: first I browned four potatoes, quartered lengthwise, in olive oil and put them aside. Then I browned the chicken, which I had cut into serving pieces and brined all afternoon. Chicken is almost always best cooked with its skin, on the bone, and cut into pieces. When the chicken was browned, I put it aside with the spuds and drained the extra fat out of the skillet--I'm using my biggest one, nonstick--and added lots of garlic sliced very thin (about half a dozen cloves) a handful of chopped parsley, a sprig of fresh thyme and one of rosemary, and a cup or so of vermouth. I let this come to a boil, then returned the spuds and chicken pieces to the pan. The pan went into the oven--425, the same temp I was using for the sprouts--for ten minutes, covered in foil. Then I removed the foil and cooked another ten or so. The breast meat was done before that so I pulled it early. The technique is a combination of braising and roasting. It seems to work at what I'm trying to accomplish, which is facsimile food. Since we can't drive 90 minutes each way to eat dinner at Rossini's, we'll make do with what I can whip up.


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