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Classico and a Classic: Chianti Loves Fricassee

July 22, 1998|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

The fricasseed chicken in Marcella Hazan's latest book, "Marcella Cucina" (HarperCollins, New York, 1997), like so many recipes in that wonderful book, looks like an unadventurous idea. It's just chicken cooked with a little white wine and rosemary and garnished with cherry tomatoes and olives.

But on a recent Sunday evening, it turned out to be brilliant, a wonderfully easy summer dish that went beautifully with a Querciabella Chianti Classico from the glorious 1995 vintage that I pulled out of the wine closet. The Sangiovese grape loves chicken and olives.

The fricassee is a very pretty dish as well as astonishingly flavorful, especially if you use a mix of orange and red cherry tomatoes in season now. And the mild acidity of the chicken's white wine and tomatoes is a good match for the wine, which had layers of rich but not showy fruit and a classic scent of dried cherries. The '95 Querciabella is a terrific example of modern Chianti, aristocratic but approachable, with the kind of concentration and finesse you'd expect from the best riservas--which this isn't; the riserva has yet to be released.

The Chianti's sweet, velvety fruit also melded beautifully with the pungent bitterness of the rapini I tossed with penne as a pasta course before the chicken. One thing I crave, because I never seem to get enough vegetables when I'm eating out every night, is greens, and my latest passion is pasta with rapini.

It's one of the simplest pasta dishes to make, yet the starchy bite of the penne against the the pungent bitterness of the greens is immensely satisfying. It's something I'll make just for myself when I'm on my own.

As an appetizer, I served a plate of prosciutto di Parma, but I might have used the sweeter San Daniele ham or, if possible, ruddy slices of exquisite jamon serrano from Spain. A well-chilled dry rose complements the delicate sweet-salt flavors of the the prosciutto, so I served Etude's rose petal pink Pinot Noir from the Carneros district. To go with the ham, I put out a bowl of black oil-cured olives and a French baguette from La Brea Bakery (sweeter than its normal sourdough baguette).

It was a perfect Sunday supper.

Menu

Penne with Rapini

Fricasseed Chicken Abruzzi-Style

Wine

1995 Querciabella Chianti Classico

PENNE WITH RAPINI

Water

Salt

1 bunch rapini

1/2 pound penne or orecchiette pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small, dried hot red chile, chopped or crumbled

2 salt-cured anchovies, filleted, or 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped or mashed

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Bring large pot of water to boil and add salt. Blanch rapini until wilted and stems are relatively tender, about 3 minutes. Scoop rapini from water with strainer, drain and roughly chop. Reserve water.

Return reserved water to boil. Add pasta and cook until just tender to the bite, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons pasta water.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and chile and saute just until garlic is soft but not browned, about 30 seconds. Add anchovies and stir until dissolved.

Add drained rapini and saute briefly. Add drained pasta and stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons reserved pasta water. Stir in cheese.

2 main-course or 4 appetizer servings. Each main-course serving:

701 calories; 778 mg sodium; 26 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 93 grams carbohydrates; 30 grams protein; 1.67 grams fiber.

FRICASSEED CHICKEN ABRUZZI-STYLE WITH ROSEMARY, WHITE WINE, CHERRY TOMATOES, AND OLIVES

(Pollo all'Abruzzese coi Pomodorini e Le Olive)

This is Marcella Hazan's adaptation of a traditional Abruzzese chicken fricassee in which she uses cherry tomatoes instead of the usual plum tomatoes, and the Italian Riviera's small, mellow tagiasche olives instead of the strong-flavored Abruzzi ones. She also suggests Nicoise olives, the tiny purple-black olives of the French Riviera, which, fortunately, are much easier to find.

1 (3 1/2-pound) free-range chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 or 5 cloves garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary leaves

Kosher or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon chopped hot chile such as serrano, or to taste

1/2 cup dry white wine

24 cherry tomatoes

12 small black olives in brine, such as Riviera or Nicoise

One tip for the chicken: I cook it for about a half hour, then remove the chicken and reduce the juices if they look too thin.

Wash chicken in cold water and pat dry with kitchen towel.

Put oil, garlic and rosemary in skillet large enough to hold all chicken pieces in 1 layer without crowding. Turn heat to high and add chicken, skin side down. Cook until well browned, about 9 minutes. Turn and cook second side until well browned, 8 to 9 minutes. Sprinkle with salt to taste and add chile. Turn over contents of skillet with wooden spoon 3 or 4 times.

Add wine and, as it bubbles, scrape loose with wooden spoon any brown residue sticking to bottom of pan.

Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook, turning chicken occasionally, until very tender and meat comes easily off bones, about 35 minutes. Add water, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, if juices in pan cook away and chicken begins sticking to bottom of pan. (Chicken can be cooked to this point several hours in advance. Reheat gently but thoroughly before proceeding to next step.)

Add tomatoes and olives, and cook just until tomato skins begin to crack, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to warm platter and serve at once.

4 servings. Each serving:

577 calories; 775 mg sodium; 152 mg cholesterol; 40 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 40 grams protein; 1.86 grams fiber.

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