Good Chicken

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We try not to miss a single invitation to have dinner at an Italian’s home.  Despite the effort it takes to eat an ungodly amount of food, in the end, it’s worth it.  In the end, an invitation means we get to participate in one of Italy’s greatest rituals: surrounding a table with great people then completely covering it with platters of regional food cooked with family recipes.  By now we’ve learned the etiquette:  Ignore the hostess when she says “bring nothing” because “something” is expected whether it is a dessert, a bottle of wine, flowers (or all three.)  We also know to expect a late night.   Finally, there is no helping the hostess clean up.  I’ve never seen an Italian guest even make an offer.  And any attempt from us has been quickly refused.  The rest goes without saying:  eat a lot (always clean your plate) and accept seconds (say, “Bis, per favore!) if you want to compliment the cook.

Dinner at Giovanni and Maria Pia's.  This is just the appetizer course along with the pasta that Maria Pia made by hand that afternoon.

Dinner at Giovanni and Maria Pia’s. These are just the appetizers along with the uncooked pasta that Maria Pia made herself.

All of the courses were typical Pugia dishes since Maria Pia grew up in southern Italy.

And all of the courses were typical Puglia dishes since Maria Pia grew up in southern Italy.

When we eat at Milena and Sergio P.'s, Milena's parents to the cooking.

Lunch in the countryside.  When we eat at Milena and Sergio P.’s, Milena’s parents do the cooking. This is her dad grilling three different types of meat.

When we eat with Paola's family, we are served traditional Umbrian specialties like pasta with wild boar.

When we eat with Paola’s family, we are served traditional Umbrian specialties like pasta with wild boar and crostini with locally foraged mushrooms.

Dinner with Fabiola and Sergio.  Fabiola cooked Napolitano specialties.  And the kids were poured a glass of prosecco!

In-between courses at Fabiola and Sergio D.’s:  Fabiola cooked eggplant parmesan and pizza from her home town of Naples.  Sergio poured the kids a glass of wine.

Last week we had dinner with several friends at Chiara and Enrico's house.  Chiara made homemade tagliatelle that afternoon.

Last week we had dinner with several friends at Chiara and Emilio’s house. We could tell they had been cooking all day. Here’s the  homemade tagliatelle that Chiara rolled and cut that afternoon.

The meat course was a roasted chicken that was out of this world.  I also learned how to cut up a cooked chicken "Italian style".  Here is Emilio's brother-in-law with a chicken scissors.

The meat course was a roasted chicken that was out of this world. Chiara shared the recipe (see below).  I also learned how to cut up the cooked chicken “Italian style”. Here is Emilio’s brother-in-law with the “chicken scissors”.

We also had an onion pie, torta al testo, roasted potatoes, tomato sauce with sausage, zuppa inglese, strawberries with cream, and after dinner drinks.

We also had an onion pie, torta al testo, roasted potatoes, tomato sauce with sausage, salad, zuppa inglese and strawberries with cream,

Tonight we are having a guest for lunch.  My friend Stacia is taking a little R&R from her sailing job in Sardinia.  We want to show her some of the things we’ve learned to make.  I will try to replicate Chiara’s chicken.  She told me that the best way to add favor and keep the chicken moist is by making little incisions in the meet and stuffing it with lardo.  By the way, lardo is not lard (but it’s close).  It is not rendered or hydrogenated like the familiar lard from Grandma’s kitchen.  There are two kinds found in Italy.  The first is a Tuscan specialty: cured and seasoned fat from the back of a pig.  It’s common over here.  In fact, we’ve ordered it in a restaurant where it comes in thin slivers on top of bruschetta.  DE-licious.  The second kind of lardo  is what we use to stuff this chicken.  It is ground and seasoned pork fat.  It tastes like like the white part of bacon.  In fact, that might make a good substitute if you can’t find it in an Italian specialty store.

Umbrian Roasted Chicken.

Begin by combining chopped rosemary, salt, 1 clove of minced garlic and 2 tablespoons lardo

Generously sprinkle a chicken all over with a tablespoon of salt, a generous amount of pepper and two cloves of finely chopped garlic.

Next, make six slits into the bird.  Try to cut where the legs and wings join the body as well as into the breast (see below).

Stuff the lardo mixture into the incisions.

Lay several rosemary branches alongside the chicken and tie with string.

Set into a pan and drizzle with a little olive oil and then pour a half bottle of white wine over the chicken.

Cook in a 425 degree oven (220 degree celsius) for two hours.  Flip the chicken every 45 minutes then spoon the liquid from the pan on top.  If you need more liquid, add more wine or water.

When it’s done, cool for a while.  Chiara cooked the chicken before we arrived and we ate it at room temperature.  She showed me how to cut it up with a scissors which was so much easier than using a knife.

To cut like Chiara, use a scissors strong enough to cut through bones.  Her’s look like garden pruners.  Begin by pulling the legs and wings away from the body and severing between the joints.  Then, cut through the breast bone until the chicken is in two halves.  From here, it’s very easy to cut away from the bone and serve it in pretty, small pieces.

the holes are stuffed with lardo

The holes are stuffed with lardo and the chicken is ready to cook.

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Four hours later . . . Our guest arrived.  We served prosciutto and melon, pasta carbonara, fava beans with artichokes and a platter of chicken.  Matt and Stacia are sipping limoncello as I write these final words.

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6 thoughts on “Good Chicken

  1. If I didn’t miss you so much Jill, I would urge you to stay in Perugia just so we could all read and savor your blogs! What delicious joy you send our way with those photos and descriptions. Thank-you, and let’s cook together this summer. Love, Mom

  2. Loved the post and so hungry that nothing will do short of your Italian roasted chicken. Fat chance since I barely cook! The food the Italians put out is absolutely amazing. TO make their own pasta as routine – they must have more time than we in the U.S. MARIA PIA. The name of one of my favorite little brownstone restaurants in Manhattan. A charming little place north just north of the theater district that I found quite by accident years ago. My favorite spot is the sunken streetside patio that accommodates onlyt two tables. Charming interior and back patio + good service and food. http://www.bing.com/search?q=maria+pia+nyc&form=MRSDTDF&pc=MRSD&src=IE-SearchBox or http://www.opentable.com/maria-pia

  3. Reminds me of all the wonderful meals we experienced with you and the family. The chicken is on our menu next week.
    Love, Grandpa John

  4. Yum. Do you think you’ll be able to find all the special, regional ingredients to these amazing dishes once you return home? Glad you are collecting recipes, though I have to say that you were an amazing cook before you went to Italy!

  5. Jill,
    What a culinary adventure Italy has been…. So many good things: great food, friends, gatherings. So many blessings you have created. Thank you for sharing. Much love to you and your family. Anita

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