Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hot Artichoke-Cauliflower Antipasto for cold weather

Antipasti, those hot or cold small dishes that in a classical Italian meal come before the pasta course (thus the name), are part of the delight of Italian cuisine. These appetizers accesorize and give variation to otherwise familiar food. Some antipasti can serve as a snack or on the buffet table, but traditionally they are part of the dinner.

I’m not sure this earthy dish is actually an authentic Italian antipasto. But if it’s not, it certainly is consistent with one. I patterned it after something I had once in an Italian restaurant. It serves extremely well at the beginning of a meal in cold weather, spooned or spread onto thinly sliced baguette or rustic Italian bread. It also goes with wine as an hors d'oevre before going to dinner.

One of my favorite white wines, a Sauvignon blanc (especially from New Zealand), nicely chilled, accompanies this well. But the more overworked (and my less favored) Pinot grigio will do, as will a light-bodied Chardonnay if you can find one.

The recipe serves six or more as an appetizer with bread or crackers.

Hot Artichoke-Cauliflower Antipasto Tim

2 large cauliflower flowerets, about 2/3 cup
1 small scallion (green onion)
1 small clove garlic
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts (not the marinated type)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
5/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch cayenne or 3 squirts hot pepper sauce
Large pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup half and half or light cream
3 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Minced parsley for garnish
French or Italian bread or low-salt crackers for serving

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Using a food processor, finely chop the cauliflower, scallion, and garlic. Drain the artichoke hearts and add them to the food processor. Add the mayonnaise, salt, oregano, black pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg. Chop the mixture finely. Add the half and half or cream and the grated cheese. Pulse to mix well.

Spread the mixture about 1-inch deep in an ovenproof serving dish. Sprinkle the top with paprika. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until bubbling and beginning to brown. (Warm the bread in the oven after turning off the heat.)

Serve the antipasto hot or warm, sprinkled with minced parsley. Spoon or spread onto pieces of warm bread or crackers.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Autumnal sautéed chicken with fruit: one for St. Bartholomew

Who knows what St. Bartholomew actually ate. As one of the original Apostles, a Palestinian Jew, he presumably consumed the allowed foods of the era, mostly bread and fish on a regular basis. Lamb, goat, and the occasional bit of beef (e.g., the "fatted calf") would have been there, plus grains, fruits, and vegetables, including bitter herbs and onions. But the staple in the Middle East of that era was bread. The standard cooking oil was pressed from olives. And wine was the drink. After all, Jesus' first miracle was making wine at a wedding, and the last supper importantly included wine. I know of no biblical reference to eating chicken, but it would not have been forbidden, and the Romans of the era raised and ate various fowl, including ducks, geese, pigeons, and chickens ("galinae").

The flimsy reason for this speculation is that I prepared a meal for the staff at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal church this past weekend, and for fun used biblically likely ingredients. No Mosaic laws were violated with this one, as would have been proper for St. Bartolomew.

In addition to the chicken, wine and olive oil, there is an ancient fruit, apples (certainly eaten by the Romans and cultivated in the Middle East -- remember the ill-fated apple tree in the Garden of Eden?). I also used apricots and dried grapes, which were common, plus the then-plentiful lemon. Bay leaves are from the Mediterranean bay laurel, from which wreathes were made to crown ancient Greek and Roman heros. Rosemary grows wild all around the Mediterranean. The Romans enjoyed spices from the East Indies that were caravanned overland from the Red Sea across to the Mediterranean approximately where where the Suez Canal now lies. So maybe this sort of dish was around back in St. Bartholemew's day, from which there are no Jewish cookbooks extant, as far as I can tell.

OK, so I doubt this dish was around in biblical times, but it is at least possible.
Nonetheless the dish is tasty, and it fits with Autumn. It would go with a fruity white or rosé, such as a Riesling or a French or Spanish rosé. The recipe serves six or more.

Chicken Sautéed with Autumnal Fruit Tim

2-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or 3-1/2 pounds chicken thighs from which you remove the skin and cut meat off the bones)
A little rendered chicken fat or olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper for frying
1 medium onion
1/2 cup white wine or orange juice
1/2 cup water
2 large or 3 medium cooking apples, such as Rome, Granny Smith, or Stayman
1/4-inch thick round slice of lemon, including the peel, discarding seeds
1 cup dried apricots
3 tablespoons golden raisins
3 sticks whole cinnamon
6 whole cloves
2-inch sprig of fresh rosemary (or 2 teaspoons juniper berries)
3 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Minced parsley or cilantro for garnish

Remove excess fat (save it) from the chicken thighs and cut the thigh meat into 1-1/2-inch pieces. In a large pan, render some chicken fat, save some of the liquid grease in a bowl and discard the solids. Use about 2 tablespoons of rendered chicken fat (or use olive oil) for frying the chicken. Add the chicken, sprinkle it lightly with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently until the outside color changes. Lift the chicken out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl, keeping the juices in the pan.

While the chicken is par-cooking, coarsely chop the onion, and peel the apples and cut them into thick lengthwise slices. Scrub the lemon, then cut off one end and slice a 1/4-inch thick round from the lemon, keeping the peel on it. Remove any seeds.

Add a little more rendered fat or oil to the pan that cooked the chicken, if needed, and fry the onion until starting to turn golden. Add the apples, lemon slice, apricots, and raisins. Stir and fry one minute. Add the par-cooked chicken along with the wine, water, spices, herbs, and part of the salt. Sauté, covered, stirring from time to time until the chicken is becoming tender and the apple is beginning to break up. Add a little water as needed to keep a thick, soupy sauce. Taste, and adjust the salt.

Serve with buttered noodles, boiled or steamed potatoes, or lightly salted rice (none of which were contemporary in the region of St. Bartholomew's birth). Dust with minced parsley, or cilantro (which was used in the Middle East of the time).