Celebrating Mom This Mother's Day!
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich,
Author of Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes
In my family, favorite dishes are always being altered according to what is available in the market and what is the best in quality -- especially when I'm cooking. Family meals together are near and dear to my heart, and I am always looking for a reason to cook a big meal to share with my grandchildren, children and with Mother's Day just around the corner, my mother Erminia, who we all fondly call "Grandma."
Growing up, my brother and I loved our mother's Chicken & Potatoes, fried together in a big skillet so they're crisp and moist at the same time -- this was my mother's, or "Grandma's" specialty, and it was our favorite! This simple and delicious dish has now been passed down through the family, and my grandchildren are always asking me to make it. When I am at the stove -- and though I follow my mother's basic procedures -- I can't resist playing around with the recipe and adding my own flair to it. However, here I'm sharing her Classic Chicken & Potatoes recipe. Maybe you can make it for your mother this Mother's Day. And for something sweet, I have the perfect recipe that "Grandma" absolutely loves -- my Sweet Ricotta Dumplings with Strawberry Sauce. These delicate and creamy morsels sit beautifully in a crimson pool of fresh strawberry sauce.
So this Mother's Day, why not get into the kitchen with mom? Cooking, eating and laughing together is a wonderful way to celebrate your mom this Mother's Day and all year round.
MY MOTHER'S CHICKEN AND POTATOES (WITH MY SPECIAL TOUCHES) From Lidia's Family Table Serves 4 or more
For the Basic Chicken and Potatoes:
2- ½ pounds chicken legs or assorted pieces (bone-in)
½ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 pound red bliss potatoes, preferably no bigger than 2 inches across
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium-small onions, peeled and quartered lengthwise
2 short branches fresh rosemary with plenty of needles
For My Special Touches -- Try Either or Both:
4 to 6 ounces sliced bacon (5 or 6 slices)
1 or 2 pickled cherry peppers, sweet or hot, or none -- or more! -- cut in half and seeded
Prepping and Browning the Chicken (and Bacon) and Potatoes:
Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off the excess skin and all visible fat. Cut the drumsticks from the thighs. If using breast halves, cut into two small pieces.
Make the bacon roll-ups: Cut the bacon slices in half crosswise and roll each strip into a neat, tight cylinder. Stick a toothpick through the roll to secure it; cut or break the toothpick so only a tiny bit sticks out (allowing the bacon to roll around and cook evenly.)
Pour the canola oil into the skillet and set it over high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with ¼ teaspoon salt on all sides. When the oil is very hot, lay the pieces in it, skin side down, and an inch or so apart -- watch out for oil spatters. Don't crowd the chicken: if necessary, fry it in batches, with similar pieces (like drumsticks) together.
Drop the bacon rolls into the oil around the chicken, turning and shifting them often. Let the chicken pieces fry in place for several minutes to brown on the underside, then turn and continue frying until they're golden brown on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes or more. Fry breast pieces only for 5 minutes or so, taking them out of the oil as soon as they are golden. Let the bacon rolls cook and get slightly crisp, but not dark. Adjust the heat to maintain steady sizzling and coloring; remove the crisped chicken pieces with tongs to a bowl.
Meanwhile, rinse and dry the potatoes; slice each one through the middle on the axis that gives the largest cut surface, then toss them with the olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt.
When all the chicken and bacon is cooked and out of the skillet, pour off the frying oil. Return the skillet to medium heat and put in all the potatoes, cut side down in a single layer, into the hot pan. With a spatula, scrape all the olive oil out of the mixing bowl into the skillet; drizzle over it a bit more oil if the pan seems dry. Fry and crisp the potatoes for about 4 minutes to form a crust, then move them around the pan, still cut side down, until they're all brown and crisp, 7 minutes or more. Turn them over, and fry another 2 minutes to cook and crisp on their rounded skin sides.
Cooking Everything Together:
Still over medium heat, toss the onion wedges and rosemary branches around the pan, in with the potatoes. If using cherry peppers, either hot or sweet, cut the seeded halves into ½-inch wide pieces and scatter them in the pan too.
Return the chicken pieces -- except breast pieces -- to the pan, along with the bacon rolls; pour in any chicken juices that have accumulated. Raise the heat slightly, and carefully turn and tumble the chicken, potatoes, and onion (and bacon and/or pepper juices), so they're heating and getting coated with pan juices -- but take care not to break the potato pieces. Spread everything out in the pan -- potatoes on the bottom as much as possible, to keep crisping up -- and cover.
Return the heat to medium, and cook for about 7 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, then uncover and tumble the pieces and potatoes (and bacon rolls) again. Cover, and cook another 7 minutes or so, adding the breast pieces at this point. Give everything another tumble. Now cook covered for 10 minutes more.
Remove the cover, turn the pieces again, and cook in the open skillet for about 10 minutes to evaporate the moisture and caramelize everything. Taste a bit of potato (or chicken) for salt, and sprinkle on more as needed. Turn the pieces now and then; when they are all glistening and golden, and the potatoes are cooked through, remove the skillet from the stove and -- as I do at home -- bring it right to the table. Serve portions of chicken and potatoes, or let people help themselves.
SWEET RICOTTA DUMPLINGS WITH STRAWBERRY SAUCE
FromLidia Cooks from the Heart of ItalyMakes about 18 canederli, serving 6
3 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 6 cups)
½ cup sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice for the canederli
1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons butter
1 pound fresh ricotta, drained
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
Put the cut strawberries in the saucepan (or cut them right into it), pour the sugar and lemon juice over, and toss together. Set the pan over medium-low heat; stir occasionally as the berries release juice and it gradually starts to bubble. Adjust the heat to keep the juice simmering, and cook for about 8 minutes, until the berries are soft and the juice is slightly syrupy. Turn off the heat, and cover the pot to keep the sauce warm.
Meanwhile, fill the big pot with about 6 quarts water, add 1 tablespoon salt, and heat it to a boil. Put the butter in the big skillet and melt it over very low heat; turn off the flame, but leave the skillet on the warm burner.
For the dough: Dump the ricotta into a large bowl, and stir to loosen it and break up lumps, then blend in the eggs and ¼ teaspoon salt. Sprinkle all the flour on top, and fold it in gently, just until it is all incorporated, with no small clumps of dry flour. The dough will be stiff and somewhat sticky.
Adjust the heat so the cooking water is bubbling gently. Fill a glass or jar with cold water to moisten the scoop, so the dough doesn't stick. Dip the ice-cream scoop into the water glass, scoop up a round of dough, level it off (scraping excess back in the bowl), and dispense the dumpling into the cooking pot. Scoop up all the dough in the same way, and get the dumplings cooked as quickly as possible. If you don't have an ice-cream scoop, use a ¼-cup measure. Empty each portion into your hand (both hands must be lightly floured!), and quickly roll it into a ball, then drop the dumpling into the pot.
As you form the canederli, keep the scoop moistened (or your hands floured) and the water at a gentle simmer: don't let it boil vigorously, which can break apart the canederli.
After all are in the pot, let the dumplings cook, without stirring, until all have risen to the surface of the water. Simmer them another 5 minutes, and then scoop one out and test it for doneness. First, press it gently: it should feel solid and spring back to the touch. If it feels soft at the center, return it to the pot and cook the batch a minute or two longer. Scoop out another dumpling, and cut into it to check that the center is not wet and oozing and that the dough looks uniformly cooked through.
Meanwhile, have the big skillet with melted butter warming over very low heat. Lift out the cooked dumplings with a spider, let them drain over the pot for a few seconds, then gently drop them in the skillet. Roll the dumplings gently so they're coated all over with butter, then turn off the heat and leave them in the warm pan for a few minutes to firm up.
Serve the canederli on warm dessert plates, spooning a pool of strawberry sauce in the center of each plate and setting two or three canederli on top. For family-style serving, arrange the canederli in a large, rimmed platter and drizzle some of the strawberry sauce around them in a colorful border. Pass the remaining sauce at the table.
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, coauthor of Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipe, is the author of five previous books, four of them accompanied by nationally syndicated public television series. She is the owner of the New York City restaurant Felidia (among others), and she lectures on and demonstrates Italian cooking throughout the country. She lives on Long Island, and can be reached at her Web site,www.LidiasItaly.com.