Sunday, December 27, 2009

A proper Italian.

I've grown up to believe that Italians are supposed to be full of passion when it comes to most things - including cooking.  A dash of this, a handful of that, lots of garlic and gusto and a hot steamy kitchen should result in something both impromptu and inventive...and most of all delicious.

I've been trying for a while now to become one of those chefs who can just throw things together with amazing results.  I envy friends and relatives who can just make up recipes - to me it demonstrates their superior knowledge of how certain foods and flavors go together...something I know that I have deep down.  But I get caught up in relying on recipes.  I think it comes from being a complete and total perfectionist - I follow the rules, and whatever I'm making comes out perfectly.  It's satisfying, but admittedly a little boring and I'm setting out on a course to start making up my own rules.

A great friend of mine who is an excellent chef is trying to help, and for Christmas bought me Michael Ruhlman's Ratio: the Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.  It looks pretty amazing - full of helpful advice and insight on the relationships between many types of ingredients, and what makes them work together, or not.  I'll review it here once I'm finished reading - I think it's a great place to start for me!  And that's kind of what this blog is all about - my adventures in taking my culinary skills to the next level...and I'm excited to share!

I took a stab at cooking dangerously (ha!) on a recent evening before Christmas was in full swing - the calm before the holiday storm.  Lucia Ristorante, a favorite Italian spot in Boston's North End, serves up a wicked chicken piccata with mushrooms and fried artichoke hearts.  I've been dying to try and replicate it, so I took a basic recipe I had and doctored it up beyond recognition...with surprisingly accurate results!  I felt like a proper Italian for sure.

Chicken Piccata with Mushrooms and Fried Artichoke Hearts 
(serves 2)

4 skinless boneless chicken cutlets (pounded out to your desired thickness)
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
extra flour (for dredging chicken and artichoke hearts)
1 egg
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 artichoke hearts (marinated and jarred work best)
8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup capers (*please, please drain them)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Mix 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour in a small dish.  Put aside. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste, then dredge in flour.  Put aside.

Beat egg in a small dish.  Wipe excess oil from artichoke hearts, dredge in flour then dip in egg.  Put aside on a sheet of tin foil.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet.  Add sliced mushrooms and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over med-high in a large (preferably cast iron) skillet.  Add chicken cutlets and cook until golden, about 3 minutes per side.  When cooking cutlets on the second side, add a bit more olive oil and saute the artichoke hearts with the chicken until golden - this should only take 1-2 minutes.  Add artichoke hearts to warm pan with mushrooms.  Transfer chicken to platter when done - tent with foil.

Bring wine, lemon juice and stock to boil in the large skillet over med-high heat.  Whisk in butter/flour mixture and boil until sauce thickens slightly, without burning.  This will take about 1-2 minutes.  Stir in capers, parsley and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add sliced mushrooms and artichoke hearts, stirring to warm and coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, pour over chicken and enjoy :)

*Caper juice will not add extra delightful flavor to anything.  It is briny and bitter - take a little swig if you don't believe me...

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