Friday, July 20, 2012

Recipes and Tales from Chianti--Ciona

Ciona, one of the beautiful homes where we cooked (and dined!).  You can actually see Sienna in the distance.
This is their wine label that is exported to the US.

After a wonderful trip to the Chianti region of Tuscany, I'm home and reeling with ideas, recipes, and beautiful memories. I told you about the famous Butcher in Panzano. Dario, in the butcher world, is a superstar, and we had the full experience. Later that week we had cooking classes with our friends of Tutti a Tavola, and to me these ladies are also culinary superstars!

Early in the week Mimma, our host and one of the 'Mamas' of Tutti a Tavola asked what recipes we would like to prepare. When we didn't have any particular requests (other than a primer in their chicken liver spread that I want to make for my Mom), Mimma proposed a menu of her recent favorite recipes that resulted in a fantastic meal and a great learning experience.

We spent hours working together to turn the beautiful, local produce, meats and cheeses into a meal fit for a Medici. My sister and I were joined in the class by an Italian mother and daughter who now live in Chile and were back visiting relatives. While we spoke little Italian, they spoke little English, but by the end of the evening we were all communicating in culinary-ese.

The recipes we prepared don't sound hard at all, and they're not. Simplicity defines Tuscan cuisine. It relies on hundreds of years of refined technique combined with the freshness and quality of ingredients to produce dishes that are so uniquely superb in their quality.

We are instructed through each recipe.

Chicken Skewers and Grilled Vegetables

Spiedini di Pollo all'olio di Oliva (Carne or Secondi Course)
Chicken Skewers with Olive Oil

1 lb. Chicken breast pieces
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
1 small onion, finely minced
~1 tsp. Salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
fresh bay leaves, halved (you could substitute thin slices of onion, pepper or tomato without seeds, but usually you can find the bay leaves in the refrigerated produce with other fresh herbs—we picked ours off their tree)

Preheat oven to 425°.
Use either chicken breast tenders or flattened breast pieces (cover with wax paper when flattening to avoid a mess), and cut into into 2x3 inch pieces. You want these pieces to be fairly thin, and equal in size so they well cook evenly in the same amount of time.
Mix the bread crumbs, grated cheese, onion and salt. Taste and adjust with more salt if needed.
Pour olive oil into a bowl (add more if needed).
Add several chicken pieces at a time to olive oil. Dip them out with your hands and squeeze tightly over the bowl to squeeze out excess oil. Place these pieces into the breadcrumb mixture and press to evenly coat each piece.
Thread each piece onto skewer, folding over and piercing twice. Separate each piece with half a bay leaf. Be sure chicken pieces are spread apart so they will cook evenly.
Arrange skewers in a roasting pan and cook for ~15 minutes.

Verdure alla Griglia (Contorni/Vegetable Course)
Grilled Vegetables

2 or 3 red and yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
4 or 5 medium zucchini sliced lengthwise
2 or 3 small eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise
5 small sweet onions, peeled, and cut into eighths
4 or 5 small tomatoes, seeded and cut into eighths
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Freshly grated black pepper
One-third cup breadcrumbs
One-third cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425°.
Mix breadcrumbs and cheese and set aside.
Oil a large roasting pan, then line with parchment paper and oil the top of the paper well. Place peppers, zucchini and eggplant slices evenly on pan separating a little. Top with onions and tomatoes, spreading evenly. Now drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper and breadcrumb mixture evenly over vegetables.
Place on top rack in oven and roast until vegetables are tender and lightly blackened in spots, about 30 minutes.

Fabulous Radicchio Lasagna
Fresh Creme Dessert

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