Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pollo Con i Carciofi

This Christmas I really made out in the cookbook department!! I got books from two of my favorites, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, as well as another amazing country-style Italian cookbook and both volumes of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Let’s just say we better renew the gym memberships for 2010, because it’s going to be a year of eating very well!

I love Lidia’s book because it’s arranged with recipes by region instead of by course. This might be annoying to some, but I love it, since it means less work for me when it comes to the question of what to serve with what. And, since flavors from the same region tend to naturally go well together, she kind of makes creating an entire meal a no-brainer.

Last night’s dinner was from the Lazio region, which includes Rome. Romans are all about bold flavors, and letting their food speak for itself instead of “covering” it with seasoning and overloading it with fancy ingredients. Two staples of Roman cooking happen to be two of my favorite vegetables, artichokes and fennel, and what could be better than putting them together? The chicken was cooked perfectly, and we had some homemade bread on the side for mopping up all of the sauce, yum!

Pollo Con i Carciofi
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich
Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic (peeled and crushed)
4 artichokes (chokes removed and quartered) (or 8 baby artichokes, much easier!)
1 cup dry white wine
2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tsp. salt
1 large (48 oz.) can San Marzano tomatoes (with their juice)
1-2 cups water
2 tbls. parsley (finely chopped) for serving
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving (optional)

To prepare the artichokes fill a bowl with a few cups of cold water and the juice of one lemon. Remove the tough bottom leaves of each artichoke until you reach the softer, pale inner leaves. Cut about ¼ inch off the bottom of the stem, and peel the remainder of the tough skin off the stalk. Cut the top 3rd off of the artichoke and cut it in half the long way (cutting the stem in half). If you’re using baby artichokes there is not usually a “choke”, and you can just place the halves into the acidulated water. If you’re using mature artichokes, you’ll need to remove the fuzzy “choke”. We’ve found the best way is to use spoon to scoop it out. Once you’ve removed the choke, cut each half into two pieces and place them all into the acidulated water.

In a large heavy-bottom pot (like my brand new 6.5 quart Le Cruset oval – thank-you in-laws!) heat the olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking. Season chicken breasts with salt and place them in the pot, browning on both sides – about 8 minutes. Remove chicken and add the crushed garlic cloves. Remove the artichokes from the water with a slotted spoon and add them to the pot. Cook the artichokes and garlic about 4-5 minutes, or until the artichokes begin developing a golden brown color. Add the wine and crushed red pepper flakes, and cook until almost all of the liquid has reduced, about 5-6 minutes. Using your hands (this is the fun part!) crush the tomatoes into large pieces and add them to the pot. Depending on how juicy your tomatoes are slosh the 1-2 cups of water around the tomato can and add to the pot, along with the salt. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook 10-15 minutes, then remove lid and cook an additional 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick you’d like the sauce to be.

On the plate, spoon sauce and artichokes over chicken, sprinkle with parsley and cheese and enjoy!

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