A week or so ago a few friends came over for dinner. Two of them got on a train at Penn Station in NYC and arrived 45 minutes before 8 pm at my house. Two of them came over from Kingston and arrived at 8. Another few came up from Rhinebeck and arrived at 8 as well. We sat around a glowing fire and snacked on assorted olives, pistachios, roasted pears, pollenbert cheese and a cute little square Camenbert from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co., and Wicked Good potato chips. We played a game. Of course. When my friend, John, is around we always play a game. This one was a preprandial round of Celebrity. Don't ask. I did participate but was running between the living room and the kitchen so I'm not sure if I got the entire gist of the game. I would gladly play again sometime.
A few weeks earlier, my friend, Roy, had brought me a chicken from the Heritage Meats Shop at the Essex Street Market in NYC - frozen as solid as a glacier. (talk about coals to Newcastle). He said it was the best chicken he had ever tasted. "It's what a chicken should taste like". It took two days to thaw and I made - not my favorite roast chicken - no, this big bird - 4 1/2 pounds - wanted to be slow-roasted. I made a delicious dish from my collection of Lombardian recipes - chicken filled with cabbage and amaretti. Before you roll your eyes - consider that amaretti cookies were created in the town of Saronno in the region of Lombardy. The crunchy little cookies made with bitter almonds are not only eaten as is, but also widely used as an ingredient in the food of the region. They are what give tortellini stuffed with pumpkin it's unique flavor. They make a sensational crust when crumbled to support an espresso semi-freddo. And just wait 'til you try this chicken
GALLINA RIPIENA CON VERZA
serves 4 - 6 (I served 7 using a bigger chicken)
1/2 pound cabbage - preferably Savoy - which most resembles the Italian verza - however, I used Napa because I couuldn't find Savoy
1 onion, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated grana Padana - the Parmesan cheese of Lombardy
10 amaretti cookies, crumbled
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
a few grinds black pepper
1 2 1/2 - 3 pound chicken
1. In a large pot of boiling water cook the cabbage until tender about 7 minutes. Drain.
2. In a large skillet over medium heat saute the onion in the butter until it's transparent, 3 - 4 minutes. Add the cabbage, lower the heat and simmer until the liquid has absorbed, the cabbage has softened and the mixture is somewhat dry, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a bit.
3. In a mixing bowl combine the grated grana, amaretti, egg, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, nutmeg and pepper. Add this mixture to the cabbage and toss together.
4. Open the cavity of the chicken and stuff as much of the cabbage into it as possible - there may be some leftover - add to a small baking dish. Use the butcher's twine to tie the legs together over the cavity. Tuck the wings underneath and secure by wrapping twine around the whole bird. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of salt over the bird. Place the chicken in a cast iron skillet or roasting pan.
5. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Cook until the skin is golden and crispy, and the pan juice runs pink from the breast, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the leftover cabbage stuffing to the oven about 1/2 hour before the chicken is finished to heat up.
6. Serve the carved chicken with its pan juices and stuffing and soft polenta.
I did serve my chicken with soft polenta made just as I always do (except that I doubled the recipe to insure leftovers) with the same great Hudson Valley polenta from Wild Hive Farm. Only for this particular polenta I added a heaping 1/2 cup crumbled Ewe's Blue - a real creamy and tangy blue cheese from the above mentioned Old Chatham Sheepherding Co.
I made a topping for the baked polenta by sauteeing sliced onions until they got slightly caramel, shiitake mushrooms, and broccolini - that had been blanched to tenderize and ease out the bitterness- in butter and olive oil.
One of the guests, good friend, James, made a loaf of sturdy, to-die-for olive-rosemary bread.
Dessert was delicious with a capital D - I can only tell you that it was the best rice pudding ever. I can't give you the recipe. Yet. My friend, Roy is working on a cookbook and the pudding is an unpublished recipe which he kindly shared with me. I'll share it with you when I'm given permission to do so. I served the rice pudding with my mother's gingersnaps. Quite a combination. Oh, and some adorable mandarin oranges chased with a glass of icy limoncello.
We dined. Oh, yes, we did.
This is what I did with the leftover polenta. Served it, reheated, to my friend, Cynthia, topped with sauteed microgreens that had just arrived at Lick the Market that morning for casual Sunday dinner seated around the fire.