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Finally home from an unforgettable six weeks in Scapezzano—the small town in the Marche region of Italy where my grandfather grew up before immigrating to America in 1911. The descendants of the brother he left behind still live not only in the same town, but in the same house, and offered us the use of an apartment they own just upstairs from the “family homestead.” Everything about our trip was wonderful, and we were sad to say goodbye to our wonderful relatives and return home.
American restaurants tend to hit you over the head with flavor, but in Marche the food was much more about subtlety—about an exacting balance of flavors, not a flavor assault. We found this subtlety both in the wonderful restaurants—those in town, and the wonderful ones we searched out in the countryside—as well as in the cooking of our relatives there.
Another lesson: bigger is not always better. In Marche we found wonderful small, sweet onions that were not only more flavorful, but a much more convenient size for most recipes. We also bought petite chickens full of rich flavor that would be dwarfed by the monsters that pass for chickens in supermarkets here, and gold potatoes that were smaller than Yukon Golds but bigger (and much cheaper) than fingerlings.
The local olive oil we had there—actually, a bottle stocked for us by our relatives from the harvest of their own olive trees!—also underscored the superiority of local ingredients. For me, that means that instead of spending more for special Italian olive oil here, using local California olive oil.
And of course, variety is the spice of life. This lesson isn’t so easily transferred, but the local seafood counters of Marche—even in the big box supermarket—were packed with varieties of seafood we would never be able to find here. Not only was the variety astounding—nearly everything had come off the boats of local fishermen right down at the docks just yards away.
Given all I had learned, my intention returning home was to revolutionize the way we eat. To my dismay, that hasn’t been so easy! Many of the ingredients we used there are simply not available back in California, and what we can find here often isn’t the same character or quality as what Italy offered. So the challenge is to hold on to the lessons Le March offered, using the ingredients available here.
For this recipe I tried to find the smallest, most organic and local chicken I could; and the smallest potatoes available. While neither matched what was on offer in Marche, I hope that preparing this dish will bring you, as it does me, a little reminder of all the reasons why we love Italy!
Pollo in potacchio con patate
•½ small organic chicken cut into 5 pieces (wing, drumstick, thigh and breast cut in half)
•1 small onion
•2 cloves, peeled
•¼ cup dry white wine
•¼ cup chopped imported Italian tomatoes (I like Pomi available for a good price at Smart and Final)
•4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
•10 or so small Yukon gold potatoes
•Good-quality olive oil
•Salt to taste
1. Line a dish with paper towels and lay out the chicken skin side up. Let air dry uncovered in your refrigerator for 2 days (or buy air-dried chicken).
2. Preheat oven to 400°. Cut the potatoes into wedges. Place in a pot, cover with cold water, and add a pinch of salt. Over high heat, bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. The potatoes will not be completely cooked. Drain in colander.
3. Add the potatoes to a prep bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Add the leaves from two of the rosemary sprigs. Add a good pinch of salt and toss the potatoes well.
4. Pour the potatoes out onto a sheet pan and shake to separate. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning the potatoes once with a stainless steel spatula.
5. Meanwhile, in a large skillet add a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken, in batches if necessary, and brown on all sides, about ten minutes. Remove the chicken to a bowl. Discard the rendered chicken fat and oil.
6. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the large skillet, still over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic cloves; sauté until soft but not brown. Add the white wine and rosemary sprigs; cook until the wine evaporates.
7. Lower the heat to low and add the tomatoes. Season with salt and cook for about 10 minutes.
8. Add the chicken and a splash of hot water. Turn the chicken over to coat. Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through.
9. Serve the chicken topped with a little sauce and the potatoes.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog www.OurItalianTable.com.