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What Wise Guys Eat
When I lived in the North End of Boston, in the nineteen eighties and nineties, I used to hang around a neighborhood bar from time to time called The Corner Café. It was located on Prince Street near the corner of Salem Street. And it was indeed a neighborhood place. The owner, Richie Longo, was a neighborhood kid who grew up on Prince Street and duly attended Saint Leonard’s School – as his first generation Italian-American parents had – along with all the other neighborhood kids.
The regular patrons at the time, were neighboring people as well; all of whom seemed to have nicknames. (although, the nicknames were useful for identification purposes). There was Joe the Lawyer, who wasn’t a lawyer at all, but worked as an insurance investigator. Then there was John the Lawyer, who was a stock trader, and John the Lawyer, who was really a lawyer with an office across the street. And I was always confused about Mary the Nurse, whose nickname seemed unnecessary; she was indeed a nurse, but she was the only ordinary one named Mary.
Then there were the rest of the regulars: mostly young men who thought they were smart. Their conversations were peppered with phrases like ‘fuggeddaboudit’ and ‘ba-da-bing!’ And they often talked about ‘needing to see this guy’ or ‘having to take care of that thing.’ But despite the fact that they revered Robert DiNiro, and may have harbored dreams of being known by the nickname “extreme uncote,” the most serious crime any of them ever committed was betting on the Red Sox late in September.
However, when these local heroes weren’t talking about ‘this guy’ or ‘that thing’, the conversation tended to stray to food; often, to Chicken Scarpariello. This was a hot dish–literally, and figuratively–during my years in Boston. And people often debated the qualities of one preparation over another. The talk often centered around the merits of Cantina d’Italia’s recipe, which included sausage, over Felicia’s, which did not. Sausage or not, however, Chicken Scarpariello is the kind of dish that would please any sane person because it encourages eating with a fork in one hand and a torn piece of crusty bread in the other; the latter, used to drink the sauce, and to punctuate various exclamations of ‘fuggeddaboudit’ or ‘ba-da-bing’.
The short version of the history of Chicken Scarpariello, “cobbler-style,” is that it was named for the humble guy who put together the ingredients for the dish from his meager pantry. How it became a smart favorite is more obscure, and very likely lost to history. But I suggest that when you serve Chicken Scarpariello at home, the dinner conversation will be lively and raised a decibel or two above normal. And will you and your fellow diners enjoy it? Fuggeddaboudit.
Chicken by Skip Scarpariello
Chicken, Cobbler Style
Excerpted from my second cookbook, “Almost Italian.”
2 ½ — 3 Lb. Fry chicken cut into 8 pieces
4 Tbs. Olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine (Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio are popular choices)
6 – 8 hot cherry peppers, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 14 oz. Can chicken broth (preferably low sodium)
4 Tbs. Flat-leaf Italian parsley
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Six Links sweet Italian sausage, cut into 1 in. pieces (optional)
4 Tbs. Flat-leaf Italian parsley
Season the chicken pieces on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute, being careful not to burn the garlic.
Add the chicken pieces to the pan without crowding. Do this step in batches if necessary. Cook the chicken pieces, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown all over; about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and set aside on a plate, covering them with aluminum foil.
Raise the heat to high, and add the wine. Boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen any bits of chicken that may have caramelized on the bottom of the pan, for about 2 minutes. Add the cherry peppers, chicken broth, parsley and butter. Let the mixture return to a boil, then stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
Lower the heat to a simmer, return the chicken to the pan, and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. For a really clever presentation, add the sausage at this point as well.
Remove the chicken (and optional sausages) pieces to a platter, cover with the sauce and garnish with the parsley. Serve with plenty of Italian bread to soak up the sauce.
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