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Florentine Rags (Cenci)
Jan 28th, 2010 by
Some people add a little lemon juice or lemon zest to the dough but this recipe did not call for any.

Some people add a little lemon juice or lemon zest to the dough but this recipe did not call for any.

Here’s another recipe from the classic 19th century Italian Cookbook, The Art of Eating Well, by Pellegrino Artusi.

Cenci are a Florentine winter treat, made from Epiphany to Mardi Gras. This deep-fried pastry looks like little rags and tastes a little like fried dough, but not as heavy and never greasy.

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • All-purpose flour (2 1/4 cups)
  • Butter (2 tbsp.)
  • Confectioners’ sugar (1/3 cup, plus more for dusting the finished cenci)
  • Large eggs (2)
  • Brandy (1 tbsp.)
  • Salt (just a pinch)
  • Water (Optional; 1/4 cup or less; just enough to make dough)
  • Vegetable oil or lard (enough for deep frying)

I recommend using a cast iron skillet when deep frying. Get the oil good and hot, but not smoking.

I recommend using a cast iron skillet when deep frying. Get the oil good and hot, but not smoking.

What I did:

Making the Dough: Mix all of these ingredients in a bowl, making a fairly stiff dough. You may have to add a little water to incorporate all of the ingredients. Knead the dough thoroughly on a lighted floured surface. Add a little flour if dough comes out too soft. Shape into a ball and flour it. Let it rest, covered, for about an hour.

After it rests, the dough will much softer and easier to roll out. (If the dough formed a crust while it sat, knead it a little before rolling it out.) Roll it out into a thin rectangle (about 1/8 inch thick).

Use a pastry wheel (or knife) to cut it into strips as long as your palm and two fingers wide.

Twist and crinkle the strips and then fry them in the hot oil or lard.

Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to catch the extra oil.

Transfer to a clean plate and when cool, dust them with confectioners’ sugar.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta
Jul 27th, 2009 by
A made this for my cousins who visited me on a Maine Island this summer. However, the dish is a hearty one, best suited for autumn or winter.

A made this for my cousins who visited me on a Maine Island this summer. However, the dish is a hearty one, best served in autumn or winter. (Photo by Russell French)

This is one of my prized recipes. My grandmother, Bruna, used to make this and it was my favorite dish when I was a little boy.

I remember sitting at her kitchen table, with a glass of red wine mixed 50/50 with ginger ale (that’s what the kids got to drink). I’d pluck out the little black olives that were covered in a red sauce and stick them on all ten fingers, and then eat them one by one. My fingertips would be hot and then instantly cool as I ate each one.

Here’s the recipe from that memory:

Ingredients:

  • Chicken: I like to use a mixture of bone-in breasts and bone-in thighs. For this recipe, you could use four bone-in breasts; and four bone-in thighs to serve between 6 and eight people. You could also use a whole chicken, cut up, or even rabbit.
  • Two or three sweet Italian sausages
  • About 16 oz. of mushrooms
  • One can of pitted black olives
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cans of tomato paste (and about the same amount of water)
  • Two or three garlic cloves
  • A sprig of fresh sage or about a tablespoon of dried sage
  • A sprig of nepitella or about a tablespoon of dried nepitella. Can also substitute a combination of basil and mint. Optional.
  • About four or five tablespoons of olive oil
  • About 1/3 to 1/2 cup of red table wine
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of nutmeg

Ingredients for Polenta:

  • Three cups of corn meal
  • Seven cups of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

A good red table wine, such as a chianti or home-made zinfandel, goes nicely with chicken and polenta.

A good red table wine, such as a chianti or home-made zinfandel, goes nicely with chicken and polenta. (Photo by Russell French)

What I did:

Clean fat from chicken and soak in salted water

Boil sausage for about three minutes

Fry sausage with chicken, one clove of garlic (crushed), sage, salt and nutmeg in about one tablespoon of olive oil

Fry mushrooms in about one or two tablespoons of olive oil, with garlic clove (crushed), and nepitella. And then add to chicken.

Add red wine, pitted black olives, tomato paste and dissolve with water to make a sauce.

Heat in oven. If heating in oven immediately after cooking, set at 350 and heat for only about 15 minutes or so. If you’re not going to serve it for a while, turn heat down to 250 or even 200 just to keep warm. (Don’t overcook chicken as it gets tough.)

To make polenta:

Bring seven cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a boil over medium high heat. Gradually stir in three cups of corn meal in a slow and steady stream. Stir vigorously as you add the corn meal to avoid lumps. Continue to stir vigorously until polenta is a creamy, yet stiff, consistency.

Tip: Have boiling water on hand in case polenta gets too thick.

You can either spoon polenta onto plates in a small pile or you can dump the whole pot of polenta on a large wooden board and let it spread out and cool a bit before slicing into rectangles or squares.

Spoon tomato sauce from chicken dish on top of polenta when serving.

Some people like to eat lobster before a bright summer sunset. Others like to shake things up with chicken and polenta. (Photo by Mark Micheli)

Some people like to eat lobster before a bright summer sunset. Others like to shake things up with chicken and polenta. (Photo by Mark Micheli)

(Special thanks to professional food photographer Russell French for photographing this meal. His photos appear courtesy of Russell French Studio.)

Find more recipes in the Food section.

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