Chicken Cacciatore

 

First, I want to thank you for following me on 74 Main Street.  Life has been very busy the past 2 weeks and I wasn’t able to sit down and write a post.  I’ve missed writing and hope you’ve missed my recipes. 


Unlike many Italian American families, my family did not gather together on Sunday for a big pot of sauce and pasta. Actually my Dad preferred a good roast for a family dinner. Still, my Grandma or my Great Aunt would occasionally make sauce and they would definitely cook it all day with sausage, meatballs, and pork to add flavor.  But my personal favorite was when they put chicken in the sauce. For me chicken cooked in tomato sauce until it’s falling off the bone is a beautiful thing! So, one very popular Italian chicken dish has long been a personal favorite… Chicken Cacciatore

That being said, Chicken Cacciatore is derived from the Italian preparation “alla cacciatora” or hunter style — or more literally “prepared in the style of the hunter’s wife.” In Italy, this dish was traditionally prepared with rabbit (congilio alla cacciatora), pheasant, or other game.  But today it is more commonly made with chicken.

Chicken alla Cacciatora is a dish that appears to have no true identity. There are hundreds of versions throughout Italy and no two seem to be exactly alike. And there are no real common threads among the recipes aside from the name and the main ingredient being chicken.

Many regional recipes for cacciatora do not contain any tomato products at all, but generally consist of meat braised with wine (often red wine in the south and white wine in the north), garlic, onions, and herbs. Some recipes contain sweet or hot peppers… and many recipes include mushrooms, as this is commonly considered an ingredient in “hunter style” preparations — I guess hunters somehow find time to gather mushrooms while stalking their prey.

In most Italian American versions of Chicken Cacciatore it is common to find tomato sauce, red or green bell peppers, and mushrooms in the recipe.

The recipe I’m featuring here is an old school recipe that comes close to the southern Italian roots of the Lista family. I really like this version of Chicken Cacciatore because it doesn’t contain mushrooms (which my wife can’t eat) and it does contain olives which we both love.    

Although the original recipe calls for a whole chicken cut up — I have chosen to use only  bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. First, because it’s economical and second, because the dark thigh meat brings a richness to the dish. You certainly can use whatever cut of chicken you prefer, but since this is a braised dish, I would suggest staying away from boneless, skinless breasts since they tend to become dry when cooked for a long time.


Chicken Cacciatore (pollo alla cacciatora)

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
8 Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Thighs (about 3-4 pounds)
Salt and Pepper – to taste
1/4 cup Olive Oil
5 cloves Garlic – peeled and crushed but left whole
1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
2 sprigs Fresh Rosemary (or 1 tsp dry)
1 medium Green Bell Pepper – sliced
1 medium Red Bell Pepper – sliced
1 cup Red Wine (like Chianti or Merlot)
1 (28 oz) can Whole Peeled Tomatoes (like San Marzano)
1 cup Whole Pitted Kalamata Olives
Chicken Stock or Water as needed

Pecorino Romano Cheese – for garnish (optional)

Directions:
1. Season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet or dutch oven with lid over med-high heat. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary and chicken pieces. Cook, turning chicken occasionally, for about 20 minutes until chicken has browned on all sides.
3. Pour off some of the accumulated fat (leaving just a coating on the bottom of pan) and add the sliced red and green peppers. Cook turning occasionally until peppers begin to soften. Add the red wine and allow to simmer until liquid reduces by half. About 10 minutes.
4. Pour the canned tomatoes in a small bowl, squeeze them with your hand until they are broken up and add them, along with the olives, to the chicken. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until chicken is thoroughly cooked. If sauce becomes too dry add some chicken broth or water.
5. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve spooning the sauce over the chicken and sprinkling with some Pecorino Romano if desired.


There you have it, old school Chicken Cacciatore. This goes great with a heartier long pasta like linguine, or try it over some creamy polenta, or even alongside some fresh mashed potatoes. The richness of the chicken thighs works so well with the briny olives and the acid from the wine and tomatoes. I hope you give this recipe a try… and I won’t mind if you throw in some sliced mushrooms in honor of those Italian hunters.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Vinnie’s Lentil Florentine

Continuing with the soup du jour theme, I wanted to share another of my Dad’s favorites: Lentil Florentine.

Lentil soup was a staple in my house growing up and it was often featured on the Lista’s menu. Lentil Florentine is really an Americanized name for Zuppa con Lenticchie e Spinaci or soup with lentils and spinach. In culinary terms, “a la florentine” (in the style of Florence) generally means something is served on a bed of spinach or topped with spinach. So, as was characteristic of Lista’s menu lingo, the lentil soup with spinach was called Lentil Florentine.

Lentils have been cultivated and eaten for thousands of years. They are a high protein, high fiber member of the legume family. And lentils are an important part of the diet in many South Asian, West Asian, and Mediterranean cultures. Lentils come in many colors and sizes but the most common are brown, green, and red. Interestingly, the world’s largest lentil producer/exporter is Saskatchewan, Canada.

In Italy lentils (lenticchie) are often served as a side dish with meats and fish. Lentils are commonly paired with pork (pancetta, speck, contechino, or fennel sausage) and cooked with rice or pasta. And, of course, there are several soup variations: Zuppa di Lenticchie, Minestra di Lenticchie, Riso e Lenticchie, Pasta e Lenticchie… and so on.

The recipe featured here is the simple classic prepared by my Dad, and served at Lista’s. It is basically a vegetable soup and if you substitute vegetable broth (or even plain water) for the chicken stock in the recipe it would be considered “vegetarian” and leaving out the Pecorino Romano will make it “vegan.”

Notes: I still make this soup often. When I make it at home, I will sometimes start with chopped mild Italian sausage (casing removed) and then cook the vegetables in the sausage drippings which adds another layer of flavor to this delicious soup.

I have also used up leftover diced ham by adding it at the end of the cooking time until heated through.

Many times I add cooked brown rice or small pasta like ditalini just before serving.


Vinnie’s Lentil Florentine

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium Yellow Onion – diced
2 large Carrots – diced
2 stalks Celery – diced
2 cloves Garlic – minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp Salt (or to taste)
½ tsp Black Pepper (or to taste)
2 cups Brown Lentils – sorted and rinsed
8 cups Chicken Stock (or vegetable broth)
1 (10 oz.) box Frozen Chopped Spinach – thawed
1 (14.5 oz.) can Petite Diced Tomatoes with juice
1/2 cup Grated Pecorino Romano for topping

Directions:
1. In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery; cook and stir until onion is tender. Stir in garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper; cook for 2 minutes.
2. Stir in lentils, add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Squeeze water from thawed spinach and add spinach to pot along with tomatoes. Stir thoroughly and continue to cook until lentils are tender about 30 more minutes. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasoning to taste.
4. When ready to serve ladle into serving bowls and top with a generous amount of Pecorino Romano.


There you have it, Vinnie’s Lentil Florentine just like we served at Lista’s. This hearty soup is rich and very satisfying on a cool fall evening. Serve it with some crusty bread and a crisp green salad for a quick and healthy weekday meal. Leftovers are great for lunch the next day, and can be frozen in microwaveable containers for up to a month.

So until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

soup du jour

Lista’s Italian Cuisine had many memorable items on their menu. Most customers had their personal favorites, whether it was Spaghetti with Meatballs, Lasagna Bolognese, Eggplant Parmigiana, or the fabulous Rigatoni fra Diavalo — everything was well crafted, satisfying and delicious! Still, there was one unsung hero on the menu that truly showed my Dad’s culinary passion: the soup du jour.

Dad was a soup connoisseur… and a Soup Master. He personally created and prepared a variety of soups that had a perfect balance of broth, substance, texture and most importantly flavor. And whenever Dad dined in another restaurant he always ordered soup. Partly to see what the competition was doing, but primarily because he simply loved a good bowl of soup. If the soup was good, Dad was sure to compliment the chef — but if it was not so good, he wasn’t afraid to comment on that.

One soup lesson I remember Dad teaching me when I worked at Lista’s: You need to always serve soup from the bottom of the pot, in other words, don’t just scoop the broth off the top but reach the ladle down and bring up all the ingredients so each customer would have a full bowl of soup goodness. And this was a lesson he freely shared with the waitstaff in other establishments whenever he ordered soup.

One of the notable members of Dad’s soup repertoire was Lista’s Minestrone.

Minestrone (pronounced “min eh stron ee”) is the quintessential Italian vegetable soup and its name literally means “soup” so to say minestrone soup is truly redundant. Lista’s served minestrone every day… and for many years served it as a complimentary appetizer with every meal.

In a busy restaurant, chef’s often turn to certain specialty or convenience food items to make prep time shorter, and such is the case with Lista’s. To make his minestrone Dad always used a frozen “Italian Vegetable Blend” with zuchini, cauliflower, carrots, Italian green beans, and red peppers. And since the soup was made almost daily the use of frozen vegetables didn’t detract from the fresh taste or texture. The soup also included ditalini pasta, ceci beans (garbanzo), and of course a generous amount of Pecorino Romano cheese.

And although minestrone is a vegetable soup it was always made with chicken stock (in those days vegans weren’t a big demographic). Chicken stock was generally the basis for all soups with the exception of those with beef in the name (i.e beef barley). You can easily use one of the many boxed chicken broths/stocks available today (or substitute a vegetable broth) or even use a jar of chicken base — but for an authentic soup making experience making your own homemade chicken stock is quite simple.

Here is my method of making homemade chicken stock. I have found using inexpensive bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs works well but chicken quarters, drumsticks, or even the whole bird is equally good. And if I have 1 or 2 leftover rotisserie chicken carcasses in the freezer I add those. I typically only add bay leaf but will throw in a sprig of thyme or parsley if I have it around. Sometimes I add some ground turmeric (good antioxidant) which gives the stock a rich yellow color that is especially nice when making rice with the stock. And unlike packaged products, this stock is free of sugars, yeasts, MSG, soy, gluten/wheat, mushrooms, and tons of salt. It takes some time but is well worth it from a healthy eating perspective.


Homemade Chicken Stock

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1-2 hours
Yield: about 2 quarts stock

Ingredients:
4-6 Bone-in Chicken Thighs with Skin
1-2 Leftover Roasted Chicken Carcasses (if available)
Salt and Black Pepper – to season chicken

2 stalks Celery (with leaves) – cut in quarters
2 large Carrots (unpeeled) – cut in quarters
1 large Yellow Onion (unpeeled) – cut in quarters
3-4 cloves Garlic (unpeeled)
1 tsp Whole Black Peppercorns
1-2 large Bay Leaves
1 sprig Thyme or Parsley (optional)
1 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp Turmeric (optional)

10 cups Cold Water

Directions:
1. You will need a large stock pot or dutch oven that has a lid. Place pot on the stove and turn the burner on med-high. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place skin side down on bottom of heated pot. Allow to sear and cook for 10 minutes, turn over so skin side is up. Add broken up chicken carcasses if using.
2. Add celery, carrots, onion, garlic, 
peppercorns, bay leaves, and thyme (if using), salt and turmeric (if using) — cover pot and allow to sweat for 10 minutes. Add 10 cups cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot and allow to simmer for at least 1 hour. Occasionally skim off any foam that accumulates at top (if desired).
3. When done cooking, use tongs to remove the chicken pieces (reserve meat for the soup or another use). Remove and discard the vegetables and bones — then strain stock through a wire mesh strainer into a suitable container. Discard anything left in strainer.
4. If using right away to make soup, allow the stock to sit for 15 minutes and use a kitchen spoon to skim accumulated fat from the top — or if using later pour into small containers (about 2-3 cups) and refrigerate overnight allowing the fat to solidify on top. Then simply remove and discard fat before using in recipes.
5. This homemade chicken stock, if properly cooled, will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator or can be frozen up to a month.


Lista’s Minestrone

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30-45 minutes
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:
1 TBSP Olive Oil
2 stalks Celery – sliced 1/2 inch pieces
1 med Onion – chopped
2 cloves Garlic – minced
7 cups Prepared Chicken Stock
1 bag (16 oz) Frozen Italian Blend Vegetables
1 can (15 oz) Garbanzo Beans – rinsed
1 can (15 oz) Diced Tomatoes with juice
1 tsp Dry Parsley Flakes
1/2 tsp Dry Basil
1/2 tsp Salt – or to taste
1/2 tsp Black Pepper – or to taste
1 cup Ditalini Pasta
1/2 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

Directions:
1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy stock pot over medium heat. Add celery, onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent.
2. Add chicken stock to pot, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Add frozen vegetables, garbanzo beans, canned tomatoes, parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Return to a boil — reduce heat to med-low and allow to simmer until vegetables are cooked through — about 15-20 minutes.
3. In a separate small pan, cook pasta according to package directions to al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
4. Just before serving, stir pasta to soup and allow to heat through — about 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano and ladle soup into individual bowls. Serve immediately.


There you have it, a good basic chicken stock and Lista’s Minestrone just like Dad made in the restaurant. If you can’t find the Italian Blend Vegetables (Wegmans, Tops, Walmart and Target all have a version) then feel free to use equivalent amounts of fresh vegetables. The flat Italian green beans and cauliflower are a nice touch so you have that green-white-red Italian flag look. If you won’t finish the soup in one sitting then keep the pasta on the side and add it to the individual bowls when serving (to avoid pasta getting mushy). You can freeze the leftovers (without pasta) for up to a month in a sealed container.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Vinnie Lista’s Ziti & Broccoli

 

Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, an almost unlimited variety… yet many people only enjoy a few of those varieties, sticking to the familiar or maybe some favorites. When I was growing up, the pasta we ate was either spaghetti, rigatoni or elbows, with an occasional foray into fettuccine (only with Alfredo); rotini (tri-color for pasta salad) or gnocchi (which I only ate at Lista’s). And there were a few cheese filled pastas like ravioli or manicotti which were also featured on the Lista’s menu. But generally, in our house, the pasta repertoire was relatively limited.

In the 70’s I became aware that ziti was kind of a “thing” and lots of people were making baked ziti dishes for family gatherings and potluck suppers… and it was forever seen on any wedding buffet in the Rochester area.

Ziti by itself is somewhat lackluster — smooth and hollow — the dull nephew in the pasta family. I always thought of it as a poor substitute for the more robust rigatoni I was used to. Ziti was always at its best when pared with a savory sauce, and the richness of meat or cheese. So for many the popular Baked Ziti combination of pasta and meat sauce topped with mozzarella was the prevalent choice.

At some point, my Dad started cooking a “new” ziti dish made with broccoli, olive oil and garlic, which was a real departure from our typical fare of red sauce, meat, and mozzarella… and using luxurious olive oil and aromatic garlic made the dish more exotic and romantic than the standard stuff. This simple dish soon became one of Dad’s personal favorites and he made it regularly at home; and  when “vegetarian” menu options became necessary in the late 70’s (thanks to Mollie Katzen and Moosewood) the dish was often served at Lista’sEven though Dad’s recipe only has a few ingredients; is pretty unsophisticated, and easy to prepare — it is still a tasty and satisfying meal. 


Vinnie Lista’s Ziti & Broccoli

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 15 min
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:
1 lb. Ziti Pasta — cooked al dente

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
4 cloves Fresh Garlic, minced (about 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
3-4 cups Fresh Broccoli Florets (about 2 med heads)
Salt and Black Pepper – to taste
1/2 cup Pasta Cooking Water or Vegetable Broth – as needed
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese — as needed

Directions:
1. In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta per package instructions until “al dente” about 8 minutes. Reserve 1 cup cooking water. Drain pasta in colander and set aside.

2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes over medium heat until fragrant.
3. Add the broccoli florets to the pan. Toss the broccoli to coat with the oil. Season with salt and pepper and saute over medium heat until the broccoli is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
4. Turn the heat up to med-high and deglaze the pan with the cooking water or broth, stirring up any browned bits.
5. Add in the cooked pasta and gently toss until everything is heated through.
6. Spoon into plates or pasta bowls and top with a generous amount of grated Pecorino Romano cheese before serving.


There you have it, Vinnie Lista’s Ziti & Broccoli. This is a super simple but really delicious meatless meal for your family, and a nice change of pace from a red sauce. It is easy to double or triple the recipe for a large gathering. For a more upscale dish add some sliced mushrooms and red bell pepper with the broccoli and use some white wine to deglaze the pan. If you prefer something with more substance try adding sliced cooked chicken breast or cooked shrimp when you add the pasta. I hope you enjoy it.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Lista’s Restaurant Meatloaf

In my time, Lista’s Italian Cuisine stood at 74 Main Street and served primarily Italian foods, however, in its earlier years (1940’s & 50’s) the place was called The Campus Restaurant & Soda Bar and my grandparents were catering to the local “college town” clientele with typically American foods like sandwiches, char-broiled burgers, and ice cream sodas.

Then, as the story goes, after my Dad returned from serving in Korea, whenever some of the servicemen would come into the restaurant they would say to Grandma, “Hey Ma, make us some spaghetti” or “make us some lasagna” and the idea of serving Italian specialties took off. Still even at Lista’s Italian Cuisine some of the traditional American favorites remained on the menu: Grilled Steaks, Baked Ham, Fried Chicken, and of course Meatloaf!

Yet, the meatloaf on the Lista’s menu was not typically “American” in that it was never topped with ketchup or served with brown gravy and mashed potatoes. Lista’s meatloaf  didn’t contain veal, pork, sausage or bacon; no extra veggies or cheese. Instead it was an unpretentious combination of ground beef, onions, eggs, breadcrumbs and rolled oats (a nod to the leaner days of the Depression and my Dad’s time in the Army) and baked au naturel. The result; a dense, firm meatloaf — moist enough that it could be sliced very thin without crumbling. On the menu, the meatloaf was featured topped with sauteed green peppers and served with a side of spaghetti or fried potatoes.

So here is the recipe for the restaurant style meatloaf that I grew up with. Give it a try as written… or you could certainly use a beef/veal/pork meatloaf mix if you prefer; add some diced green peppers or other veggie (if you want to hide them from the kids). Feel free to adjust the seasoning to your particular taste — bake it in a bread pan and even top it with ketchup if you must. 

A note to my GLUTEN FREE friends… use GF rolled oats and bread crumbs — or substitute an equal amount of cooked quinoa instead.


Lista’s Restaurant Style Meatloaf

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
Serves: 6 – 8

Ingredients:
2 1/2 lbs Ground Beef
3 Eggs – beaten
1 cup Rolled Oats (not instant)
1 cup Bread Crumbs
1/2 cup Onion – finely diced 
1 TBSP Dry Parsley Flakes
1 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F with rack in the middle. Prepare a rimmed baking pan with foil or parchment and spray with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl add all the ingredients listed and knead together with clean hands (or use disposable gloves) until thoroughly combined and no dry ingredients are left in clumps. 
3. Gather up all the meatloaf mixture in your two hands and roughly form it into a football shape. Place in center of prepared baking sheet and continue to press and form the meat into a loaf shape approximately 5 inches wide by 9 inches long.
4. Place meatloaf in the preheated oven and bake for 60 minutes until cooked all the way through and/or an instant read thermometer reads at least 165 degrees in the center.
5. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with your favorite side dishes.


There you have it, the Lista’s Restaurant version of meatloaf. Leftovers freeze well and can be reheated in the microwave without losing texture. Sliced thin it makes great sandwiches (I like mine on toast with mayo and sliced tomato).

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Dan’s Chicken French

In response to requests from some of my readers, today I’m featuring my own Chicken French recipe. As many of you know, Chicken French is considered a regional dish from the Rochester NY area, and almost every Italian American restaurant in town serves their version of this popular dish. Interestingly, Lista’s never did have it on the menu. Possibly because the dish was relatively new in the mid 70’s and Lista’s closed its doors in 1980.

Since locally this dish is featured in Italian American restaurants, one might think it a traditional Italian dish. But from what I have learned it doesn’t appear in traditional Italian cookbooks or in the restaurants of Italy. Although articles have been written about the roots of the dish, there is still some controversy as to the origin. And it seems that Chicken French may be a dish that was created out of necessity.

In the 1950’s a dish called vitello alla francese — veal prepared in the French style — was being served in some upscale New York City restaurants. Similar to the traditional veal piccata, which is also made with a wine and butter sauce, vitello alla francese was made with the addition of lemon… and was dipped in an egg batter. This dish made its way upstate to the more casual Italian American restaurants and was generally called veal francese or simply veal french. Then in the 1970’s when the consumption of veal was being protested, some clever restaurateurs substituted the benign chicken breast for the controversial veal cutlet and voila — Chicken French was born!

Once Chicken French hit the local menus its popularity grew quickly and people soon found their personal favorite spots to dine on the dish. The recipes varied slightly from chef to chef and generally was determined by the use of the more assertive sherry versus the subtler white wine. And the ratios of wine to lemon to butter seemed to give one place advantage over the next. Although it is truly a matter of personal preference… I happen to like sherry wine and a bit more lemon in mine.

All that being said, I personally had never heard of Chicken French, let alone eaten it, until my Dad began his second career at Brockport College. Where it was, of course, a popular dish at the on-campus restaurant and catered banquets. 

The funny thing is, when I first learned to make Chicken French I just assumed it was called that simply because it was made like French Toast dipping the cutlet in egg batter and pan frying it.


A few notes before you use this recipe:

Remember chicken breasts come in all sizes, so if you are using those gigantic breasts from the Family Pack at Wegmans then you may want to butterfly them to make the meat easier to pound…and you need to pound the chicken. You want a thin cutlet so it cooks quickly and evenly, and by pounding the meat you will also break down any connective tissues that may cause the chicken to be tough.

As I mentioned above, I prefer to use a dry sherry wine for my chicken french. (Taylor is a good inexpensive choice for cooking.) Even a bottle of cooking sherry will do in a pinch. But if you happen to have a good dry white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc then by all means use that instead.

Fresh lemon juice is always the best choice — but the bottled stuff works in this recipe. And remember to adjust to your taste (you may want to only add half the lemon at first, taste and add more to suit your palate).

Make extra sauce if you’re serving guests. People like extra sauce, so think ahead and double the sauce ingredients (chicken stock, wine, lemon, butter) and cook some in a separate pan if needed. 


Dan’s Chicken French

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 generous servings

Ingredients:
4 Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breast Halves – pounded to 1/4 inch

1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
Salt and Black Pepper – to taste
2 Eggs – beaten
1 tsp Parsley Flakes
2 TBSP Olive Oil (more as needed)
4 TBSP Unsalted Butter – divided
1/4 cup Dry Sherry (or to taste)
1/4 cup Lemon Juice (or to taste)
1-2 cups Chicken Stock

Directions:
1. Place chicken breast halves (one at a time) in a large zip top bag and pound with the flat side of meat mallet or other flat heavy object until they are about 1/4 inch thick and even.

2. In a shallow bowl, mix together flour, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, whisk eggs with parsley flakes.
3. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil and 2 TBSP butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter melts and begins to foam. Swirl pan to combine oil and butter.
4. Dip each chicken portion into the flour mixture first, then into the egg mixture, and gently lay them into the skillet. Allow room to turn over. Add additional olive oil as needed.
5. Sauté the chicken breasts, turning over once, until golden brown about 3 minutes on each side. Remove from the skillet and set on a large platter or baking pan.
6. In the same skillet over medium-low heat, melt the remaining 2 TBSP butter, stir in the sherry, lemon juice, and 1 cup chicken stock. Bring the sauce to a simmer, dissolving any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet as you stir. Return the chicken breasts to the sauce, and gently simmer until no longer pink in the center, about 15 minutes. Add additional chicken stock as needed.
7. Serve the Chicken French with any remaining sauce spooned over top.


There you have it, Dan’s Chicken French. A classic recipe that is both simple to prepare and elegant to serve. Served with some seasoned rice and a green vegetable (think broccoli, asparagus, or haricots verts) makes this an everyday meal. Presenting on a bed of angel hair pasta or sauteed greens will make it work even for special occasions. So I hope you get the chance to make it for your family or friends sometime soon. And don’t forget you should tweak the flavor by adjusting the amounts of sherry and/or lemon to suit your particular palate.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Bread… and more Bread

 

 

Like most Italian-American restaurants, Lista’s brought bread to the table before the salads and entrees… served in a napkin-lined basket with those little ‘pats’ of paper-wrapped butter on the side. It was actually French bread that we served — because the long, narrow loaves were easier to slice and they fit better in the small baskets. We also had this stainless steel bread warmer (about the size of a small microwave oven) with a lower drawer that held distilled water and an upper drawer that bread slices were placed in. On the side was a handle or lever (like a slot machine) that was pumped to produce steam which quickly warmed the bread so that when it was brought to the table it would easily melt the little butter pats.

Now as you can imagine, over the course of days, there would be some bread left over and since restaurateurs are a frugal lot, there was a need to find a use for day old bread.

So today I want to give you two simple recipes from Lista’s that helped us solve the bread problem, and may even help your family re-purpose that day old loaf sitting on your counter.

Introducing the Crouton!  Apparently created in 17th century France as a way to make stale bread more palatable, the crouton (or “little crust”) has been around for centuries.  (Ah, but in the early days of Lista’s, croutons were purchased in large boxes and they resembled the kind of thing that is sold at thanksgiving to make ‘stuffing.’ Not very appealing by today’s standards. Of course today we have become kind of ‘crouton snobby’ with umpteen different varieties and options on store shelves… but I digress.)

Somewhere along the timeline, Lista’s began making their own croutons and the resulting crunchy little bread cubes were so popular that customers would order them by the bowlful to munch on while waiting for their dinners.

At Lista’s we actually deep fried our croutons; after allowing the bread cubes to air-dry for some time, they were submerged in the deep-fat fryer until they were crispy and deep brown — then they were seasoned while still hot and allowed to come to room temperature before storing in airtight bins for use on salads, etc.

Since I prefer not to deep fry at home I have written the recipe with a stove top method. However, If you own a deep fryer, then by all means use it for the authentic experience. Unfortunately, baking the croutons really won’t give you the same results.


Lista’s Croutons

Prep time: 5 minutes – plus drying time up to 2 hours
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes: lots of croutons!

Ingredients:
1/2 loaf Day-old French Bread – cut into 1/2″ cubes (about 3-4 cups)
1/2 cup Olive Oil (not extra virgin) – more as needed
1 tsp Lista’s Seasoned Salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano
1 tsp Dry Parsley (optional)

Directions:
1.  Cut day old bread into 3/4″ cubes using a serrated knife.  Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and allow to air dry for at least 2 hours.
2.  In a large deep skillet or frying pan — heat all the oil over medium heat.
3.  Add the dry bread cubes and stir to coat with oil — continue to cook and stir over medium heat until the bread cubes start to brown and get crunchy.  (When using a deep fryer follow manufacturers instructions to deep fry bread cubes at 350º F until golden brown and crispy – drain on paper towels before continuing with step #4)
4.  Transfer the browned croutons into a large bowl and sprinkle immediately with seasoned salt, grated Romano and parsley.  Shake or stir to distribute the seasonings evenly over all the croutons.  Serve with your favorite salad or soup.
5.  Allow extra croutons to cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.  Can be frozen up to a month if desired.


Even though we served lots and lots of croutons at Lista’s, the leftover bread situation continued… Welcome Bread Pudding!

This old fashioned, homey, dessert (somewhat akin to the ubiquitous Rice Pudding found on so many diner menus) became the answer to the day-old bread dilemma.

And as Bread Pudding found its way into the hearts of many of our customers, my Dad became somewhat of a bread pudding artiste, creating several interpretations of the sweetened bread, milk and egg mixture. Dad made the traditional style with cinnamon and raisins, plus apple-walnut bread pudding, chocolate bread pudding, and even a cherry-berry bread pudding. Sometimes he would cut it into cubes and layer it into vanilla or butterscotch pudding like a parfait. Customers looked forward to seeing Dad’s bread pudding on our fabulous salad bar. Later, when Dad worked for SUNY College at Brockport, he took the bread pudding recipes with him and it became just as popular with the faculty and students there.

You can be just as creative when you make bread pudding at home — but here is the basic Lista’s Bread Pudding recipe to start with.


Lista’s Bread Pudding

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Makes: 12-15 servings

Ingredients:
1 loaf day old French Bread – cut into 1″ cubes (about 6-8 cups cubes)
1 quart Whole Milk
4 Eggs – lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar (plus more to sprinkle on top)
1 cup Raisins (optional)
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 stick Butter – melted

Directions:
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl.
3.  In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, melted butter, brown sugar, raisins and cinnamon until well combined — pour over the bread cubes.
4.  Let the bread soak in the milk and egg mixture for about 15 minutes — then using your hands, or a large mixing spoon, stir the bread mixture until well combined and the raisins (if using) are evenly distributed.
5.  Pour the melted butter into a 9×13 inch baking pan – tilt to coat the bottom and sides of the pan.
6.  Pour the bread, milk, egg mixture into the prepared pan.
7.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-45 minutes, until the liquid has set.  The pudding is done when the edges are starting to brown and pull away from the pan.
8.  Serve warm or room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or even ice cream.


There you have it, Bread… and more Bread — two ways to use up that day old loaf. I hope you enjoy these easy to make recipes. Let us know if you remember those Lista’s crouton and tell us what you think by leaving a comment here — liking us — or sharing on social media.

And until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”