Mascarpone Chicken

I hope you won’t think me immodest if I say I can roast a serious chicken. Because, ahem, I can.

The art of chicken roasting is a lifelong project and all, so maybe my chickens aren’t the best they can be (yet); and it could be that half of the knock-you-off-your-chairness of my roast chickens owes to their being Podere di Melo chickens, but I nonetheless think my roast chickens are cause for immodesty.  And unchecked gluttony too, since Jim and I are liable to polish off a whole bird whenever we roast one.

Usually, I keep it simple with roast chicken: some lemon, butter, salt and pepper—and into the oven.  I’m always in love with the outcome, and it’s hard to want for anything different.  Except, of course, if there’s cheese involved.

Mascarpone cheese in fact, and how could anyone resist that?  There’s herbs too, and even the tiniest bit of olive oil, and lots of salt and pepper.  And if you follow the recipe, I promise it will be a serious chicken, with skin so crisp it crackles, and cheese hiding underneath it, lush and herb-y.  There’s more cheese than can be stuffed under the chicken, so halfway through the roasting process, you spoon the uncooked cheese all around the chicken.  It makes a creamy, curd-like sauce.  If you’ve ever had milk-braised pork, you know what the sauce will taste like, and it’s okay if you need to leave right now to procure a chicken.

Don’t fret if you’ve never spatchcocked a chicken before (and don’t skip this step, spatchcocking allows for every inch of the skin to crisp up into a delicious golden brown).  All you need is a good pair of kitchen shears (or a good handle on your sharpest knife).  You cut out the backbone, and then place the chicken cavity-side down on the cutting board.  Press down with a heavy hand to break the breast-bone, so that the chicken lies flat.  Ta-da!  You’re done.  It can seem a little brutal the first time, backbone cutting and breast-bone breaking, but let’s not forget that we are eating the chicken already, so we might as well prepare the thing right. I imagine if I were to be roasted and feasted upon, I’d want to look like this:

Roast chickens can be a tough thing for families—one roast chicken never seems to feed enough people—but in this recipe, a little goes a long way.  Jim and I couldn’t finish our pieces, no matter how hard we tried (and normally we put away a whole one).  It was so luscious and filling, one chicken could certainly feed four.  But better yet, you could make it for one, and have a lot of leftovers.

Mascarpone and Herb Stuffed Chicken

serves 4

for the filling

3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz mascarpone cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
small handful of oregano
small handful of parsley
small(er) handful of thyme

for the chicken

1 chicken, any size, though to feed 4 you’ll need about one of about 4-5 pounds
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine garlic, mascarpone, eggs, parmigianno, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
Cut out backbones from chicken with kitchen shears. Pat chicken dry, then spread flat, cavity side down, on a cutting board. With a heavy hand, press down at the middle of the breasts until you hear the breast-bone break. Cut two slits in the chicken skin, in the creases between the thighs and the breasts.

Sprinkle each chicken with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. To loosen the skin, gently slide your finger between skin and flesh of the breast, starting at the top. Slide your finger between the skin and flesh of the legs by going through the slits you made (be careful not to tear skin). Using a small spoon, slide 2/3 cup ricotta mixture under skin, using a finger outside of skin to spread filling over meat of breast, thighs, and drumsticks. Tuck the wing tips under. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Place chicken in a well oiled roasting pan, skin side up.

Reserve remaining filling.

Bake chickens in middle of oven 30 minutes, then spoon remaining filling around chicken. Continue baking until chicken is just cooked through and instant read thermometer reads about 165F, about 20 minutes more. Let chickens stand 10 minutes, then cut each into quarters. Serve with cheese.

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Naked tush on the beach… and mushrooms.

If you happened to be at Napeague Beach in East Hampton this weekend, you just may have seen my naked tush running full speed into the crashing ocean waves.  And if you were wondering what the hell is that naked tush doing running full speed into the crashing ocean waves, I’ve gotta tell you – it was one of those spur of the moment ideas that just seems so right—the water felt warm, I’d forgotten my bathing suit, the beach was empty save for a few walkers in the distance, and you only live once. I mean, everyone needs to run naked into the ocean in broad daylight once in their lives, right?

I couldn’t have imagined myself performing this act of public indecency a year or two ago—one of the wonderful things about getting older.  I’m no longer a teenager and I no longer care if the little-dots-that-are-people walking far in the distance on a practically deserted September beach would like me in my birthday suit.  I like me in my birthday suit—but that’s besides the point—and I like jumping in the ocean every chance I get.  And there’s no better chance than when the water in September is still warm and the sky has cleared up for a moment in your otherwise-rainy weekend in Hamptons.

Now, if you are wondering why in the hell this relates to food, well, it doesn’t.  Except that, alongwith my newfound mid-twenties attitude (ohmygodijustrealizedi’llbe25thisyear), I’ve grown to love lemon.  Maybe my tastebuds have a better attitude now too, but whatever it is, I can’t get enough of lemon.  Fresh lemon-juice and oily lemon rind.  There’s something so fresh, so don’t-worry-that-it’s-not-summer-I’m-around-all-year about the taste of lemon that just makes me smile.  A big, puckered smile.

Pair it with a good olive oil, young pecorino cheese, and shitake mushrooms and I don’t know if I’ll be able to control myself.  Seriously.  I might have to make a big bowl, strip down, and jump into this dish.  The lemon sparks up the mushroom’s earthy dankness while cutting through the silky olive oil and creamy cheese; parsley gives a good herbaciousness to it all.  You can (and should) make this dish ahead—making it the perfect dinner party dish, for when everyone comes in from their last romp at the beach.

Shitake Mushrooms with Young Pecorino

makes 6 servings//from Bon Appetit, October 08

  • 7 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 lemon, peel cut into long thin slivers (yellow part only)
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, cut into 1/2-inch-wide slices or left whole if smaller than 1 1/2 inches in diameter
  • garlic clove, peeled, flattened
  • 8 ounces young pecorino cheese (pecorino fresco) or Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves

Whisk 5 teaspoons lemon juice and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in 6 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in lemon peel slivers. Season dressing to taste with coarse salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Toss mushrooms, remaining 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons oil in large bowl. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle mushrooms with coarse salt and pepper. Roast 15 minutes. Using spatula, turn mushrooms over and roast until soft and beginning to brown around edges, about 10 minutes longer.

Pour half of dressing over hot mushrooms on sheet. Add garlic and toss to coat. Let cool on sheet.

Combine mushrooms, cheese, parsley, and remaining dressing in medium bowl. Let marinate at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Discard garlic clove. Serve mushrooms and cheese with toothpicks, if desired.

Depression and quesadillas.

I’ve been a bit, uhh, unreachable lately. I haven’t posted and—worse—haven’t been answering emails or commenting enough on your blogs. In truth, I haven’t been doing much of anything—well, I saw a wonderful play on Saturday which was followed by an even wonderfuller meal at Saul in Brooklyn, but after that things began to fall apart around here. Since then, the majority of my time is spent crying. I don’t even really feel like crying but I do it anyway. All the time. I’m on the verge of tears right now.

I’m depressed. It hit me like a brick after Saturday. See, I’ve been walking around since my car accident in January with pain in my hips and lower back. It feels like constant pressure, all-the-time, with breaks of intense, sharp, unbearable pain thrown in to spice things up. For a while I thought I was getting better, since the constantly intense, sharp, unbearable pain eased leaving me with the constant feeling that my hips are slowly compacting inside a vice grip—and I mean, who cares about a little pressure when compared to sharp pain? It’s, like, a cake walk. I was happy.

But then the pressure didn’t go away. It stuck. And it was painful enough that I wasn’t able to keep working out on the stationary bike (I had tried it for a few days). I wasn’t really able to do anything after work, save cook dinner—at least there was that. Slowly though, I was beginning to deteriorate into the teary, wet mess I am now. I started to limp at times. I can’t shake the image of the Tin-Man and his rusty limbs. And then over this past week, I stopped cooking.

After our meal at Saul, I came home inspired—there were so many new flavors, new dishes I wanted to play with! But over the next few days, I didn’t cook. I didn’t feel able to. I didn’t feel able to do anything. Everything started to really suck and even though I do believe my doctor will find out what’s wrong and that I’ll get better, I can’t quite seem to listen to myself. I’m depressed—a kind of unrelenting sadness that makes life with pain all that much more painful. More painful for me, and worse, more painful for those around me. Depression makes you feel like you are walking underwater—it takes so much effort to just continue that you don’t have the energy for anything else. I care for and love Jim but there are times recently when moving my eyes in the direction to meet his while he’s talking takes so much energy that I can’t seem to hear what he’s saying. And Jim, receiving this treatment, doesn’t deserve it. He’s been so great with my pain and had such a hard time himself. He knows how to make me forget about the physical pain. But this mental pain, it’s just a bit too much for everyone. I guess this is my way of an apology.

I don’t want everyone to feel sad for me, I know I’ll be okay. I couldn’t be writing about this now if I didn’t feel like maybe the worst is over. Today even, I can again appreciate a sunny day, a long holiday weekend, a smoked gouda quesadilla. I can certainly appreciate a quesadilla.

Smoked Gouda & Onion Quesadilla

serves 6 as appetizers or 2 as some serious comfort food

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon molasses
  • ¼ teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups grated smoked Gouda cheese
  • 3 oz thin-sliced prosciutto (about 6-8 slices)
  • 4 10-inch-diameter flour tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy medium skillet or cast-iron pan. Add onion, molasses, and vinegar and saute over a low heat, stirring frequently, until caramelized, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and cool (you can leave them in the pan.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange onions over half of each tortilla. Sprinkle gouda over onions evenly. Heat the onion pan on medium-high heat and add prosciutto. Cook for a minute or so until they begin to crisp. Drape slices over gouda and onions. Fold other half of each tortilla over cheese mixture. Brush tortilla with some of melted butter. Brush the pan with some melted butter. Cook quesadillas in batches until they begin to get brown and crispy on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake quesadillas in the oven until cheese is melted, about 5-10 minutes. Cut each of the quesadillas into four or six triangle and serve hot (but not too hot or you won’t taste all the flavors.)