i was going to say the ‘fuckin’ house’ but i’m still not bold enough to slip that into the title.

ok, so… i know, i know, it’s a bit of of a let down. you come looking for michelle and you get me. i’m incredibly sorry in advance but i’m only apologizing once. so suck it up and read on, my fellow TNS admirers, because we’ve got a smackdown to tend to.

i think michelle and i would agree that if we had to make an on-the-spot-gun-at-our-head decision declaring the one and only cuisine that we would eat for the rest of our lives, bar none, it would be italian. sure, we’d miss the occasional thai and indian dinner, but to live without italian food? too cruel…

so to honor our undying love for both the country and its culinary bounty that italy so rightly boasts, i bring to you a recipe from marcella hazan, the godmother of italian cooking in america. what julia child did for french food in this country, similarly, marcella did for italian – but with a lower pitched voice.

some trivia about marcella: 1. she married an american jew (because jewish men let their wives have maids), 2. she smokes marlboro lights and drinks shots of jack daniels (made just outside of nashville) and 3. she could be a real bitch, and was known for being impatient and judgmental BUT was usually right. which i can totally relate to.

one of the reasons i love italian cooking is that you can usually count the ingredients on one hand, and at the most two – which i suppose is good because THERE IS NO OTHER HAND. (anyone? fiddler on the roof? nevermind…) in the smackdown forum, i found this to be problematic because michelle’s smackdowns are usually “involved” and i didn’t want to look like too much of a slouch. this recipe lists 10 ingredients (perfecto) if you count the salt, pepper, toothpicks and warm serving platter. THEY’RE ON THE LIST. I SWEAR. page 234 of ‘marcella says…’

chicken breasts saltimbocca style
aka saltimbocca di petti di pollo
marcella hazan from marcella says

2 whole chicken breasts
1 dozen very thin slices of pancetta
18-20 medium sage leaves
fine sea salt
black pepper ground from the mill
uncolored wooden toothpicks

3 T butter
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 cup soft dry wine
a warm serving platter

cooks note: this was by far the most involved explanation regarding cutting chicken breasts known to man and it made me really fucking agitated just reading it. even a bit angry. at marcella. which is irrational. i know, but sometimes i think bad thoughts.

1. if the breasts are on the bone, gently work them off the bone, using a very sharp paring knife. pull off and discard the yellow outer layer of skin and the thin, membrane-like layer beneath. pick off any bits of fat.

fuck a bunch of boning chicken breasts. i bought my breasts whole and boned. kind of like my own.

2. each breast is composed of two muscles, one large and the other smaller, that partly overlap. seperate them to obtain 4 individual pieces. protruding slightly from the smaller tapered pieces you will find the tip of a white tendon that you must pull out. it is slippery, so use a paper or cloth towel to grasp it. with the other hand, press the flat side of a knife blade against the muscle at the place where the tendon protrudes, angling the blade to keep it’s edge from cutting off the tendon’s tip. while pressing firmly with the knife, pull the tendon away in one piece and discard. pound the muscle gently with a meat pounder or the flat of a heavy blade or other suitable tool to flatten it slightly. repeat the procedure with the other smaller muscle.

i’m already lost

but earnestly trying

3. take up the larger muscle, placing the side that lay next to the bone facedown on the cutting board. hold it in place with the palm of one hand. take a sharp, thin-bladed slicing knife in the other hand and, keeping the blade parallel to the cutting board, slice the breast horizontally from edge to edge to divide it into 2 equal slices, half of its original thickness. repeat the procedure with the other large muscle. repeat with the other whole breast. out of each whole breast, you should now have 6 fillets ready for quick cooking, or a total of 12 pieces in all.

by now the directions are nothing but fucked up noise and i have 16 pieces, not 12 – plus a pile of meaty scraps.

AHEAD-OF-TIME NOTE: you can cut the breasts into the pieces as described above several hours or even a day or two in advance. wrap in plastic film before refrigerating.

gee marcella, thanks for the note because i could really use a bonafide vacation after boning and slicing and flattening via pounding to your exact specifications. not to mention reading the above 3 steps eleventybillion times because i was petrified to make one badly angled cut which would then destroy my entire life dinner. marcella, do you believe in photographs? i do. you know why? because a picture is worth 316 words. i counted.

the chicken. aware, fearful and submissive.

4. take one of the larger pieces, cover it with sliced pancetta, 3 or 4 sage leaves, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top it, sandwich style, with one fo the remaining large fillets. fasten the edges of the “sandwich” closed with a couple of toothpicks. repeat the procedure, using the remaining fillets, pancetta, and all but a few of the sage leaves.

i dislike both candidates. but mccain scares the shit out of me.

after what the chicken put me through, it totally deserved this

5. put the butter, oil, and remaining sage leaves in a 12-inch skillet or saute pan and turn on the heat to high. when the butter foam begins to subside and the fat is hot, slip in the chicken-breast sandwiches. brown them quickly, first on one side, then on the other, then use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer them to a plate.

could it be a virtual butter halo sent from god?

marcella says: there may be nothing so easy to overcook as chicken breasts. their scant juices can vaporize in a flash. to preserve them, don’t let the meat linger in the pan.

misery loves company

6. pour the wine into the pan and let it bubble while you scarpe loose the cooking residues with a wooden spoon. when the wine has evaporated, return the chicken pieces to the pan, and turn them over quickly in the little bit of sauce in the pan, then transfer them to the warm serving platter and pour the pan juices over all. serve at once.

the chicken was excellent. better than i thought it would be. subtle, but the flavors were all there in every way that mattered. the breast meat was moist and had marcella not mentioned it, i probably would have left it in the pan while the wine sauce reduced, drying it out. i served it with broccolini and a squirt of lemon to cut some of the richness of the pancetta and butter. i would have preferred broccoli rabe but it was not to be found.

marcella hazan’s books are an invaluable resource for the italian home cook. in a recent article in the ny times, it mentions that at 84, marcella is beginning to slow down but is embarking on a short tour to promote her latest,book, a memoir entitled, ‘amarcord:marcella remembers’ if she’s coming to a city near you, i’d definitely head on over. the woman is a legend.

so to all you thursday night smackdown fans. consider yourselves smacked.

thanks michelle
feel better soon
we miss you