BRAISED CHICKEN WITH CELERY "ROCKS" - Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Pollo in umido con rocchi di sedano Tuscany
Preparation - Complex
Serves 4 - 6
Sometimes I think a person could spend every day in Italy for the rest of her life and never stop discovering new things in the kitchen-rocchi di sedano, for instance, simple little croquettes of steamed celery that are served with chicken that's been gently braised in wine and aromatics. It's a specialty of the Valdarno, or at least of that part of the Arno valley that's in Arezzo province. This is familiar territory; but I'd never heard of this dish until just a few months ago. And now I wonder how I ever lived without it.
The chicken may be cooked in the oven or on top of the stove. (For stove-top directions, see the end of the recipe.)
1 (4- to 5-pound) roasting chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
2 T finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 medium carrot, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 T finely chopped fresh thyme
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dry red wine
2 T tomato conserve diluted with 1/2 cup warm water
For the rocchi:
6 stalks celery, including the green tops, preferably the more flavorful outside stalks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
3 T freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 to 3 T unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil for deep-fat frying
Pull any excess fat out of the chicken cavity. Rinse the bird in cool water and dry well, inside and out, with paper towels. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Make a battuto by chopping together the onion, celery, parsley, carrot, garlic, and thyme until minced. In a heavy oven dish or casserole large enough to hold the chicken, gently sweat the battuto in the oil over medium-low heat until soft. Push the battuto out to the sides of the pan and place the chicken in the center. Spoon some of the pan juices over the bird and set in the oven to brown for 10 minutes, then turn, baste the bird again, and continue browning an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the heat down to 325 degrees F.
Add the red wine to the casserole and set it on a burner over medium-low to medium heat. When it has reduced by about one-third, add the tomato conserve and water. Boil for 1 or 2 minutes to combine the flavors, then add salt and pepper to taste, cover the pot, and return the chicken to the oven to cook very gently for about 1 1/4 hours. The chicken is done when a leg moves loosely on its joint or when the juices run clear yellow when the bird is pricked with a fork.
When the chicken is done, remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes or so before carving. If the pan juices seem too liquid, boil them down rapidly over high heat until you have a rather syrupy liquid in the pan.
While the chicken is cooking, make the rocchi: Cut the celery in 2-inch-long pieces and place in a saucepan. Cover with water, add a little salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, until the celery is very soft - about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the celery and chop coarsely on a board. Turn the chopped celery into a colander and press handfuls of it between your palms to get rid of excess liquid. Now turn the thoroughly drained chopped celery into a bowl and mix with the beaten egg, the cheese, and enough flour just to hold it together. Taste the mixture and add a little salt and pepper if necessary.
Add oil to a frying pan to a depth of about 3/4 inch. Heat over medium heat until it has reached frying temperature (360-375 degrees F.). When the oil is hot, form the celery mixture into fat little patties about 2 inches across. The mixture is loose, and it helps to shape the patties with wet hands. Slip them into the hot oil and fry, turning once, until brown on both sides.
Remove to a rack covered with paper towels to drain.
Serve the carved chicken, with a few spoonfuls of sauce for each serving, accompanied by the celery patties.
To cook the chicken on top of the stove: After sweating the battuto, raise the heat to medium and brown the chicken on all sides, turning frequently until it is thoroughly browned. Add the wine and tomato paste as directed and cook, covered, over medium-low to medium heat for 1 hour. The chicken should cook more quickly on top of the stove than in the oven, but if it is still a little underdone for your taste, cook another 15 minutes, or until the juices run yellow when the bird is pierced with a fork.