Spatchcocking chicken, also called butterflying, calls for cutting the bird along its backbone, then opening it up so that it can lie flat in the pan. Spatchcocked chickens cook quickly and evenly, turning gorgeously brown in the process. You can ask your butcher to spatchcock the chicken for you, but it’s not a hard thing to do yourself (see instructions below). Good, sharp poultry shears are all you need.
Whenever it’s served, a scalloped potato gratin is usually the best thing on the table. With tender potatoes suffused with cream and herbs, and a burnished lid of melted, buttery cheese, there are few things more delicious. That’s why I think you should make potato gratin the centerpiece of your meal, rather than as a side dish to a juicy steak or a roast chicken. Or, if you really want both meat and potatoes, why not mix things up and make the steak the side dish to the gratin?
Honey enhances the earthy sweetness of carrots and makes for a dense, moist cake. Serve this flavorful cake unadorned or gild it with cream cheese frosting—or simply drizzle with honey and top with chopped nuts.
Not a side dish at all, this is a well-stocked breakfast entrée. Make sure the potatoes are diced — that is, in 1/2-inch cubes. They must be small and evenly sized to cook in the stated time. Skip processed sandwich meat and look for whole, roasted smoked ham at the deli counter. Have the butcher cut it into 1/2-inch slices to make the dicing easier for you.
Beware: The roast needs to be cooked in the oven for more than 3 hours, so plan accordingly. The result will be quite something, though. Yes, it’s very fatty meat, but that’s what makes this so delicious. This dish is impossible to ruin; if you leave it in the oven for 30 minutes too long it won’t matter. Serve with something fresh-zesty. I like the horseradish mustard (see recipe below), for example. Such a substantial roulade serves a crowd, and whatever you have left over (if you manage to not finish all of it) will still be delicious the day after.
Attend a festival in Le Marche, and you may sample one of the greatest snacks you’ll ever have: olive all’ascolana. Crisp-coated, salty fried olives stuffed with a rich meat filling are a culinary marvel of taste and texture that originated in the town of Ascoli Piceno. We just had to try making these delightful bites, but we suspected it might be a challenge—after all, we’d have to figure out how to pit and stuff an olive! We tried starting with pitted olives as a short-cut, but found them lacking in color, texture, and overall olive flavor. Instead we used large, mild-flavored Cerignola olives, which are easy to find in delis and prepared food places. To remove the pits, we left the olive flesh in one piece, slicing down one side of the olive and cutting around the pit with a paring knife as if we were peeling an apple. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the process went quickly after we got used to pitting the first few. With these olives, the filling shares the spotlight, and we found a lot of impractical recipes calling for a menagerie of meat scraps or specialty cuts. We started with ground pork; while uninspiring by itself, additions of prosciutto, sautéed carrot, and shallot built beautiful layers of flavor. A little nutmeg provided the classic warm spice and aroma, while wine added brightness. One large yolk and Parmigiano gave the filling richness and a creamy texture. We prefer to use Cerignola olives, but other large brine-cured green olives will work, too. To allow for practice, the recipe calls for extra olives.
Hazelnuts from Piedmont are truly something special with their fine flavor and extremely crisp texture. Although they're beloved in many dishes, the flavor combination of hazelnuts and chocolate, called gianduia, is a Piedmontese favorite. Sometimes gianduia refers to a fudge-like confection that’s sold in bar form, sometimes to a spread (think: Nutella), and sometimes to the popular gelato flavor. But it’s also a favorite in cakes, and just about any cake from the region that features chocolate and hazelnuts might be called torta gianduia—some are dressed-up and multilayered, while others are low, lush, and glazed. We love the classic rustic version with a crackly, crisp top and a moist, dense interior that’s something like a nutty flourless chocolate cake. The taste and texture are dependent on a delicate balance of whipped eggs (for structure and lift), butter, sugar, bittersweet chocolate, and ground hazelnuts. The quantity of nuts was of particular import. We started with 6 ounces of chocolate and 1 cup of nuts, but found the chocolate overpowered the more delicate hazelnut flavor and the texture was actually too moist and fudgy. One and a third cups of nuts was better, but we still felt the cake could be lighter; we found that replacing a small amount of the nuts with regular flour—2 tablespoons—provided a rich, melt-in-the-mouth cake that wasn’t overly weighty. All this super-rich cake needed to finish was a dusting of powdered sugar for rustic charm. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Frico friabile is a one-ingredient wonder and a delightful antipasto—especially alongside a glass of chilled white wine from the region. Nothing more than grated cheese which is melted and then browned to create a light, airy, crisp, and impressively sized wafer, this simple snack highlights the intense flavor of the cheese. But despite their simplicity, these wafers can turn out bitter, and too salty, without the crispness we preferred. Some recipes cook the cheese in butter or olive oil, but using a 10-inch nonstick skillet eliminated the need for any fat. To flip the round without it tearing or stretching, we removed the pan from the heat for several seconds to cool; allowing a few moments for the cheese wafer to set up made it easy to flip. Cooking the cheese at high heat caused it to brown too fast and become bitter, but at low heat it took too long and dried out. A combination of medium and medium-high heat was best. Serve frico with drinks and other antipasti bites such as olives and tomatoes. Montasio cheese is worth tracking down; if you can't find it, substitute Asiago.
During a college study-abroad year at the Università di Bologna, William Teresa of Minneapolis, Minnesota, dated a fellow student. The couple would frequently visit her family in Cesena, a small city in Emilia– Romagna, where Teresa became immersed in the cooking lives of his girlfriend’s parents and grandparents. “They were so lovely,” he said. “It was wonderful to be in a place where food is so rooted in tradition and place, and to encounter something that has always been made by the same people, with little variation.” One of the grandmothers baked a chewy-crispy and outrageously rich almond cookie, which the family enjoyed with espresso. Teresa was instantly smitten and perfected the formula when he returned home. “They’re not like any other American cookie,” he said. “Maybe that’s why so many people ask me for the recipe.”