Nigel Slater must be on holiday because I found some Claudia Roden recipes in my Observer Magazine today. And much as I love Nigel’s recipes I couldn’t be disappointed because Claudia is a culinary hero too. The recipes were from her new edition of The Food of Italy to celebrate its publication 25 years ago in 1989. A 1999 paperback edition of the book has been sitting on my cookery books shelves since … well, probably 1999. It’s certainly been there for a long time, and because it’s falling apart you’d see instantly, if you were here, that it is much used. Note present tense: ‘it is’. It has been much used; it is used a lot. (Sorry, book editor moment there!) It’s one of those books I always turn to for classic Italian recipes. Then when I saw her recipe for chicken cooked with fresh grapes in the Observer it reminded me of another Italian cookery book I often turn to: Robin Howe’s Italian Cookery (1979) and a recipe in it I used to cook a lot: Pollo al Succo d’Uva – chicken cooked in fresh grape juice. I’ve said on these pages before that Robin was one of my authors in my far-back days as a cookery editor and I always feel the same affection for her whenever I cook any of her recipes. She was very particular and exacting. So I hope she would forgive me for adding a touch of Carluccio too. For another favourite recipe is his one of chicken cooked with lots of fresh green herbs. Yes, I thew some herbs in as well. But then this is cooking for me. Looking at books, taking an idea here, and idea there, matching it all up and throwing it all together into hopefully a well-fitting and delicious mix.
The idea of chicken cooked in fresh grape juice appealed for its freshness. London seems momentarily to have forgotten it’s spring with grey clouds and April showers dulling our UK world today but my pots of herbs in the garden are growing well and it’s warm, so I thought the recipe would brighten things up again.
I picked a selection of herbs: parsley, chives, mint and some basil from my indoor windowsill. I chopped them all together fairly finely. Then I used hand blender (or a liquidizer will do well) to turn about 200g green seedless grapes into juice. I strained them into another jug, using the back of a spoon to mash as much through as I could.
Next, I coated a chicken breast (leg would do fine too) in seasoned flour, shaking off the excess, then I browned it in olive oil. When the chicken was nicely browned on both sides, I added the grape juice, 1/2 crushed clove of garlic, the fresh herbs and seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
I brought to a simmer and then let it cook gently, covered, until the chicken was tender and cooked through – about 20 minutes depending on the size of your chicken portion. I lifted the chicken to a warm plate and then added some fresh grapes cut in half (because they were big) and let it all bubble up for a few minutes to warm the grapes and thicken a bit. Meanwhile, I boiled some lovely new potatoes which I tossed in butter once done, and I made a green salad with some baby gem leaves, rocket and sliced fresh fennel.
The chicken was beautifully moist for finishing the cooking in the grape juice. It was quite sweet; I’d forgotten this and don’t have such a sweet tooth as I used to so didn’t get quite the freshness I’d anticipated. But it was still a lovely dish; very simple but with a touch of being special too.