March 03, 2006

Two simple Mediteranean dishes that I like to serve on Sunday nights.

Stéphane, As you know, even after 35 years of eating and cooking in Chicago, I, and so is your mother, am very nostalgic of the cuisine of Southern France, particularly Provence, where we lived for many years. So my favorite period of the year is from June to September, when the stands at the Evanston Farmer's market are full of fresh garlic, eggplants, zuchinis, vine-grown Wisconsin tomatoes, juicy thin-skinned onions, and later in the summer red peppers. And of course its time to cook with fresh herbs, even though you are starting to find fresh farmed herbs of acceptable quality all year long in some stores in Chicago. After months of abstinence, I can at last cook a very fragrant ratatouille, or chicken with forty cloves of garlic in olive oil with fresh thyme, or with red peppers and onions. And August is the perfect month to prepare fresh ''pistou'' the provençal equivalent of pesto, that is so good with linguini or in the traditional ''Soupe au Pistou''. So, in the middle of winter, on Sunday nights, I like to put some sunny touches on our table with a Mediterannean pasta dish, even if I have to cheat a little bit since I do not like to use winter tomatoes from Florida or Mexico. Also, when we lived in Paris, your mother and I used to have lunch quite often in a small Greek restaurant not too far from our appartment in Saint-Germain Des Prés. We developed a particular fondness for the warm aromas of this type of cuisine which became one of our favorite ''non-French'' comfort food on bleak rainy days. So, when we came to Chicago we were quite surprised to find a very vibrant Greek enclave around Halsted St. and Adams, full of very good restaurants. In fact some of them were much better than those found in Europe. I have talked with Greek expatriates who swear that Greek food in Chicago is the best in the world, and in any case, much better and inventive than in Greece. We particularly liked the ''chicken Riganati'' from the Greek Islands Restaurant on Adams. So, one Sunday night I decided to create a very simplified variation of the Greek chicken dishes that we like to eat in Greek Town. Here are two recipes, one for my Provencal Spaghetti, the other for '' Cuisses de poulet à la grecque'' that you will easily recognize: You ate them at home so many times since you were much younger. A note of caution: Do not be discouraged by the number of ingredients, preparation and cooking times. Remember that for a Frenchman, cooking a simple and relatively quick dish implies nevertheless a minimum of preparation. So be patient. This two dishes are in fact easy to prepare and cook. The essential is to keep an eye on them while they cook. So, stay close to the stove, check the color, and the consistency of what you cook often. Stir and baste regularly. Do not let the chicken get completely blackburned on the skin side, or the spaghetti sauce to get too thick and bubbling too fast. In one word, do net go back to the living room to watch the game on T.V and risking forgetting that you are cooking... Stay with a glass of wine in the kitchen. Bon appétit, Dad CUISSES DE POULET A LA GRECQUE (Broiled chicken legs in a Greek style) For 4 people Preparation: 15 minutes Cooking time: 40 minutes Ingredients:
  • 6 to 8 whole chicken legs, if possible Amish or free-range type, depending on the size of the legs and the apetite of the dinners. Separate drumsticks from the thighs at the joint.
  • 2 teaspoons of dried oregano (I use Trader's Joe's)
  • 3 teaspoons of unsalted organic garlic powder (I use a Californian one from Trader's Joe)
  • The juice of one big fresh lemon
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups of dry white wine (I use Shaw's sauvignon blanc from Trader's Joe)
  • Freshly ground pepper from the mill
  • salt

Preheat you oven-broiler to 475 degrees.

Cut the drumstick from the thighs (it is very easy to do with a good Wüsthof butcher's knife like the one you bought me for Christmas 4 years ago, but your butcher will be glad to do that for you if you prefer).

Remove the extra tiny layer of yellow fat at the base of the thigh next to the skin and trim loose pieces of skin and (optional) some stringy membranes covering the thigh meat on the opposite side of the skin.

Dry the pieces thoroughly with paper towels and make sure there is no moisture left on the skin.

Put the pieces, alternating drumsticks and thighs, skin up, in a long earthenware or pyrex, in any case flame resistant, rectangular dish about 2 1/2 inch deep and at least 16 inches long.

Sprinkle each piece first generously with garlic powder, and then with oregano flakes. Add salt and fresly ground pepper. Pour the lemon juice, preferably from one of those glass lemon squeezers, all over the pieces.Add olive oil to cover each piece.

Pour one cup of white wine between each piece. Keep the other cup 1/2 and add it every 10 minutes during the cooking.

Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees and put your dish, uncovered, under the broiler. After 10 minutes, baste the pieces with the cooking juice with the help of a long spoon. After 10 more minutes get the dish out and delicately, so that you do not crack the slightly blackened skin in the juice, turn each piece to the other side. Baste again and add some wine. 10 minutes later baste gain and add some wine if necessary. The whole think should be cooked in 40 minutes. You can check with an instant thermometer that you implant in the thickest part of the thigh that the temperature has reached 170 or 175 degrees.

Serve over steamed rice (white or brown) or penne or pasta (I use Barilla's) cooked for 10 minutes in salted boiling water.


For 4 people:

Preparation: 30 minute

Cooking time: 30 minutes


  • One package of Thin Spaghetti (I prefer the Italian brand BARILLA)
  • 2 large peeled yellow onions, chopped
  • 5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and diced. Remove central grenish sprout if any before dicing.
  • 4 sprigs of fresh tyme or 1 1/2 table spoon of dried thyme.
  • 10 or 12 pitted Calamata black olives, rinsed several times in cold water
  • One jar of Tomato basil sauce (I buy the Classico brand- 1.99 $ at Target)
  • 1/2 Lb of ground round beef
  • 4 or 5 medium-size very fresh and clean white mushrooms (sliced)2 tablespoon of Italian tomato paste. I like the imported Italian paste in aluminum soft tubes.
  • 1/2 a cup of extra-Virgin first cold-pressed olive oil (a Spanish or Greek one will do fine)
  • Half a bottle of a dry rosé wine like a ''Vieille Ferme'' rosé, a Coteaux Varois rosé, or a cheaper Côtes de Thongue rosé. If you want to go a little fancier, get a bottle of Costières de Nimes rosé.
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 10 pitted medium-size Greek Calamata black
  • Salt and pepper
  • half a teaspoon of cayene pepper

Cooking the sauce

Chop onions and dice garlic, then gently sauté them together with a teaspoon of thyme in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, in an 11 or 12 inches ''Calphalon'' or other good quality non-stick pan for about 12 to 14 minutes at relatively low heat. They should not brown, but become soft and translucent.

If mushrooms are clean and very young, lightly brush them to remove any leftover dirt, cut the stem halfay and slice them. If they are not clean, have some dirt, and the stem is brownish and getting spongeous, cut 80% of the stem and gently peel the outer skin of the cap with a sharp small knife starting from underneath , close to the stem. Then slice them. Save them on a plate for later.

Sauté the ground beef in a small pan in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, stir it all the time with a fork to transform the beef chunks in tiny little balls. Remove the oil and water left over after cooking is completed. The ground beef should be gray and not red anymore. Save on a plate but do not refrigerate.

Pour the tomato sauce from the jar into the pan where the onion and garlic has been cooked, add the bayleaf, stir and bring to a gentle simmer. Add 1 cup of rose wine and stir well . Add 2 tablespoons of the tomato paste, stir well. Cook uncovered over low heat for about 8 minutes, then add the sliced mushrooms. Cook for 5 more minutes then add the meat and the olives. Then season with 4 rounds of the pepper mill and 2 pinches of salt. Add the cayenne pepper. stir. Cook uncovered very gently for 10 more minutes.

Cooking the pasta.

While preparing the sauce, boil 5 quarts of water in a high stainless-steel pot, like a pasta cooker. When water is boiling add one tablespoon of olive oil and one teaspoon of salt in the water. Put in a little more than 3/4 of the content of the box (or the whole box if you are very hungry) of spaghetti and immediately stir the pasta with a big spaghetti special-dented spoon so that they do not stick together. When they are all separated bring back to a boil and count about 9 to 11 minutes for '' al dente'' .

Pour the pasta in a colander and then in a big round bowl, add a table spoon of olive oil and stir well. Add the sauce on top of the pasta and stir well.

And that's it.

Good luck,


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