Sunday, March 9, 2014

Etruscan Chicken

As I recently opened a bottle of Birra Etrusca, a craft beer brewed based upon an ancient beer recipe of the Etruscans, I felt that it was only appropriate to prepare a dish based upon an ancient Etruscan recipe.  The goal was to produce a meal that would have been eaten by Etruscans as they would have enjoyed the beer.  To achieve this goal, I needed to do a lot of research.

The logical starting point is the Etruscan civilization itself.  The word "Etruscan" is not Etruscan at all; they referred to themselves as the Rasenna. The Romans gave them the "Etruscan" name, as well as the reputation of being heavy drinkers and eaters.  Some later Roman writers presented a more moderate view of their predecessors, with Posidonius and Diodoro Siculo writing that the Etruscans had advanced literature and science, much of which was adopted and improved by the Romans themselves.  The Etruscans also had a well developed cuisine.

Etruscan cuisine was centered in many ways around meat, both cultivated and wild. The Etruscans had domesticated cattle, goats and pigs, but they particularly favored game, such as deer, boar and even rabbits.  They also cultivated a wide range of cereals, nuts fruits and vegetables, including apples, artichokes, carrots, grapes, olives, onions, pears, pine nuts, pomegranates, and walnuts.   Of all these ingredients, the onion was perhaps one of the most important.  Archaeologists found depictions of onions on reliefs in tombs and the ingredient is present in many recipes, including those that evolved into dishes cooked in present day Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.

I found an Etruscan recipe for rabbit, which incorporated ingredients that would have been used by the Etruscans, such as olives, onions and pine nuts.  While I enjoy rabbit, it is a little difficult to find and all of the little bones in rabbit make it a chore to eat.  Fortunately, this recipe is easily adapted for other proteins, such as chicken.  So, I decided to make this recipe with skinless, bone-in thighs.  I did encounter one obstacle to making this recipe: I thought I had pine nuts and, as it turned out, our cupboard was bare in that regard.  I made one additional substitution, using blanched almond slivers in place of pine nuts.  The substitution worked because the Etruscans cultivated not only pine nuts but also almonds.  (This substitution makes the dish much cheaper, as almonds cost a lot less than pine nuts.) 

Overall, this Etruscan Chicken recipe produced a delicious meal that reminded me of the types of dishes that I ate when I was in Tuscany.  Of course, Tuscan cuisine evolved from Etruscan cuisine, so that link seems only appropriate.  At some point, I will make this recipe with rabbit.  More to come....

Recipe from Mangia, Figlie
Serves 4

8 chicken thighs
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
4 ounces black olives
1 red onion, finely chopped
Rosemary and sage, finely chopped
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup pine nuts (or substitute almonds)
1/4 cup raisins
Sea salt 
Ground black pepper

1.  Prepare the chicken.  Place the chicken thighs in a bowl of water with the vinegar. 

2.  Saute the onions.  Put 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and red onion in a large unheated frying pan.  Place over medium heat and allow the onions to saute for 10 minutes.   

3.  Brown the chicken.  Drain the chicken and add it to the pan.  when the chicken is browned on both sides, add salt and pepper to taste and the white wine.  Cook slowly for about 20 minutes covered.  

4.  Add the pine nuts and raisins.  Add the pine nuts and raisins and stir.  Cover again and allow to simmer together for 10 minutes more.

5.  Finish the dish.    Before removing from heat, add the olives, sage and rosemary, all finely chopped.  Let the dish sit for 20 minutes and serve.


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