Recipe below. But first…
I want to start with a small burst of patriotic pride:
From the time of the revolutionary ideas of courageous astronomers Copernicus and Galileo in the 1500s and 1600s, up through the discoveries of the outer planets in the 1800s, to Einstein’s theories of Specific and General Relativity in the early 1900s, from Sputnik in 1957 to Apollo 11 in 1969, throughout the whole panoply of our advancements in math and science and education with TV programs like Nova and experts like Carl Sagan, on to the complete democratization of information and knowledge via the internet, we’ve finally achieved the enviable milestone of convincing nearly three-quarters of all Americans that the earth does, in fact, go around the sun, and not the sun around the earth.*
* National Science Foundation Survey, 2014. See http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/content/chapter-7/c07.pdf, table on p. 23.
A few years back my wife and I went to Sicily, where much to our relief we were spared any exhibitions of such knee-buckling ignorance.
We stayed in one hotel in the town of Trapani for our entire two-week visit. We chose the town from Google maps partly because it’s at Sicily’s western tip and bathes in sunsets over nearby islands, partly because it looked very pretty, and mostly because it was not a major tourist destination and would be free of other Americans and their fanciful astronomical notions. It kept its promise: we didn’t see or hear of any Americans while we were there, and the sun set precisely and rhapsodically over the Favignana islands some eight miles west, completing half its daily revolution around the earth.
Aside from really nailing the phrase, “Vorrebe bire qualcosa con me?” (“Would you like something to drink with me?”, or more simply “Cocktail hour!”), we learned four crucial life lessons:
1) Get a grip on conversational Italian before you go; Italians, even Sicilians, take delight in seeing you struggle and flail with their language, and English is not widely spoken or understood in Sicily.
2) Be very nice to friends you’ve made who, you’ve just learned, are closely related to prominent Mafiosi in Palermo. (True for us)
3) Don’t order Chianti in a restaurant – you will receive blank stares (at best) and angry gesticulations (at not so best). Chianti is from Tuscany and Sicily often doesn’t regard itself as belonging to Italy. Nero d’Avola is the prevalent table wine, it’s from grapes grown on the volcanic flanks of Mt. Etna, and it’s quite okay and non troppo caro (cheap).
4) The food in Sicily is absurdly good.
The food is good because it’s clean, fresh, simply designed, and perfectly cooked. We typically ate at small family restaurants and discovered that any pasta marinara is marine and not tomato – it comes with clams and mussels and maybe fish on top, with olive oil and garlic. You have to go to Rome or Tuscany for marinara that’s a tomato sauce. Why, you may ask your Tuscan waiter, is the tomato sauce called marinara when the word means “of the sea?” Well, in days of yore along the Italian coast sailors would pop into town for a quick supper on shore leave, and the cook needed to throw together a quick and easy sauce they’d love – and it was a blend of tomatoes, oil, garlic, wine, a little vinegar and some spices for the marinai (“sailors”). All of this may be useful to know at some point, but today’s chicken parmesan recipe is utterly non-Sicilian in origin and character. It’s rich, spicy, and nearly symphonic in flavor, and among my most favorite comfort foods.
It starts with boneless chicken breasts. Here you have a choice between a) supermarket chicken breasts the size of catcher’s mitts extracted from a highly engineered bird that was tightly caged, overfed, treated inhumanely, but was possibly of criminal disposition and deserved everything it got, or b) normal sized breasts from a caring, local farm that called the chicken “Marla” and lavished it with love, marigold petals and visits from adoring children. I choose the former because I didn’t know the chicken personally, and you can get four nice cutlets (sometimes five) from the breast with a sharp knife, and they’re predictably tender. It’s your call.
In the end, if you like Italian food that’s full on flavor, you’ll love this version. Here it is – just drag and drop to your desktop.
There you have it, until next week. We’ll be back in the U.S., most likely in and around Cuprum, Idaho. Population 6.
(All photos © Ned White)