This recipe comes from Joyce Goldstein's Cucina Ebraica, a cookbook about the cuisine of Italian Jews. Goldstein writes that for this book, she sought recipes with a long history. The name of this particular dish, Pollo Ezechiele, hints at its Jewish biblical origins. Goldstein explains that for much of Italian history, chicken was more expensive than other meats, so the chicken repertoire of Italian Jews of the past was limited. They tended to use the least expensive cuts, like giblets and other odd pieces that could be ground up and shaped into meatballs. Roasted and fried chicken were reserved for holiday and Sabbath meals. I imagine Ezechiele's Chicken may have been a special occasion meal in times past.
For me, as a poor professional student, buying a whole chicken can be a little expensive, and I don't know how to butcher a whole chicken anyway (although someday I'd certainly like to learn). So for this dish I use drumsticks. It seems like a nice homage to poor Italian Jews of the past, since drumsticks are currently one of the least expensive parts of the chicken. Plus, drumsticks just work so well in this dish. When I first started making it, I used a variety of chicken pieces, but the drumsticks were always my favorite. So at some point, I switched to using all drumsticks. As the wine-enriched sauce reduces, the meat becomes super tender and falls off the bones. When I scoop the tomato sauce onto my plate on top of the chicken legs, I always dig around in the pot looking for the little pieces of meat that have fallen off the bone and turned dark reddish brown as they soaked up the wine.
The element of this recipe that makes it so special is the sauce. After the chicken, herbs, tomatoes, olives, and garlic are simmered for a while, red wine is added and the sauce reduced. Reducing for a long time until the liquid is mostly gone leads to a powerful and rich flavor. I can't stop fantasizing about this amazing sauce from the moment I harvest the herbs; their aroma really gets me in the mood for eating. For most of the year, I use herbs fresh from my garden. This time, I used a combination of two kinds of basil (genovese and lemon), oregano, and lemon thyme. I have tried many combinations of herbs in this recipe, and it always turns out tasty. But basil is a must. The sweet and spicy, pungent flavor of basil works so well with the tomatoes and olives in this dish. Basil is easy to grow, and when done right, produces a prolific harvest. One of my favorite summer activities is pinching the flowers off my basil plants, and also deadheading my other flowers. This simple garden maintenance activity allows me to focus all my attention on the flowers and get lost in concentration in the summer heat. Such meditative activities are so fulfilling and relaxing, and help me maintain my sanity in the midst of the stress of my scholarly pursuits. So go outside to your own garden or the local community garden, harvest some aromatic herbs, and get cooking. You will not be disappointed by this easy to prepare, nutritious, and mouthwateringly delicious dish of Italian Jewry.
Pollo Ezechiele (Ezekiel's Chicken)
Adapted from Cucina Ebraica, by Joyce Goldstein
For this recipe, I prefer to use all chicken drumsticks. However, in the original recipe, Goldstein uses a whole small fryer chicken, cut into serving pieces.
2 ½ to 3 pounds chicken pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
⅓ cup pitted Mediterranean-style black olives, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced (or a whole head, if you love garlic as much as I do)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, sage, rosemary, oregano, or a combination
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (Hunt's and Muir Glen are tasty brands.)
½ cup dry red wine
1. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Warm olive oil in a large sauté pan (one with a good cover for later in the recipe) over high heat. Add chicken pieces and sauté until golden on all sides.
2. Add the olives, garlic, herbs, and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes.
3. Uncover the pan and add the wine. Raise heat to high and cook rapidly, reducing the sauce until almost all the liquid is gone, about 25 minutes. Adjust the seasonings and serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 5.
My name is Hillary. This blog is about the everyday food I prepare in my kitchen, with tips and recipes for easy, wholesome, and diet friendly meals. I have been chanting "cheese please!" since I was a toddler, although lately I've cut back on dairy.