I’d like to tell you a bit about my husband, Al. He is a source of strength to me, his personality and creativity a huge, positive force in my life. He is literally here on every page of Gathering Flavors, as he is both my editor―nothing gets published without his input―and my inspiration. Most of the dishes you see on this site were made with him in mind, seasoned the way he enjoys them, the way we eat every day at home. He encourages my writing, my photography, all my endeavors. A gentle critic, he let’s me know when I can do better. His love permeates my existence, makes every day―even the ones where I am feeling down or frustrated―a celebration of life, a celebration of excellence.
About 12 years ago Al announced his plans to write a novel. While most of us have a story or two in us that we would like to put into words some day, few of us have the patience and the guts to actually make it happen. Along with many short stories, both published and unpublished, Al has written two novels since he made his announcement, the first of which will be published in a matter of days. I had planned to wait to tell you more about it, but the editors are putting the finishing touches on it now, and I am too excited to keep it under my hat any longer.
The Hour of Parade by Alan Bray takes place primarily in Munich in 1806. With Napoleonic Europe as it’s back-drop and Rousseau’s Juliedeftly weaved into the story, it is a novel full of intrigue and excitement. Carefully crafted, it’s about love and anger, revenge and mistaken identities, about duty and honor. Mostly it’s a story about 4 people―Alexi, Anne-Marie, Valsin and Marianne―whose lives come together under the unusual circumstances in Europe during a time of war, and are forever changed because of their encounters and intimacies. The setting may be historical, but its themes of human connection are timeless. Elements of the characters, of their feelings and choices, reside within us all.
This Chicken à la Marengo is a dish served during a beautiful scene in The Hour of Paradewhen Alexi has his friends to dinner for the first time. The lore behind the dish is that it was prepared for Napoleon at his camp near the battle of Marengo in 1800, made from the minimal ingredients available to his chef while they were on campaign. Deceptively simple to prepare, browned chicken pieces are served with a garlicky tomato sauce, golden mushrooms and lightly toasted bread pieces. Alexi serves it to his friends after a champagne toast and accompanied by a rich red Bordeaux. We had it for dinner last night garnished with fresh parsley and crispy potato wedges. Make it and serve it your way. It is a dish worthy of an emperor but equally worthy at your table.
I’ll be sure to let you know the moment The Hour of Paradeis published and available to read!
I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors, soon.
CHICKEN Á LA MARENGO
Yield: 4 to 6 Servings
- olive oil (about ½ cup total)
- 1 carrot, chopped finely
- 1 stalk celery, chopped finely
- 1 small onion, peeled and chopped finely
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
- ¼ cup white wine
- 1 16-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 4 bone-in chicken thighs
- 4 bone-in chicken drumsticks
- 2 tablespoons dried chives
- 8 large white mushroom caps, rinsed and wiped of excess dirt and water
- 8 slices French baguette
- About ¼ cup Italian parsley, rinsed and minced, for garnish
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- To make the sauce: Coat the bottom of a small saucepan with about ¼ cup olive oil and heat on the stove top. Add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic. Toss to coat the vegetables with olive oil. Over medium heat, sautèe until the carrot is softened, the celery, onion and garlic translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in the white wine, bring to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes to reduce the wine by about a third. Add the crushed tomatoes, stir, bring everything to a boil then lower the flames to a simmer. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Cover the pan and keep the sauce warm.
- To cook the chicken: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Add about ¼ cup olive oil to a pan large enough to hold all the chicken pieces. Heat on the stove top. Place the chicken pieces in the heated oil, skin side down. Cook until the skin is lightly browned, about 10 minutes, then turn the pieces to allow the bottom side to brown as well. Sprinkle with salt, freshly ground black pepper and the dried chives. Place the chicken in the oven,uncovered, and roast until the pieces are fully cooked through, about 30 to 40 minutes.
- To prepare the mushrooms and baguette: Place a small skillet on the stove-top and coat the bottom with olive oil. Heat the oil on high. Add the mushroom caps and cook until golden, turning so that both sides are fully cooked. This should take about 5 minutes. Set aside and do the same with the baguette slices.
- To serve: Divide the sauce between 4 serving plates. Place one chicken thigh and one drumstick on top of the sauce on each plate. Divide the mushrooms and baguette slices evenly between the plates. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
- I chose to use chicken thighs and drumsticks here because they are affordable cuts and I find dark meat more flavorful that white. You can use an entire chicken cut up into eight pieces, if you prefer, noting that the breast will take slightly longer to cook than the other chicken pieces. Do use bone-in pieces with the skin on, for maximum flavor.
- A hearty red wine, such as a Bordeaux or a chianti would go well with this dish. Follow the main course with a Market Morning Salad using primarily Bibb lettuce and dressed with red wine vinegar. Add a wedge of creamy French cheese, more baguette slices and, of course, more red wine. Don't forget hot espresso for dessert with some sorbet, perhaps.
- Some say that Napoleon enjoyed Chicken à la Marengo with some cooked crayfish and a fried egg on top. Try it that way, if you like!
- To make this dish gluten-free, leave off the baguette toasts or use gluten-free bread.
- Vegetarians, consider making the sauce only. Grill or roast Portobello mushrooms, then top with sauce at serving time. Serve along with the baguette toasts and a wedge of cheese. This sauce is also good on pasta or over an omelet.