SERVES 6 TO 8
One day, while staying at my friend Giulia's house in Verona, I received a phone call from Marilisa Allegrini, inviting me to visit the Allegrini winery for a private tasting and lunch. What a perfect plan for a picture-perfect day in the Veneto region of Italy. Naturally I said yes, and it did not take much coaxing to get Giulia to come along as well. Marilisa is the sixth generation of her family to make wine and we sampled Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone, as well as others. Invented by the Greeks, Recioto is a method of picking and drying grapes until they are shriveled; this concentrates the sugar producing wine with deeper flavor.
After the tasting we had a delightful lunch at Trattoria alla Coa. A sampling of the house pastas included homemade tagliolini, strands of pasta as thin as dental floss dressed in a butter sauce with specks of fresh black truffles grated over the top. When fresh truffles are in season these agnolotti are referred to as gioielli - jewels.
The second course, cappone agrodolce, capon in a sweet-and-sour honey sauce, stays in my mind as a culinary triumph. Capon is a castrated male chicken that produces a delicate-textured meat with mild flavor. The delicacy of the meat paired with the sweet sauce and topped with sharp-tasting shreds of arugola was extraordinary. Order capons from a butcher. If you do not have a butcher, see if you can order them from the meat department in your grocery store.
This dish can also be made by substituting a free-range chicken such as one from Bell and Evans. Here is my re-creation of this wonderful dish.
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup honey
Grated zest of 4 oranges
4 tablespoons wine vinegar
7 tablespoons Filippo Berio Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups seedless green grapes, washed and stems removed
Pour the raisins into a small bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let the raisins soak for 1 hour. Drain the raisins and set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix the honey, zest, wine vinegar, and salt. Whisk in the olive oil a few drops at a time until an emulsion, or thick blended sauce, is obtained. Transfer the sauce to a small saucepan and stir in the raisins. The sauce can be prepared up to three days in advance.
1 pound arugula, stemmed, washed, and dried
One 9 pound whole capon, washed and dried
3 ribs celery, washed and trimmed
2 large carrots scraped
1 large onion peeled and cut into quarters
1 large bay leaf
20 whole cloves
12 whole black peppercorns
Fine sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Stack the arugula leaves in small bunches on a cutting board. Roll the leaves tightly up like a cigar and cut thin crosswise strips no wider than 1/8-inch. These strips are known as a chiffonnade. Transfer the chiffonnade to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
Place the capon and the rest of the ingredients in a 10-quart soup pan. Fill with water to cover the ingredients. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and cook the capon for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, or until a fork inserted near the leg bone can easily detach it. As the soup cooks, use a skimmer to remove any foam that accumulates on the top of the broth.
Remove the capon to a dish and let cool. Strain the soup into a large bowl, pressing on the solids to extract the juices. Discard the solids. Stir in the parsley and adjust for salt. The broth can be used as is, with pasta or vegetables or frozen for future use.
Cut the capon into serving pieces, removing the bones, and place the pieces on a platter. Slowly reheat the sauce. Stir in the grapes. Transfer the sauce to a sauce bowl. Serve the capon with some of the sauce and sprinkle a little of the chiffonnade over the top.
Note: The capon can be cooked a day ahead, removed from the broth and wrapped in foil and refrigerated. Chill the broth overnight to make it easier to remove any fat that has accumulated at the top of the broth.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA - BRINGING ITALY HOME by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2001.
* Balducci's, 424 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10011 800-225-3822 or 1-800-BALDUCCI or www.balducci.com
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