This meal is a sum of its parts: A sublime Fried Chicken, my take on Sicily’s Caponata and great Pesto topping a crispy toasted Baguette.
When I was looking around for something special to serve as a supper for guests, I came across this extraordinary menu on Food52.com. Its author is Suzanne DeBrango, who just happens to be a Real Estate Broker in Brooklyn. In fact, she is with Andrew’s firm. She has a food blog that’s well worth reading called ‘apuginthekitchen’. It is named for her two loyal kitchen companions, Izzy and Nando. In addition to the blog, Suzanne is a prolific contributor to Food52. She’s responsible for no less than 127 recipes and counting. Suzanne writes that she came from a large Italian family growing up in and around the kitchen. The photo that accompanied this menu drew me into what might seem like an odd combination that turned out to be absolutely delicious.
This no 30-minute dinner. Which is why you may want to break it into parts.
The first component of this menu is Caponata. The backbone of this Sicilian antipasto is Eggplant. It is seasoned with tomatoes, peppers, tomatoes, celery, olives, and capers. We love the sweetness of the agrodolce sauce. The recipe has been around since 1709. Food historians believe that the dish is of Catalan origin since the Catalan word caponada means relish. Suzanne DeBrango offered her family recipe for the dish. I’m fortunate to have the massive Italian cookbook “Il Talismano Della Felicità”. It has the most romantic of all my Cookbook Titles. It translates to “The Talisman ( Good Luck Charm) of Happiness”. Their recipe did match up to Suzanne’s. In the end, after leaving the finished Caponata overnight, I felt it lacked sweetness. I altered the recipe to include a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes that I first stewed in Balsamic vinegar. Perfection! This is a great Caponata. Finally, of all the reasons to make your own Caponata, there’s the one that brings out the Scot in me. The store-bought version is absurdly expensive. At our local supermarket, a 7 oz. can is $4.29. That works out to be $9.81 lb. But if you want to squander your inheritance, you can skip this step and move on to the pesto.
Pesto too can be store-bought but try this one, it is simply superb.
In our recent post, Heirloom Tomato Tart, we gave the option of using store-bought pesto. You would think we were advocating a life of crime, so negative was the response. We’re not about to suggest that again. (But you can.). Instead, Suzanne’s pesto is perfect. The hardest thing about the entire operation is separating the leaves from the stems of basil and parsley. To keep the pesto green, coat it with a thin layer of olive oil the minute it is made.
Finally, there’s the Parmesan Crusted Chicken…
There’s no store-bought option here. Using Chicken Tenders gives you chicken the perfect size to top the pesto-covered baguette. The great thing here is that you can do all the necessary frying of the chicken well in advance of dinner. Put all the finished golden-crusted chicken onto a rack over a sheet pan and keep them warm in a 200-degree oven or in your warming drawer. Minutes before you want to serve then, halve the baguettes lengthwise, slather them with pesto and run them under the broiler until the edges brown and the pesto bubbles. Set everything up and let your guests ladle the Caponata over one crispy baguette and top the second one with the Parmesan-crusted Chicken. Here are all the recipes:
A Sicilian delicacy, this marvelous Eggplant dish is a perfect appetizer or spread for a Cheeseboard. It will keep in the fridge for weeks.
- 6 Italian Eggplants
- Olive Oil
- 1 Sweet Onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp. Tomato Paste
- 3 tender stalks of celery, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, Chopped
- 5 cloves Garlic Minced
- 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, diced
- 1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 4 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar (or to taste)
- 6 Peppadew peppers, diced
- 4 tbsp capers, drained
- ½ cup Kalamata or Green Olives, chopped
- Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper
- 2 tsp. sugar
- Salt and Pepper to taste.
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 450° F.
- Step 2 Clean the eggplant, cut the tops off, and cut them in half lengthwise. On a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, brush a little olive oil, place your eggplant cut side down, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Chop the eggplant into bite-size pieces.
- Step 3 Set a Dutch Oven over medium-high flame, coat the bottom with olive oil, add your chopped onion, and cook until translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir into the onions. Add the chopped celery and red bell pepper and continue cooking until they are soft and have started to caramelize. Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute or so. Don’t let the garlic brown. Turn the stove to medium heat. Add your eggplant, tomato, diced tomatoes, Peppadews, capers, olives, crushed red pepper, sugar, and Balsamic vinegar, and continue cooking until the mixture is thickened. The eggplant will break down but that’s okay. This will take about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit overnight. It tastes best when it has rested and all the flavors have blended together. However, should your initial taste be not sweet or seasoned enough for you, you can re-heat the Caponata and add more balsamic, salt, or pepper.
Suzanne DeBrango's Pesto
A superb take on Pesto, this one is enhanced with the flavor of both Basil and Italian Parsley.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 2 cups flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano or Romano
- 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Step 1 Add the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, and 1/4 cup cheese to the food processor and pulse until it’s a fine grind.
- Step 2 With the processor on, add the olive oil through the feeding tube and, once emulsified, stop the processor, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Step 3 Spoon into a bowl and set aside. Top with a thin layer of olive oil to keep pesto green
Parmesan-Crusted Chicken and How to Assemble the finished dish
Crispy-panko coated chicken with the flavor of Parmesan Cheese...heaven!
- 12 chicken tenders or 6 thin chicken cutlets
- 2 cups panko
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 2- 18-20 inch baguettes, sliced vertically then cut into 3 equal-sized pieces.
- Step 1 Coat a skillet with a generous amount of olive oil and heat over a medium-high flame. Mix 1 cup of Parmigiano and the panko together, place in a shallow bowl (or a ziplock bag), and season with salt and pepper. Beat your eggs. (You may want to do this in two batches, two eggs at a time).Dip the chicken first in the egg and then in the panko-cheese mixture. Fry until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. (To make sure the chicken is cooked through, you can cut into the thickest part of one and peek — the flesh should be white and firm and the juices should run clear.) When done, remove to a cooling rack set over a sheet pan, and place it in the 200° F oven or warming oven so they will stay warm.
- Step 2 Heat the broiler, spread the pesto on both sides of the bread that has been sliced in half. Place under the broiler until it becomes lightly browned, only about a minute. Or, alternately, you can use a skillet or grill pan.
- Step 3 Spread caponata on the grilled bread, lay the chicken on top of the caponata, and enjoy!