A memory inspires an old favorite

I received a call from my daughter, Sarah, who wanted my grandmother's recipe for Pollo Ubriaco ("Drunken Chicken").

I remember as a kid going out to the coop behind my grandmother's house to "help" her search for the chicken who was going to be the main character for the dish. (This was going to be repeated many times with aunts and uncles in Italy some few years later when I lived in the Langhe Hills, south of Torino.)

I was probably 4 or 5 years old when I made my first trip to the coop to be shown how to feed the chickens. My grandmother or one of her sisters would spread the feed with long sweeps of their hands, dipping in occasionally to the front pockets of a very old, flower-patterned apron to replenish. We would check under the hens to see what eggs we could gather and these would be slipped into those same pockets. I remember the deep golden brown of the eggs and marveled at their perfect shapes.

The apron itself, also worn by my grandmother's mother, hung limply on a wooden peg by the screen door leading out to the gravel drive, which ended at the coop. Feeding the chickens with a rusty, old, metal paint can with a wire hoop and collecting the brown beauties became my chore every morning.

"Harvesting" a hen for the pot was another matter. I distinctly remember beginning to understand the chickens in a personal way and began to call them names such as "Lazy Girl" or "Miss Greedy" after their traits, but was scolded by my aunt one day to not think of them as pets.

Well, of course, I found out why when I was shown how to kill and dress a chicken.

Farm life, among other things, is a direct connection with the earth, and with this connection becomes a sort of primordial understanding of direct effort resulting into a finished product. Conversely, little or slovenly effort results in poor product.

There is a profound honesty in this relationship between effort and result that plays itself out endlessly in farming. To walk in the fields or vineyards and smell the earth and feel the wind or rain and actually "live" the process is quite something.

In my own little world as a child, I understood that feed was harvested by great labor in the southern fields, dried and cracked by labor, stored by labor, used as feed by labor. The result was, well, protein for the family to nourish and restore effort (labor). Of course, the vineyards on the estate had the same cycle of planting, harvesting, production and pruning, and I found this part of farming appealing and rewarding and also found what wonders could be achieved when it was done correctly.

This recipe goes back a very long way in my family and is quite easy to make.

Pollo Ubriaco

("Drunken Chicken")

Ingredients: Skinless chicken, 1 tablespoon rosemary, cracked black pepper, pinches of salt, olive oil, finely chopped garlic, chicken stock and red wine.

I use a grill pan on top of the stove, but any fry pan will work well. Brown chicken on very high heat in olive oil with rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic, turning repeatedly. When brown, add half a cup of broth and half a cup of red wine. Simmer on high heat. Dilute more red wine in a cup with one third water or chicken broth and lower heat to a light simmer. Add the water-wine onto the chicken when the meat starts to dry. Never let it dry, however; keep adding the solution until the chicken is done.

Remove the chicken and turn up the heat to reduce the sauce to your liking. Pour over the chicken when serving. You can also pour this sauce over polenta or rice or whatever starch you wish.

Two important things to remember: Always dilute the wine by a third with water (or chicken broth) and only lightly salt. Reducing the sauce with a lot of added salt can make the dish too salty.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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