When I lived in the North End of Boston, in the ’90s and’ 90s, I hung out from time to time in a neighborhood bar, called The Corner Café. It was located on Prince Street near the corner of Salem Street. And it really was a neighborhood. The owner, Richie Longo, was a neighborhood kid who grew up on Prince Street and duly attended Saint Leonard’s School – as his first-generation Italian-American parents had – along with all the other neighborhood kids.
The regular patrons at the time were also neighborhood people; all of which seemed to have nicknames. (although nicknames were useful for identification purposes). There was Joe the Lawyer, who was not a lawyer at all, but worked as an insurance investigator. Then there was John the Lawyer, who was a broker, and John the Lawyer who was really a lawyer with an office across the street. And I was always confused about Mary the Nurse, whose nickname seemed unnecessary; she was actually a nurse, but she was the only commoner named Mary.
Then there were the rest of the regulars: mostly young men who liked to be smart guys. Their conversations were filled with phrases like ‘fuggeddoudit’ and ‘ba-da-bing!’ And they often talked about ‘having to see this guy’ or ‘having to look after that thing.’ But despite the fact that they honored Robert DiNiro, and may have had dreams of being known by a nickname as “extreme unction,” the most serious crime ever committed was put on Red Sox late September.
However, when these local heroes did not talk about ‘this guy’ or ‘that thing’, the conversation tended to be confused about food; often against Chicken Scarpariello. This was a warm dish – literally and figuratively – during my years in Boston. And people often discussed the properties of one preparation over another. The lecture often concentrated on the benefits of the Cantina d’Italia recipe, which included sausage, over Felicia who did not. Sausage or not, but Chicken Scarpariello is the kind of dish that will delight any wise guy because it encourages eating with a fork in one hand a torn piece of crusty bread in the other; the latter used to suck up the mushrooms and to puncture various exclamations of ‘fuggeddoudit’ or ‘ba-da-bing.’
The short version of Chicken Scarpariello’s ‘cobbler-style’ story is that it was named for the humble fellow who cobbled the ingredients to the dish from his lean pantry. How it became a wise guy favorite is more obscure and very likely lost to history. But I suggest that when you serve Chicken Scarpariello at home, the dinner table conversation will be animated and raise a decibel or two above normal. And will you and your colleagues enjoy it? Fuggeddaboudit.
Skip’s Chicken Scarpariello
Excerpt from my second cookbook “Almost Italian.”
2 ½ – 3 lb. Roast chicken cut into 8 pieces
4 tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1 cup of dry white wine (Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio are popular choices)
6 – 8 hot cherry peppers, kernels, grafted and coarsely chopped
1 14 oz. Can chicken broth (preferably low sodium)
4 tbs. Flat leafed Italian parsley
2 Tbs. Unsalted butter
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Six Links sweet Italian sausage, cut into 1 ind. chunks (optional)
4 tbs. Flat leafed Italian parsley
Season the chicken pieces on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute, taking care not to let the garlic burn.
Add the chicken pieces to the sauté pan without overfilling. Do this step in batches if necessary. Cook the chicken pieces, turning occasionally, until golden brown everywhere; ca. 10 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and reserve them on a plate and cover them with aluminum foil.
Raise the heat to high and add the wine. Cook with stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen any pieces of chicken that may be caramelized on the bottom of the pan for about 2 minutes. Add cherry pepper, chicken broth, parsley and butter. Return the mixture to the boil, then stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
Lower the heat to the simmer, turn the chicken back into the pan, and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. For a really clever guy presentation, you also need to add the sausage at this point.
Remove chicken (and optional sausage) pieces to a dish, cover with the sauce and garnish with parsley. Serve with lots of Italian bread for soaking the sauce.