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WHAT’S COOKIN’: In the kitchen with Maria Nation

Although a talented writer, she is not interested in writing a cookbook. But what she would like to write is a book on how to give dinner parties.

Maria Nation, the talented Ashley Falls chef, has worked in various parts of the movie business for years She grew up in Malibu, where her favorite activity was riding horses on the beach. She attended UCLA’s film school, but as a journalism major. Nation worked in the film business in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s and then moved to New York City as a programmer for pay television. “I loved it!” she enthused. A romantic interest led her to Boston, where she started writing screenplays. “None of my New York friends came to visit me in Boston, so in 1996 I bought this house. And that’s that.”

From Nation's scrapbook of dinner menues: 2009, in celebration of the days getting longer.
From Nation’s scrapbook of dinner menus: 2009, in celebration of the days getting longer.

Given her widespread acclaim as a chef, it is not surprising that she has a serious collection of cookbooks. But what’s really interesting is her personal scrapbook of dinner parties she’s hosted. There is a page for each dinner party, listing the menu, the guests, and occasionally pictures of the food. It’s not hard to be envious of the record she is keeping of her culinary life.

Nation is more of a chef than a baker, but she is an enthusiastic bread baker. But not any old bread baked in any old oven. She decided that if she was going to bake bread, it would have to be in her own bake oven, as seen in the photo of her companion, Roberto Flores, baking winter bread.

Nation's partner, Roberto Flores, cooking at the (winter) bake oven.
Nation’s partner, Roberto Flores, cooking at the (winter) bake oven.

Although she is a talented writer, she is not interested in writing a cookbook. “No! There’s a billion cookbooks out there.” But what she would like to write is a book on how to give dinner parties.

Cooking is not Nation’s only talent. She is the writer of the film “A Street Cat Named Bob,” which will be shown on Wednesday evening at the Beacon in Pittsfield, and on Thursday at the Triplex. Thursday night’s show will benefit the Mountainside Treatment Center, one of our area’s biggest addiction treatment facilities. Following the film, which begins at 7 p.m., there will be a discussion with Nation, the film’s director, and Jessica Dunn from Mountainside.

Nation has many “favorite” cookbooks. Among them are the collected works of Yotam Ottolenghi, the respected author of five cookbooks, all of which are a success. “Who needs another cookbook if you have his?” But acknowledging the breadth and depth of the Internet when it comes to recipes, Nation said that when she’s stuck or needs an inspiration, a quick trip to the Internet does the trick. “But then I can’t remember where I found it.”

She’s also partial to Lynne Rosetti Kasper’s books, and chose a recipe from her Italian Country Table cookbook to share online. Below is Kasper’s recipe “Balsamico Chicken and Potatoes.”

Balsamico Chicken and Potatoes

herbsherbsIngredients:

¼ medium onion

3 large cloves garlic

¼ tightly packed cup fresh basil leaves

½ teaspoon dried basil

1/4+ teaspoon each dried oregano and marjoram

4 sliced (1.5-2 ounces) pancetta, chopped

5 tablespoons high-quality commercial balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 3.5-4 pound chicken (if possible, hormone- and antibiotic-free)

6 medium Yellow Fin, Yukon Gold or red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 2-inch cubes

½ – 1 cup dry white wine

Parsley or fresh thyme for garnish

If time allows, season the chicken ahead and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 400 when ready to cook the chicken. Mince together, by hand or in a food processor, the onion, garlic, herbs, and pancetta. Then blend in 2 teaspoons of the balsimico, the oil, and salt and pepper to taste.Spatchcocked chicken

Cut the chicken’s backbone and open the chicken up with your palm, firmly press down the breast area and flatten. Stuff most of the herb mixture under the skin of the thigh, leg, and breast area. Rub the rest all over the chicken. Place the bird skin side down on a large shallow pan (a broiler pan or a half-sheet pan). Scatter the potatoes around it and sprinkle everything with salt and pepper.

Roast 20 minutes, then pour in ½ cup of wine. Roast another 70 minutes, or until the thigh reaches about 175F on an instant-reading thermometer. Baste the potatoes and chicken frequently with the pan juices, turning the potatoes over often to brown evenly and prevent them from sticking. Add more wine is pan is dry. Turn over the chicken two-thirds of the way through, looking for even browning. If, after an hour, the chicken is not browning, raise the heat to 500 degrees to finish cooking (or wait until it is done and run it under the broiler for 5 minutes to crisp the skin.)

Let the chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes at room temperature, then present on a warmed platter along with the potatoes, sprinkling everything with the rest of the balsamico. Garnish with bouquets of parsley or fresh thyme.

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