This is Venice, in all her glory. She’s old and she’s beautiful. Venice is a model of early engineering…well engineering, period. This is man-made, and the beginnings of Venice date back to about the 5th century! Isn’t that just astounding? And the food is pretty astounding, too. Venetian Chicken (implying this is the only way one would prepare chicken in Venice!) has all of the best aspects of Venetian cuisine, but with a twist! Some thoughts…I think it would be incredibly difficult, not to mention expensive, to live in Old Venice. Everything is brought in by boat…everything! Think about that….and your life would be constantly under scrutiny by the prying eyes of tourists. We were in Venice in October and there were still too many tourists for me. I know, I’m a tourist, but I don’t want to be around tourists….How does that work, anyway? I love the back alleys and side streets or cities…they tell a story. They tell you what life is like when you’re not there…the private moment that tourists seek out. I loved the juxtaposition of this character. He’s completely oblivious to the world around him. How wonderful….
We had wonderful food. In Venice we ate at a tiny little restaurant called Osteria al Diavolo e l’Acquasanta, “The Devil and the Holy Water”. This place is a few blocks off the Grand Canal, in a tiny alley. The food was wonderful. I had a local fish, simply done with porcini mushrooms and a light wine-butter sauce. I’ve realized, I took no pictures of the restaurant. One thing you should know about The Goddess. She does not take pictures of the food she is eating in restaurants. She finds it very rude to do so. When photographing ones food, one runs the risk of the meal becoming less than what is should be. The people in the restaurant work very had to make certain your food is hot and delicious when it’s served. I will however, take pictures of food in shop windows and markets…I love markets, particularly the outdoor variety. Just look at those chiles!
Sorry. The Goddess becomes distracted when bright objects, particularly food-related items (or jewels), are in view. Back to the recipe at hand. I heard Betty Rosbottom describing this recipe on Faith Middleton’s Food Schmooze on NPR. Since we had just returned from Venice, I made note. The secret ingredient, the twist, is curry powder…seriously. But you will never know it’s there! It adds a wonderful nuance of flavor, an exoticism; it also enhances the savory quality of the dish. When used in small enough quantities, I find curry powder does just that.
This is an ideal dinner party dish; it’s make-ahead perfection. The flavors are so much better after an overnight stay in the fridge.
Venetian Chicken Casserole with Porcini Mushrooms
- 2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
- Boiling water
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons butter unsalted
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced lengthwise through caps and stems
- 1/2 cup dry sherry or dry Marsala
- 1-1/3 cups cream heavy or whipping
- 8 thin slices prosciutto
- 1 cup Italian fontina cheese grated
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley chopped, fresh
Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch or another shallow 3-qt baking dish.
Put the porcini mushrooms in a strainer and rinse under running water to remove any grit. Put them in a medium bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Let stand until softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Strain the mushrooms and soaking liquid over a bowl through a strainer lined with a paper towel, pressing down on the mushrooms with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Reserve the soaking liquid. Coarsely chop the porcini and set aside.
Place a chicken breast on a work surface and, with a sharp knife held parallel with the surface, cut the breast in half horizontally. Repeat with the remaining breasts. You will have eight chicken pieces. In a shallow dish, whisk the curry powder and olive oil together. Dip each breast into the oil and coat well on both sides.
Place a heavy, large frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add as many chicken breasts as will fit comfortably in a single layer. Cook until lightly browned on both sides, turning several times, 5 to 6 minutes total. Remove the chicken to the baking dish, and arrange in a single layer. Continue until all the chicken has been sautéed (it will not be completely cooked through). Season with salt and pepper.
Melt the butter in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sliced cremini mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and no liquid remains, 5 minutes or more. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the sherry to the pan. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the reserved porcini, 1 cup of the reserved soaking liquid, the cream, and the remaining sherry. Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens very slightly, about 5 minutes.
Top each chicken breast with a slice of prosciutto, cut to fit. (You may have some prosciutto left over.) Sprinkle an equal amount of fontina cheese over each prosciutto-covered breast. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature for 1 hour to develop the flavors. (To make the casserole a day ahead, cover and refrigerate the chicken, omitting the resting time. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes, and continue with the recipe.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and the chicken is hot all the way through, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the parsley before serving.
Original recipe from Sunday Casseroles: Complete Comfort in One Dish by Betty Rosbottom, published by Chronicle Books, 2014.
After the mushroom soak, they swell and soften. These are still in their whole form or unchopped. Never throw out the soaking liquid, but do strain it through a fine mesh sieve, as there can sometimes be grit. That can make a sauce unpleasant and downright dangerous, if that grit is in the form of tiny stones; I’ve found dental damage takes away from culinary enjoyment!
Place a chicken breast on a work surface and, with a sharp knife held parallel with the surface, cut the breast in half horizontally. Repeat with the remaining breasts. You will have eight chicken cutlets from 4 half breasts (or 2 whole ones). Note the green cutting board. I use that board for chicken and pork ONLY…then into the dishwasher it goes. This avoids cross-contamination should the chicken have any nasty bugsThis is one side of the breast after it’s been sliced horizontally, and has been added to the curry/olive oil mixture and coated well on both sides.
Place a heavy, large frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add as many chicken breasts as will fit comfortably in a single layer. Cook until lightly browned on both sides, turning several times, about 5 to 6 minutes total. The chicken will not be cooked through. Continue cooking the chicken in batches, removing the cooked pieces to the baking dish; arrange in a single layer.
Cook until all the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the reserved porcini, 1 cup of the reserved soaking liquid, the cream, and the remaining sherry. Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens very slightly, about 5 minutes. When you run your finger through the sauce on the spoon, it should leave a clear swath, just like this.
Pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature for 1 hour to develop the flavors. I made this the day before, covered it and popped it in the fridge overnight. Bring it to room temperature for 30 minutes, and continue with the recipe.
You pop the dish in the oven, pour yourself a glass of wine, and this is the result! The cheese gets all melty and good, the prosciutto crisps on the edges and the mushrooms, well they’re mushrooms and there’s cream and booze…what’s not to love. I think this dish benefits from spending the night in the fridge. In the end, the flavors are just better.
Back to Venice…This is the Doge’s palace on the right. Back in the days of yore, the supreme ruler of Venice was the Doge. The Doge represented the inner circle of the most powerful Venetian families, was pretty much elected for life. His prerogatives were loosely defined and more or less unchecked by law. That was later rectified. The palace was built in the mid 14th century; the exterior is Venetian Gothic, the interior is pretty ornate, rather Rococo. Much of the interior was redone after an incredibly destructive fire in 1577. You can see that the ground level arches are noticeably shorter than the second floor, because Venice is sinking! It’s sinking at a rate of about 4-5cm every 100 years (some scientists think the rate is more like 20 centimeter…we’ll have to wait and see!) The longest oil painting in the world is inside the palace, Tintoretto’s Il Paradiso, as well as Titian’s Rape of Europa (it was taking a little vacation and was not on view when we were there…bummer!).
Venice floods…seriously…these days it’s something like 40 or more times each year! Acqua alta, or high water is just that. Fortunately, we didn’t get to experience this, but the way I understand it, it’s tidal. There are drains like this one and the water comes up through them and then drains away through them, as well.
Anyway, back to the Doge’s little place…
When you displeased the Doge, you would be sent to the dungeon. And you know The Goddess would have been a bit rebellious…so she may have experienced this first hand. Her last view of the world, in which she would probably never again set foot, would have been seen through the small space in the “window” on the left of the picture.
This would have been her last view of the world…the Bridge of Sighs (without us pesky tourists, I would hope!) In the distance you can see the vaporetto or water taxi…think city bus! This is how one travels from one island to another…it’s very pretty at night.