Anyone who has spent a minute reading Dinner: A Love Story knows about my affection for Leah Koenig’s cookbooks, which I turn to all year long, but especially this time of year as we head into the Jewish holidays. A leading authority on Jewish food, Koenig is a genius at interpreting traditional dishes in a progressive, respectful, and of course, unbelievably delicious way. Her latest cookbook takes this one step further. It’s called Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen, and it explores the unique, 2000-year-old (!) culinary landscape of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, or la Cucina Ebraica Romana. Gorgeously photographed by Kristin Teig, the pages take us on a journey down via del Portico d’Ottavia, the main drag in the neighborhood, and around the Ghetto’s ancient narrow streets, passing through sacred synagogues, bakeries with centuries-old ovens, and inside the kitchens of Roman guides and locals. It was a Shabbat dinner at the home of a kosher caterer over a decade ago who “exploded” her previous understanding of what Jewish cuisine was.” The dishes she ate “were neither Ashkenazi (hailing from Central and Eastern Europe), nor Sephardi (hailing from the Iberian Peninsula). They were uniquely Roman and they were incredible.” You’ll find the famous Carciofi Alla Giuda (Jewish-style Fried Artichokes) in these pages, of course, but you’ll also find a classic saucy stuffed zucchini, gnocchi made with semolina, so many sweets (sour cherry ricotta pie!), and a slow-braised beef stew she first ate at that Shabbat dinner. It was so good, Koenig said, that she claims it played a significant role her path to allow meat into her vegetarian diet. (Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this?) In addition to including the fascinating history behind each dish, Koenig includes all the hallmarks of one written for a home cook — there are lots of technique tutorials as well menu suggestions for specific holidays, so you know just what to make when, say, at Rosh Hashanah rolls around, i.e. this week. Here’s one recipe she recommends for the occasion — Chicken with Peppers. I’ll let her tell you about the dish her own words…
Chicken with Peppers (Pollo con Peperoni)
From Portico, by Leah Koenig
Serves 4 to 6
From Leah: Chicken braised with silky roasted bell peppers and tomatoes is a classic Roman dish, and for good reason. Made with just a handful of ingredients, it captures the essence of summer’s bounty. Roman Jews love the dish as much as their neighbors—in Donatella Limentani Pavoncello’s beautiful cookbook, Dal 1880 ad Oggi(see page 152), she includes a variation of the dish made with morsels of cut-up chicken breast. She calls it Chicken Delights with Peppers, which I love, because the dish is, indeed, delightful. Serve it with lots of crusty bread for sopping up the vibrant, flavorful sauce.
4 medium yellow or orange bell peppers, washed and dried (stems on is fine)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and legs, excess fat trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup dry white wine
One 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
Chopped fresh basil for serving
Roast and Peel the Peppers: Preheat the broiler and arrange the peppers on a baking sheet. Broil the peppers, turning every 5 minutes or so with tongs, until they are blistered all over and collapsing on themselves, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the peppers from the broiler, cover with foil or paper towels, and let cool slightly.
Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skins and seeds and slice them into strips. Set aside. (This step can be completed up to two days in advance. Store the peppers, covered, in the fridge.)
Prepare the Chicken: Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and, working in batches, add the chicken, skin side down, to the pot. Sear, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes per batch; transfer the browned chicken to a plate. Set aside.
Turn the heat down to medium and add a drizzle of oil if the Dutch oven looks dry. Add half of the roasted pepper strips, the garlic, and red pepper flakes, if using, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is tender and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and let cook down by about half, 1 to 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, with their juices, in a medium bowl and gently squeeze them to break them up into small pieces. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the Dutch oven, along with ¾ teaspoon salt and a generous amount of black pepper.
Nestle the chicken pieces in the sauce, spooning some of it over the top. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is tender, about 45 minutes.
Uncover, turn the heat back to medium-high, and cook, stirring often, until the sauce thickens a bit, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining roasted pepper strips, taste, and add more salt, if desired. Serve hot, generously sprinkled with chopped basil.
Note: You can substitute jarred roasted bell peppers to save the time of roasting the peppers yourself. The flavor of the final dish will not be quite as delicate, but it will still be very tasty.