Chicken a la Vendemmia

Chicken a la Vendemmia  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Chicken a la Vendemmia | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Dinner in Napa”

The Set-up: The Gartens are on vacation in Napa (lucky!), so Ina is cooking California-style.

The Menu: Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad, Chicken a la Vendemmia, Raspberry Crumble Bars

0:35 – The Gartens have rented a house in Napa for their vacation and Ina is making them dinner in the garden.

1:16 – Starting in order of importance, Ina is making dessert first: Raspberry Crumble Bars, which apparently were a Barefoot Contessa staple.

2:03 – So far this looks like a really simple recipe – flour, sugar, butter, salt, vanilla.

3:22 – Now raspberry jam is spread over a short bread crust, and this actually reminds me a lot of a recipe I make a lot, but mine involves chocolate chips…

4:37 – Interesting, Ina is using granola to make a short-cut crumble topping. Very tricky…

5:29 – Field trip! We’re going with Ina to visit the Oakville Grocery one of my favorite places in the Napa Valley!

6:14 – It turns out that Oakville Grocery served as a guide back when Ina was first running Barefoot Contessa in the late 70s. Further confirmation that she has great taste.

9:33 - We’re back at the Garten’s home away from home to make Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad which I’m guessing was inspired by Oakville Grocery’s “main course salads.”

10:02 – The recipe calls for Italian tuna packed in olive oil and I’ve really never worked with that ingredient. Ina says it has lots of flavor, so…?

11:21 – I was on board with everything until the black olives – no thanks, too briny!

12:13 – Ina says that lots of people think couscous is a grain, but that it’s actually a pasta. Cue the More You Know Star…

13:38 – Now we’re checking in with some California chefs to get advice on great salads: Craig Stoll @ Delfina says he keeps it simple and uses the best ingredients like caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and basil oil.

13:55 - Liz Prueitt @ Tartine contrasts hot and cold, so she serves wilted spinach and gruyere with vinaigrette tossed baby greens.

14:24 – Danny Bowien @ Mission Chinese plays with plating by wrapping a spicy salad with lots of fresh herbs in toasted nori sheets like a sushi handroll. Sort of like a cross between a salad and a spring roll…

15:17 – Back to Ina’s to finish off the Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad with fresh herbs and a little lemon juice.

19:59 - Time for dinner with Jeffrey is the glorious garden at complete with chilled glasses of rosé. This looks like heaven.

21:30 – Chef Michael Chiarello has invited Ina to come to his home, which just happens to be surrounded by vineyards. Good lord, I had forgotten how gorgeous Napa is.

22:16 – I suppose one of the benefits of being a famous chef living in an agricultural paradise is wandering around your property snipping bunches of grapes, sprigs of rosemary and ripe figs just before it’s time to cook!

23:42 – We’re in the kitchen now getting ready to make Chicken a la Vendemmia, a Southern Italian dish traditionally made during harvest time.

24:25 – Pro Tip: Cook the “presentation side” first while the oil in the pan is fresh and it will cook cleaner.

25:37 – Now I know that Chef Chiarello and I are kindred spirits: he likes cobalt blue Le Crueset pans too!

28:44 – Finishing touches to the chicken as Michael and Ina make a sauce from the chicken drippings grape juice and figs.

29:39 – Dinner time! The chicken looks delicious and according to Ina the flavor is like a sweet and savory taste of fall. Yum!

Final Thoughts:
I love incorporating fruit into savory dishes, so I’m excited to try it with grapes.

The California style of cooking is so distinctively flavorful and simple, definitely bears further investigation….

It’s official: I am dying to get back to Napa!

Chicken a la Vendemmia    | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chicken a la Vendemmia | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I wanted to try Chicken a la Vendemmia for a few reason – first: we really liked the flavor of the grapes in the Roasted Sausages and Grapes and second, some of the ingredients reminded me a lot of these Pickled Grapes from the Lee Brothers. All good news as far as I was concerned.

Sautéing the Chicken – This is a technique I’ve been practicing now for the past year and I’m just now starting to feel confident in my ability to get really crispy flavorful skin while maintaining juicy tender meat. A lot of credit goes to pan temperature – getting the pan and then later the olive oil really quite hot is key. Remember that shimmer I mentioned? That comes into play here too.

Reducing the Sauce – Definitely “toast” the rosemary a little before adding the grape juice to help mellow the flavor of the herb and infuse the sauce. After that, reducing the fresh grape juice just takes a little patience and a little stirring, but the resulting concentration of sweet and tart sauce is worth it.

Herbs – Rosemary is pretty straightforward, but fennel spice was a little beyond what we had on hand and frankly I forgot to see if the grocery store here carries it. No matter though, I find that tarragon and fennel have a similar “green” anise flavor, so I made a one-to-one substitution with dried tarragon and the outcome was still delicious.

Chicken a la Vendemmia    | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chicken a la Vendemmia | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, assuming you have a blender or food processor. I used a blender, a small mesh sieve, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, and a medium sauté pan. I also needed tongs, a rubber spatula, and measuring cups and spoons.

The Verdict:
I made Chicken a la Vendemmia for Mike and I earlier this week and Mike, as you might have suspected, will always ask for more spice. If that’s you too, I’d suggest taking the red pepper flake inspiration from the Lee Brother’s pickle recipe and incorporating it at the same time you add the rosemary to the sauté pan. I also added a handful of fresh whole grapes in the last few minutes for some textural interest. This recipe has a lot to recommend it – simple ingredients, big concentrated flavors, and processes that make even the saddest wintertime grape sing.

Chicken a la Vendemmia    | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chicken a la Vendemmia | Image: Laura Messersmith