Cooking with Giada DeLaurentiis, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Valerie Bertinelli
I had the incredible opportunity to virtually cook with Giada DeLaurentis, Alex Guarnaschelli and Valerie Bertinelli, whom shall forever be known from here on out as, “ My Three Italian Aunties”. Do they know this? Umm, no. Was this one of the coolest things to happen to me? Yes.
Due to the shelter in place orders and COVID-19, these lovely women decided to find a home cook (me) to help make dinner, using what was already in the pantry. All four of us hopped on Skype and they were able to go through my fridge and cabinets to see everything that I had available, then came up with a few ideas based on my family’s tastes. You can watch the video on Giada’s website here.
We entertained the idea of some ground beef lettuce wraps, and something Indian-inspired, but landed on a tomato and garbanzo ragu with fennel over chicken. It. Was. Epic.
While I was able to get a new recipe out of the gig, and be coached by some of the best chefs in the business, I also got some killer cooking pointers that I just have to share. These ladies know what’s what, and I am so honored to have learned from them!
Here are 7 Lessons From My Three Italian Aunties (did I mention they were Giada DeLaurentis, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Valerie Bertinelli?! Oh I did? Ok.)
1. Think about texture. When we were trying to decide what to make, the ladies talked about the texture of a dish and adding elements that would give that extra something. In this case the fennel added some texture and made the whole dish feel elevated and more interesting to eat. They were saying how home dinners are so much of one dish typically, so that texture keeps you going making the food less boring.
2. Rinse the can off the beans. We used a can of garbanzo beans for the ragu and they had me strain out the liquid in the can (and save it! You can make so much with it actually) and rinse the beans. The same would go for black beans, corn, etc. It may seem like a silly step, but will really help get that non-perishable vibe outta there.
3. Cut the tomatoes with scissors for a quick and easy fix. I know this may be obvious, but you can use scissors to cut things! They had me cut the whole canned tomatoes with scissors while cooking in the pot to better break them down- so easy!
4. Let your chicken sit in oil and seasoning. One of the first things my aunties had me do was put oil on the chicken THEN put the seasoning so it would stick, and then let it sit in a bowl while I prepped everything else. That made it a quick little marinade and helped create more flavor for the chicken. I had never thought to do that!
5. Pound skinless boneless chicken breasts. While the chicken I had was pretty thin, they recommended any regular old boneless skinless chicken breasts typically be tenderized a little bit. Again, I never used to do this, but now do it every time.
6. Use garlic powder. There was a bit of a debate about garlic salt versus garlic powder. I have always used garlic salt as a sort of go-to, but Alex is mildly against it. She recommended garlic powder instead. I’ve since started using garlic powder on anything I’d put garlic salt on and the flavor is much richer!
7. Your chicken pan needs to be HOT. While there were many moments in this video that I completely embarrassed myself and my family most-likely, the whole ‘hot pan for the chicken’ stands out. The aunties kept telling me, “is the pan hot enough?! Seriously is it hot enough? We can’t hear a sear!”. So get your chicken pan really hot, and get a good sear on it to get it to the right temperature more quickly. That is how you avoid over-cooking your chicken.
For a home cook like me, these little tiny notes changed my whole game! Cooking is all about building on your skills and confidence so that you can get in the kitchen and create. My Italian Aunties in thirty minutes were able to give me a lifetime of enhanced techniques that I am forever grateful for.
Chicken with Chickpea and Tomato Ragu
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 onion, sliced into half moons
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 small fennel, trimmed and sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, plus more to taste (garlic salt would also work here)
1 (28 ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup torn basil leaves
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, if desired
In a small bowl toss the chicken breasts with the salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside.
Heat a medium dutch oven over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and heat an additional 30 seconds. Add the onion, garlic and fennel to the hot pan. Season with salt and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Cook, stirring often for 3 minutes or until the vegetables are beginning to soften and are fragrant. Add the oregano and garlic powder to the vegetables and stir to combine. Continue to cook for another 3 to 4 minutes or until the vegetable are translucent and beginning to brown slightly. Add the tomatoes to the pan along with the vinegar. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Using the back of a wooden spoon, crush the tomatoes into medium sized pieces. Simmer for 10 minutes while you start the chicken.
Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and heat an additional 30 seconds. Add the chicken to the hot pan cook undisturbed for 3 to 4 minutes or until deep golden brown. Flip the chicken and cook an additional 3 to 4 minutes or until the chicken is evenly browned on both sides. Carefully ladle the tomato mixture over and around the chicken breasts, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and butter and cook for 2 more minutes to heat through. Did you taste it? Season with additional salt, garlic powder or garlic salt if needed. Stir in the basil and serve topped with parmesan cheese.