When my fascination with computers (and subsequently, my career) necessitated my sitting in front of a computer screen for much of the day, I thought it would be a good idea to stop sitting in front of a television screen at night. Add that to my love of cooking good food, and well, it was a good idea.
There is, however, my Top Chef addiction. I have no plans on giving that show up, nor the occasional Romantic Comedy when I’m feeling blue.
This dish is a product of those two things: Aurora’s Chicken Pepperoni in 1980’s “Seems Like Old Times” (for which there was no recipe. No Google either, at that time), and Top Chef Mike Isabella’s pepperoni sauce. The judges tasted it and called it “a revelation.” Add it to my mozzarella stuffed chicken, and it is.
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, cut into small dice
5 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound pepperoni, cut into thin slices
1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted*
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
8 to 12 ounces canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 fresh bay leaf
*NOTE: Toast the fennel seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet often to keep the seeds from burning. They will become fragrant and slightly darker in color.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, until the oil shimmers. Add the onion and garlic; cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are golden and fragrant.
Stir in the pepperoni; cook for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and evenly coated, then add the toasted fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, stirring.
Add the tomatoes and their juices, the broth and the bay leaf; stir to incorporate. Once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, cover and cook on low for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The pepperoni slices will be soft, with a deeper color. Remove from the heat.
Working in batches as needed, transfer to a food processor or a high-powered blender (including the bay leaf). Puree on high until smooth. (An immersion blender will leave it too grainy.)
This makes between 4-5 cups, and you want to use it sparingly at first, because it’s a strongly-flavored sauce. I’m hoping to barter with the remaining sauce for some home maintenance. The way to a man’s heart...
6-7 Bone-In Chicken Thighs with skin
6 oz. Fresh Mozzarella, sliced
7 Basil leaves
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375.
Gently pull the skin up off the thigh to create a pocket.
Place one slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf in the pocket.
Attach the skin to the chicken with a toothpick or the cheese will run everywhere.
Drizzle some olive oil on top of the skin and season with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken in the oven for about 50-60 minutes depending on the size of your “thighs” :)
Top with Mikey’s sauce and a bit more basil.
I’ve read that you should pair pepperoni dishes with a Sangiovese or Nebbiolo because of the strong spices in pepperoni. But I liked the 1858 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon with it. Try it. You’ll like it.