By Elizabeth Gunnison
As holidays go, Columbus Day leaves me at something of a loss for what to do. There are no fireworks, no parades, no costumes, candy, or obvious incitements to revelry. It's too cool to barbecue and too warm for ski trips. But while it lacks much in the way of usual celebratory tradition, it does in fact have what qualifies as a signature dish: a little-known Italian chicken soup called Mirao.
Mirao is thought to have been one of Christopher Columbus's favorite foods, according to Chef Cesare Casella, the Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center. Casella is currently recreating the dish at his New York restaurant and meat shop Salumeria Rosi Parmacotta, and he gave us his recipe. If you make it, we're pretty sure you'll be known as the most diehard Columbus Day devotee in your neighborhood, or ever.
It's also pretty unusual as chicken soups go, what with the cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and belt of brandy that the recipe calls for. Another interesting, old-timey touch: In keeping with the historic Italian tradition of using bread in soups, Casella throws two day-old slices into each bowl of his Mirao - one rubbed with garlic and placed at the bottom and the other sprinkled with Parmigiano cheese, broiled until brown and bubbly, that tops the dish.
Chicken soup laced with brandy? Tasty, and probably not a bad idea for that fall cold you're already trying to get over.
Mirao (aka Cristoforo Colombo's Chicken Soup)
Serves 6 to 8
• 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 cup thinly sliced onions
• 1/2 cup diagonally sliced carrot
• 1/4 cup sliced garlic cloves
• One 3 to 4 pound chicken, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 cup brandy
• 6 whole cloves
• 3 bay leaves
• 1/2 cinnamon stick
• 1 whole nutmeg
• 2 sprigs rosemary
• 1 celery stalk, halved
• 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
• 16 slices day-old bread, toasted and rubbed with raw garlic
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, for finishing
1. Coat the bottom of a stockpot with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions, carrots, and garlic, and sauté over medium heat until the vegetables start to soften but do not brown. Stir occasionally.
2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the pot. Turn the chicken pieces over as they start to brown. When the chicken and the vegetables are lightly browned, add the brandy and reduce by half.
3. Using a 6-inch square piece of cheesecloth and kitchen twine, tie together the cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, and rosemary to form a small sachet.
4. Add water to cover the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Add the sachet and celery, bring to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
5. Remove the chicken from the soup, then remove and discard the sachet and celery. Place the soup in the refrigerator to cool until the fat on the surface has hardened. Remove the soup from the refrigerator and skim the fat off the surface, then reheat. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler.
6. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin, bones, and gristle. Shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return it to the soup. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the parley leaves.
7. To serve, place a slice of garlic toast in each of 8 ovenproof soup bowls and ladle chicken and some of the soup over it. Top with a second slice of toast. Drizzle the toasts with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with grated Parmesan and pepper. Place the bowls under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese has melted and starts to brown.TOP CHEF ADVICE: How to Cook Everything a Little Better
Photo Credit: Mike McCarthy
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