I love early summer in Kansas City. It’s my favorite time to garden, when all of the really onerous gardening tasks have been accomplished, and when you really begin to see the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor. It’s also a wonderful time to cook, when fresh and pristine ingredients require as little manipulation as possible to be presented at their best. I must say that my primary culinary inspiration is pretty much always Lidia (as in Lidia Bastianich of Italian cooking fame and my boss and mentor for the last 19 years). But my second inspiration is definitely the garden.
From the moment things begin popping out of the earth—and sometimes the earth might still be partially covered in snow—I begin each day with a stroll around the garden, cup of coffee or smoothie in hand. There is always something new to excite and inspire. By June, the sclopit (a tasty herbal weed from the Istrian Coast introduced to me by Lidia), chives, parsley and walking onions, green garlic, and possibly the volunteer cilantro and dill are already going to seed but still useful. But the delicate clouds of fragrant wild fennel fronds are now at their best, new potatoes are coming on and the Swiss chard could not be more beautiful. Of the herbs, rosemary and marjoram generally only survive if I bring them inside for the winter, and they, along with the sage and savory, have reestablished themselves in the garden and are ready to contribute their flavors and aromas when needed. The basil is still small, most likely waiting for the tomatoes (still small and green) to reach maturity. The bees are incredibly active, gathering as much nectar and pollen as possible at this time of year and rapidly filling the hive with honey.
And honey brings us to our menu, which begins with one of my favorite summer cocktails. I call it the Tuscan Bees Knees, a rosemary-infused twist on the classic Prohibition-era cocktail made of gin, fresh lemon juice and honey. While sipping our cocktail, we’ll put together a quick pasta with shrimp and wild fennel pesto, then “spatchcock” a chicken, marinating it in herbs and Pimenton (smoked paprika—a flavor I fell in love with on a trip to Spain a few years ago). We’ll serve the chicken over a lovely and light rocky mash of new potatoes and Swiss chard. With a little cheese or biscotti for dessert, it’s a menu you can put together and enjoy in no time.
While studying music in Germany as a classical pianist, Cody Hogan found his true calling in the culinary arts, eventually working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. As the chef de cuisine at Lidia’s in Kansas City for the past 18 years, he has had the opportunity to also be her travel assistant, food stylist and studio chef for her Emmy-nominated television program, in which he occasionally appears on camera. Now Hogan has embarked on a new career, albeit not too far from his chef’s station at Lidia’s. He’s moved from the kitchen to the front of the house as the new general manager for the award-winning Italian restaurant.
In a shaker over ice, combine the gin, lemon juice and honey syrup. Shake violently and pour into a frosted coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a small sprig of rosemary. Alternately, for a lighter cocktail, stir the ingredients then pour them into highball glasses over ice, allow to sit for few minutes, and garnish as before.
*The rosemary-infused honey simple syrup is made as follows: Combine equal parts (say 1 cup each) honey from your backyard bee hive (or other source) and water along with a big sprig of fresh rosemary. Warm them gently—not even to a simmer—to infuse the rosemary fragrance. When you can smell/taste the rosemary, remove the sprig. Too much tastes medicinal. Store refrigerated for up to several weeks.
Pasta with Shrimp and (Wild) Fennel Pesto
5 cups packed wild fennel fronds (or bulb fennel fronds)
1 cup toasted unsalted pistachios (optional)
1 clove plus 5 cloves peeled garlic
1 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ teaspoon salt, plus salt for the pasta water
1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound pasta
Red pepper flakes (to taste)
½ cup grated Grana Padano (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta. Rinse the fennel fronds and cut into one-inch lengths. Drop the fronds and one clove of garlic into the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, remove the fronds and drain briefly. In a blender (preferred) or food processor, place the fennel, one clove garlic, pistachios and grated cheese (if using), and salt. Turn on the blender and add 1 1/2 cups of the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Process to make a smooth paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. In the meantime, thinly slice the remaining cloves of garlic. In a large skillet over medium heat, add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and the sliced garlic, and sauté for about two minutes. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and then add the shrimp, sautéing for about two minutes more. Remove the skillet from the heat. Scrape half of the pesto into the skillet and add 1 cup pasta water. Use a spider or tongs to drain pasta and transfer to the skillet.
Toss to coat the pasta with the pesto. Serve immediately.
NOTE: This recipe makes twice the amount of pesto you will need for one pound of pasta. You can freeze half of the pesto for future use, just pack in a plastic container with a thin film of olive oil. Thaw in refrigerator before using. You can also cut the recipe in half if you just want enough for one pound of pasta.
Rocky Mash of New Potatoes and Swiss Chard
Bring one pound of unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes to a boil and cook until al dente (tender, but still firm). For approximately the last seven minutes of cooking, add cleaned, chopped leaves of Swiss chard and continue to cook. Drain the potatoes and Swiss chard.
Heat a large sauté pan; pour a thin film of extra-virgin olive oil on the bottom. Add sliced garlic (to your taste), and cook until golden. Add the potatoes and chard. Turn up the heat and sprinkle with peperoncino (crushed red pepper flakes, about ¼ teaspoon). Toss the mixture frequently to prevent burning, but do allow the potatoes to caramelize a little. Serve warm.
NOTE: Green beans or spinach are a great substitution for the chard.
Cody’s Spatchcocked Chicken
Spatchcocking a chicken is a relatively simple technique for maximizing the amount of crispy, flavorful skin and minimizing the cooking time, meanwhile keeping the chicken succulent and juicy. The chicken is split down the backbone, flattened, and then can be cooked on the grill, roasted in the oven, seared in a skillet, or a combination of any of those techniques. If you put a weight on top of the bird to maximize the skin in contact with the skillet, the process becomes Italian—Pollo al Mattone (chicken under a brick). And don’t forget—always start with the best quality chicken you can. I love to use the tasty local birds from Campo Lindo Farms in Lathrop, Missouri, available in many area grocery stores.
1 whole chicken, approximately 3-4 pounds (smaller birds simply take less cooking time)
2 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
3-6 cloves of garlic, to your liking
Several bunches of sage, rosemary, and/or thyme
1 tablespoon Pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika—I like the spicy one)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
For the roasting pan (if roasting):
1 onion cut in wedges
1 carrot, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 rib of celery, cut in 1-inch chunks
A few sprigs of whatever herbs you’re using with the chicken
If using an oven, preheat it to 425 degrees.
Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Remove any excess fat (and perhaps a packet containing the liver and neck) from the cavity. Lay the chicken, breast side up on a cutting board in front of you. Now you want to remove the backbone of the bird: insert a knife and cut down each side of the backbone. If the knife does not reach the neck end of the bird, turn the bird around and complete the process. Alternately, this process could be done with kitchen shears cutting down each side of the backbone. Make a small cut in the breast bone to and press to flatten the chicken. Fold the wings under so they are close to the body. Set the chicken aside.
In a mortar and pestle or a mini food processor, make a paste of the salt, pepper (or crushed red pepper), a few cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of herbs, and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.
Rub the chicken with the paste. Ideally, allow the chicken to absorb the flavors for several hours (put it in the refrigerator), but you could also just begin cooking it at this point.
For simply roasting the spatchcocked chicken, place the chicken in a roasting pan atop sliced aromatic vegetables and herbs (see above) and roast for about 40-50 minutes (see test for doneness below). My favorite fast method is as follows: while preheating the oven, put a good-sized grill or skillet in the oven to preheat at the same time. When the oven is ready, remove and place the pan on the stove and turn the burner to high. Lightly oil the pan, and when the oil is smoking, place the chicken on it skin side down. Leave it untouched for 3 or 4 minutes, then with tongs lift up a corner of the bird to check that it is not burning. If using a grill pan, take this opportunity to rotate the bird about 45 degrees to make nice cross-hatch grill marks on the skin.
After about three more minutes, turn the chicken over so that the beautifully marked skin of the bird faces up and then move the entire pan into the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes. At that point, check the appearance of the chicken—it should not be too dark—because it needs to cook for about 20 more minutes. If it has the appearance of beginning to burn, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for the remaining 20 or so minutes. The chicken is ready when the juices run clear at a joint, or a thermometer reads 165 degrees at the thickest point on the chicken. Remove to a serving platter and allow to rest for a few minutes. Carve, serve and enjoy. Leftovers, if there are any, make a great chicken salad.