Memories of people, places, and food led me back yesterday to the dish chicken verdicchio, the signature dish of Felicia’s restaurant in the North End of Boston (on Richmond St.) in the early 1960s, when I was a grad student at MIT. It now seems to be offered by Bacco Ristorante & Bar (on Salem St.). According to the Boston Phoenix in 2008:
Your main dish [at Bacco] can be any of the seafood combinations or chicken verdicchio ($17.95). This was Felicia’s signature dish in the 1960s, when it was popular with Jacqueline Kennedy and Frank Sinatra. The combination of verdicchio (a dry white wine with a bitter aftertaste) and artichoke hearts (with their unusual sweetening properties) lifts the sauté of chicken and vegetables out of the ordinary. It worked then, and it works today, especially since Bacco’s kitchen keeps the chicken plump and tender.
The memory part of this has to do with the routine that Ann Daingerfield Zwicky and I had on Saturdays in those days: shopping for food (vegetables, fruit, seafood, and meat) at the North Market, in Faneuil Hall, often with Bruce Fraser and his wife Jean, and then usually going on to lunch in the North End, sometimes at the Union Oyster House, but often at Felicia’s.
[Digression. The North Market in those days was very much a street market, crowded, noisy, and pungent (also a great bargain, with great finds, and a lot of fun). Faneuil Hall has since become mallified:
Faneuil Hall is now part of a larger festival marketplace, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which includes three long granite buildings called North Market, Quincy Market, and South Market, and which now operates as an indoor/outdoor mall and food eatery. (link)]
Felicia’s was the work of Felicia Solemine. It’s long been shuttered, though a place calling itself “Felicia’s of the North End” is now located in Stoneham, 9 or so miles north of the North End. Chicken verdicchio isn’t among the menu offerings on its website.
[Digression. There’s a restaurant dynasty here, starting with Mother Anna’s Restaurant (on Hanover St.). From its website:
Mother Anna’s Restaurant has been serving fine Italian cuisine in the North End for over sixty years. Back when there was only a handful of restaurants in the North End, Mother Anna’s was a favorite of many of the local politicians including a congressman named John F. Kennedy. People would come from all over to enjoy her home style cooking, some never even looking at a menu. Mother Anna had a way about her that made everyone feel at home. Her style of cooking was passed on to her son Harry who opened La Casa Mia, in Raynham and her daughter Felicia, who owned Felicia’s on Richmond St. for many years, until recently passing away.
In 1982, Mother Anna passed away, but the restaurant she had made so successful would continue on. Her grandson, Robert Caparella, who also owns La Scala Restaurant in Randolph, is the third generation to carry on this fine tradition.
… In 1993, Robert passed Mother Anna’s on to his brother John Caparella. Now, along with his three sons, Alan, Michael, and John, the tradition that is Mother Anna’s Restaurant, has been passed on through four generations, something that the Caparella family is very proud of.
Chicken verdicchio isn’t on the website menu, though the lunch menu there has veal verdicchio. Well, chicken, veal, and turkey (and, for that matter, rabbit) recipes are, roughly, interconvertible, as I’ve noted here.]
On to the food. Chicken verdicchio in a nutshell: boned chicken (one boneless breast per person), sliced mushrooms, halved artichoke hearts, lemon juice (one lemon per four people, more for extra piquancy), dry white wine (especially verdicchio — one cup per four people), chopped garlic; on pasta, usually linguine. (This is essentially pollo al limone, with augmentations.)
On the wine:
Verdicchio is a white Italian wine grape variety grown primarily in the Marche region of central Italy. The name Verdicchio derives from verde (or “green”) and refers to the slight green/yellow hue that wines made from the grape can have. (link)
So the dish isn’t green, as you might have thought from the name, though the wine is, sort of.
I’ve been trying to find the recipe card in my files — Ann and I got it from Felicia, in 1963 or 1964 — but without success. The recipes I’ve found on the web show considerable variation: some have chicken breasts pounded thin (my preference), others have the breasts sliced into thin strips (in either case, the chicken is dredged in flour, salt, and pepper, then briefly sautéed); some recipes sauté the chicken in butter, some in olive oil; some (unaccountably to my mind) leave out the garlic, some have onions as well; recent recipes have sun-dried tomatoes, but Felicia’s version didn’t, since sun-tomatoes didn’t arrive in America until the late 1970s, and some recipes have capers as well.
In any case, you dredge the chicken in flour and seasonings, and sauté it briefly. Set it aside, and sauté the garlic, mushrooms, and halved artichoke hearts, with some seasoning (and the tomatoes, if they’re your thing, and capers, if you wish), until the mushrooms begin to release some of their liquid (maybe 5 minutes); raise the heat to high and add the wine, boiling briefly; add the lemon juice and lower the heat; and add the chicken and simmer the whole business for about 10 minutes.
Serve over any pasta that’s good at quickly soaking up sauce: linguine — or spaghetti, spaghettini, vermicelli, cappellini, angel hair. (I’ve seen one recipe that uses penne, though that seems on the thick side to me.)
Garnish with finely chopped flat Italian parsley. Felicia also garnished the dish with very thin lemon slices, and offered grated parmesan on the side.