Another visit to Felicia’s

Just over six years ago (on 12/10/11), I posted recollections of Felicia’s in Boston’s North End and one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, Chicken Verdicchio (named for the slightly greenish white wine that figures in the dish). Eventually, Ray Buccino, a retired pharmacist/biochemist in Houston, found this posting and sent me his own recollections of Felicia’s: he and his wife Gayla visited the place when they were at the University of Connecticut (just as Ann and I ate there when we were at MIT), they too got a copy of the recipe from Felicia, but they managed to save theirs (ours got lost in many moves), and now he and his daughter Linda Rucker (a grant writer for a local charity) are putting together a family recipe book, with this one it.

With their permission, their text on memories of the restaurant; and Felicia’s recipe, with their amendments.

But first, my discussions of the dish from the 2011 posting:

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.)

… 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.

Now, the Buccino recollection:


(#1) The logo: a silhouette of Felicia, an outline map of Italy

We were walking around the North End of Boston (Little Italy) one day in 1962 and we saw a solid door with just the silhouette of a woman’s face on it. We had no idea what was behind that door, but decided to look anyway. There was a stairway, so we climbed it and found that we in a restaurant. So we stayed and had dinner. We had Chicken Verdicchio. We sat at a table where we could see into the kitchen. The person cooking was a young woman dressed in a silky dress and standing there in high heels. We learned later her name was Felicia and it was a famous restaurant.

This is a quote from northendwaterfront.com:

For over thirty years Felicia Solimine was a North End institution. In 1958 she opened Felicia’s on Richmond St. and it immediately became one of the North End’s most popular restaurants. Felicia played hostess for many local and international celebrities. Bob Hope, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra and so many others ate there when they were in town. Her food was red sauce Southern Italian but very good and the waiters had just the right amount of North End swagger.

Dining at Felicia’s was dinner theatre before they invented dinner theatre. Felicia was also a relentless self-promoter. Every year she would fly to Palm Springs to cook for Bob Hope at his celebrity golf tournament. All the newspapers and TV stations would see her off at Logan airport and film her carrying her pots and pans up the companionway where she would smile demurely and wave at the cameras. Felicia was a marketing genius and one of her brilliant ideas was naming some of her special dishes after celebrities. The Chicken Verdicchio was named for Bob Hope, the Veal Margherita for attorney F. Lee Bailey, and her Chicken Bianco was named for Melvin (Mel) Massucco.

A few weeks later she was interviewed on TV and offered to send some recipes to anyone who would request them. So we asked. Here is her recipe for Chicken Verdicchio:


(#2)

Hardly anyone leaves recipes alone; you amend things by altering proportions, substituting ingredients, adding extras. Ann and I used clarified butter, as Felicia recommended, rather than substituting margarine; and fresh mushrooms, lemon juice, and more garlic, as in the Buccino version.

Linguistic bonus: how Ray Bucchino pronounces his family name (in English):

/bjučíno/

The possibilities for the first vowel (spelled with an u) are /(j)u (j)U  ǝ/ — /u/ or /U/ would be the closest English approximations to the Italian. For the medial consonant, c(c) before i in Italian orthography would be pronounced as an afffricate č rather than a plain stop k (to get a k, you’d need the spelling c(c)h: Bucchino), but English letter-sound correspondences would allow k.

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