~ Aurora's 'Famous' Chicken Pepperoni Seems Like Old Times (Dinner and a Funny Movie Review too!) ~
I've got a movie on my menu tonight. Neil Simon's 'Seems Like Old Times' (starring Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Charles Grodin) is a feel-good blast from my retro 1980's past. I'm not usually a fan of romantic comedies, but, this one keeps me laughing out loud from start to finish every time I see it. It's no secret that in order to write this blog and do my TV segments I work almost nonstop in my kitchen. Having always been a movie buff, movies on my kitchen TV keep me company throughout the entire day. Seems Like Old Times happened to be on yesterday, and, just like old times, it left me wanting some of "Aurora's Famous Chicken Pepperoni"!
In the movie, Glenda and Ira Parks (Hawn and Grodin) are husband and wife. She's a public defender and he's the LA District Attorney. Nick Gardinia (Chase) is Glenda's ex-husband. He's a down-on-his-luck novelist. Nick gets kidnapped and is forced, at gunpoint, to rob a bank for his kidnappers, where he accidentally gets caught staring into the security camera. The criminals ditch Nick and he finds himself on the run and wanted by the police. Nick turns to Glenda for help.
Glenda allows Nick to hide in a room over the garage. After a few more hilarious encounters, we get to Aurora's Chicken Pepperoni. Aurora (Yvonne Wilder) is the Parks' Hispanic maid. Without notice, on the biggest night of Ira's life (the Governor of CA is coming to dinner to ask Ira to run for Attorney General), Aurora checks herself into the hospital, and: The Governor has requested his favorite and Aurora's signature dish: Chicken Pepperoni. This leaves Glenda, Nick, and the newly-hired butler Chester (T. K. Carter) home alone to figure out how to cook Aurora's recipe, which is written in Spanish.
After another series of hilarious encounters, Chester ends up too tipsy to serve dinner to the Governor, so, Nick puts on Chester's tuxedo and serves the Chicken Pepperoni himself. Glenda is shocked and horrified, Ira is outraged by Nick's mere presence in his home, and, I'm not going to spoil the screwball ending for you!
After the movie aired, foodies like me started looking for recipes for chicken pepperoni, but, there were none. Thanks to foodies with creative imaginations, that situation has changed -- there are now quite a few renditions "out there"!
Here's my version of Aurora's Twist on an Italian Dish:
In all seriousness, I have no idea where the idea for this obviously Italian-American-inspired dish came from. I don't know if it was cooked-up in the mind of a comedy writer, or, if it was an actual meal served in American homes. I've surely never encountered it. That said, years later (2012), on the season finale of Top Chef All-Stars on Bravo TV, Mike Isabella (a good Italian name) made a pepperoni sauce that garnered the attention of the viewers and the internet alike. The end of the story is: I was merely intrigued by a Hispanic maid with an Italian-style signature specialty-dish which she reserved to serving VIP's. My very-tasty nice-and-spicy version is as close in appearance to what was served in the movie as I could come!
3 large 14-16-ounce boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves, trimmed of all large pieces of fat and visible tendons, cut in half to form 6 pieces, each piece placed between two pieces of plastic wrap and pounded with a flat-sided meat mallet to a thickness of slightly more than 1/4" without causing any holes or tears, then placed bottom-sides-up (rough sides up/smooth sides down) on a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment
To stuff and roll the chicken breasts:
4 thin overlapping slices 3" round, deli-style pepperoni (24 slices total)
1, 3/4"-thick slice of mozzarella cheese, cut into 6, 3/4"W x 4" long mozzarella sticks (8 ounces of cheese)
End to end, pull the chicken up and around each cheese stick and roll the bundles over, seam sides down. The chicken will not fully-encase the cheese meaning: the side ends will remain open. Secure each chicken bundle, directly through the cheese and down through to the bottom, with two toothpicks each.
In a small bowl, whisk together:
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
In a second small bowl, measure:
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Sprinkle the remaining panko evenly over all. Using the toothpicks as handles, without lifting the chicken bundles up, rock each one back and forth a few times, to press panko into the sides too.
Each chicken bundle should have a light but even coating of panko.
On stovetop, in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, simmer:
1 1/2 quarts ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~, or your favorite brand with 1/2-3/4 teaspoons red pepper flakes stirred in to make it spicy (Note: Having my homemade sauce on-hand in the freezer at all times is what makes my version of this dish extra special. You can find the recipe in Categories 8, 12 or 22.)
Grate and set aside:
1/2 cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray, place 2 cups of the sauce. Carefully transfer and arrange the chicken bundles, slightly apart, over the sauce. Do not remove the toothpicks. Sprinkle with:
1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano
red pepper flakes
Bake, uncovered on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 35-40 minutes. Chicken pepperoni will be lightly but nicely browned on the top with cheese oozing from its sides, and, sauce will be bubbly. While the chicken is baking, cook:
1 pound spaghetti, cooked al dente according to package directions and lightly-sauced with 2 more cups of the sauce (from above)
Remove the chicken pepperoni from oven and allow to rest about 10 minutes prior to serving warm, on a bed of sauced pasta. At tableside, drizzle each portion with a bit of remaining sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. There is only one thing I can say about this funny little dish:
Hooray for Hollywood!!!
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen shears; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; toothpicks; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; microplane grater; 2-quart saucepan
Cook's Note: With the Academy Awards just a few short weeks away, everyone is buzzing about the 2015 nominees. Aurora's 'Famous' Chicken Pepperoni would surely be a fun movie-inspired dinner to serve on that special night. Last year I just served appetizers throughout the evening. The one that everyone voted the best on the red carpet ~ Oscar Bites: BBQ'd Porkrib Tartlets for the Starlets ~. You can find the recipe in Category 1, 11, 13, 17!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)