Tonight is a big night at the Driscoll house.  My family is obsessed, and I mean obsessed, with Alabama football.  Alabama plays Texas tonight for the National Championship.

I must say, being a Kentucky girl that bleeds blue and is all about basketball, football has never been on my radar.  But, now it is, full throttle, thanks to Michael, Lucy and all of our friends who love Alabama.

We decided we would watch the game at home, together as a family, after many months of travel, parties and the like.  It's always a major discussion around here about what we will eat (and drink) for any event, especially big ones.  Snow fell here last night and it's been FREEZING cold.  We love braised meats, stews and soup on a cold winter night.  I'll be cuddled up with my two favorite people cheering Roll Tide Roll!

Braised Chicken with Pancetta over Polenta

Makes 4 servings

1/2 oz. (15 g) dried porcini mushrooms
Hot water
1 chicken, about 3 1/2 lb. (1.75g), cut into 8 serving pieces
(2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 oz. (90 g) pancetta, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) hearty, spicy red wine such as Barbera d'Asti
1 can  (14 1/2 oz./455g) plum  (Roma) tomatoes with juice, pureed in a blender
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

1. Place the mushrooms in a small bowl, add 3/4 cup (6 fl oz./180ml) hot water, and let soak until softened.  Drain through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth (muslin), pressing against the mushrooms and reserving the soaking liquid.  Chop the mushrooms and set aside.

2.  Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat a large frying pan over medium-high until hot.  Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom.  When the oil is almost smoking, add the chicken in one layer, skin side down.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook until browned, about 8 minutes.  Turn and cook until browned on the second side, about 8 minutes longer.  Transfer to a platter and pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat.

3.  Place the pan over medium-low heat and add the pancetta.  Saute until the pancetta crisps, about 1 minute.  Add the garlic and sage and saute for about 1 minute.  Add the wine and simmer briefly, scraping the browned bits from the pan bottom.  Add the tomatoes, mushrooms, and reserved soaking liquid.  Bring to a simmer, adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, uncovered, about 15 minutes.  Add a little water if the sauce is too dry.

4.  Preheat the oven to 200F (95C).  Return the chicken to the pan, cover, and simmer gently, turning it once in the sauce, until tender, about 15 minutes.  As the pieces are done, transfer them to a heatproof serving platter kept in the oven.  (The breasts may be done first).  If the sauce seems thin, raise the heat to high and simmer until thickened.  Set aside and keep warm.

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 oz/265 g) coarse-ground polenta
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

1.  In a heavy saucepan over high heat, bring 7 cups (56 fl oz/1.75l) water to a boil.  Add 2 teaspoons salt and pour in the polenta in a fine, steady stream, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to medium.  When the polenta begins to thicken, after about 5 minutes, reduce the heat to low.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta comes away easily from the sides of the pan, 30-40 minutes longer.

2.  Divide the polenta among warm plates, ladle the braised chicken onto it and serve at once.

Whether the Tide wins or not, we're celebrating with a '61 BV Cabernet.

Rammer Jammer, Yellowhammer, give 'em hell, Alabama!

We'll talk soon.


Recipes from Wiliam-Sonoma, A Taste of the World