Fear not chicken liver…

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They’re exceptionally good in pasta, with cippolini onions, fresh sage, and Parmesan — earthy goodness…

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There’s a great wine shop near my house that I frequent from time to time (okay, quite a bit). If you ever find yourself in a wine shop that doesn’t carry bottles you are familiar with, selecting good wine can be an adventure in the absence of a concise written review from the store’s staff. That’s when knowledgeable and friendly staff are key. Even better is when you’ve become a regular and the staff already have a bottle or two in mind for you. “There’s a funky, dirty wine that I think you’ll like,” I can hear one of the staff yelling over to me a few aisles away. That may not sound like something to look for in a bottle of wine, but what it equates to, at least in my mind, is an earthy, terroir-driven, old-world style wine — that’s what I like (none of that uber ripe, overextracted, overly-oaked stuff that tends to predominate).

Likewise, that’s how I feel about liver (and most other organ meats). You really get the earthy, minerally qualities from these parts of the animal. These chicken livers come from Eco-friendly Foods, whose philosophy is as follows: “To create sustainable networks of enlightened farmers who raise eco-friendly livestock and food crops that nourish people and the land.” Gotta love that!

Have grown to really appreciate offal (and snout-to-tail cooking) in recent years. This particular dish was inspired by a recent meal at Osteria in Philadelphia. Osteria has a chicken liver pasta dish on their menu that exemplifies Italian comfort food — earthy and rich, with an undoubtedly good amount of butter and Parmesan cheese. Chef Mark Vetri writes:

“That chicken liver pasta was on our menu at Osteria for two months. Then one day I walked into the restaurant and it wasn’t on the menu anymore. I asked Jeff [his chef] about it and he said he wanted to change things up. I screamed, ‘Are you out of your mind??!!!?? It is the perfect, most innovative, most unexpected dish. It should be on the menu forever!’ That’s an argument that I won pretty easily.

Enough said.

Chicken Liver Pasta

1/2 pound pasta, such as rigatoni
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons butter
4 cippolini onions, peeled, thickly sliced
1/2 pound chicken livers, trimmed
10-12 fresh sage leaves
~2 tablespoons cooked beans, such as cannellini or borlotti (optional)
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry sherry
3 (canned) tomatoes, roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese for grating
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a large pot of generously salted boiling water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. Add the onions and sauté 4 to 5 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the chicken livers, season with salt and pepper, and cook about 2 minutes until lightly browned on the bottom. Turn the livers over. Add the wine and cook, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is evaporated and the livers are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Break up large pieces of liver with a spoon.

Add the sage leaves, beans (mash a few with a spoon), tomatoes, the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and the reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until most of the water has evaporated.

Add the pasta, toss with the sauce and cook until warmed through. Sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. Serve immediately.

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