Valentine’s Day is in the air 💕! Candies and chocolates are for sale everywhere you turn and people are busily making restaurant reservations for the big night. Mark and I have done the special Valentine’s dinner at a fancy, overcrowded restaurant, but these days we prefer a quiet Valentine’s night enjoying a home-cooked meal and good bottle of wine. (For one thing, the food is better.)
This year an additional element has appeared in the world of Italian cooking in America that may guide many Valentine’s Day meal aspirations: Sicily, and more specifically, the dreamscape version of Sicily that has had millions of American TV-watchers swooning over the settings of the second season of “White Lotus.”
If you’ve watched the latest season of this popular and beguiling—but very quirky—series, you have seen several locations across Sicily used as the setting of a single imaginary resort, the White Lotus, supposedly in Taormina (and actually in Taormina, Cefalù, and other picturesque Sicilian locations). The show has put the beauty of Sicily on TV screens across the United States and beyond. Even the show’s music is playing at dance clubs all over the world and in our kitchens when we feel like a little home-style dance party as we cook! Preparing something inspired by the rich cuisine of this magical island seems like just the thing to do this Valentine’s Day.
There are a lot of flavors and ingredients that make me think of Sicily; sweet-and-sour tastes and couscous both come to mind immediately. Both made their way into Sicilian cooking from North Africa eons ago. Couscous can be found elsewhere in Italy, but it’s an art form in Sicily. Blood oranges, which are in season, are another typical Sicilian ingredient.
This is a simple, quick-and-easy meal for two, elevated by its Sicilian character. Couscous and blood oranges transform a simple roasted chicken dish into a meal redolent of the aromas and flavors of one of Italy’s most interesting cuisines.
- 2 chicken legs – ask for 2 about the same size
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 lemon
- 1 lime
- 1 blood orange (if not in season, any orange of your choice)
- About 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup couscous
- ¼ cup almonds, rough chopped, or ⅛ cup sliced almonds
- 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Into a measuring cup, grate the zest of the lemon, lime and orange. Slice the lemon in half and juice ½ the lemon into the cup. Slice the lime in half and juice the entire lime into the cup. Add enough stock (or water) to bring to 1 cup full. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper and stir.
- Into a bowl big enough to hold the chicken, juice the remaining ½ of the lemon. Add 2 tbsps of olive oil and a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Whisk until combined. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Marinate for 1 hour at room temperature.
- Slice away the top a bottom of the orange. Then slice away the sides. Cut out the segments with a sharp knife and set aside. The process is called Supreming. See this video for details of how to cut the orange.
- Preheat the oven to 400℉.
- In a cast iron pan or a heavy skillet that can be covered, place the chicken skin-side up. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Roast for 45-minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and registers 165℉ on an instant-read thermometer.
- REMEMBER: The pan is screaming hot at this point. Using a hot pad, remove the pan from the oven and place on the stove. Remove the chicken from the pan to a plate leaving the juices and brown bits behind.
- Carefully add the shallots and a small pinch of salt. Carefully sauté the shallots in the hot pan, avoiding the handle of the skillet, until soft. Add the liquids from the measuring cup and turn the heat to high.
- Bring the liquid to a boil, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Taste the liquid at this point and adjust the salt and pepper.
- Turn the heat off and add the couscous and the almonds. Stir to evenly distribute the ingredients. Cover the pan and set aside for 5 mins.
- Remove the lid, fluff the couscous with a fork, and stir in the chopped parsley. Top with the cooked chicken and any accumulated juice. Distribute the blood orange segments around the chicken and serve hot or at room temperature.
- Citrus zester