Updated December 2011.
After my very first food article ran in the South End News in July, 1993, my editor received a phone call.
"This is Officer John Sacco."
Uh oh — the police. What had I done?
"I see you've got a cooking column now," he said in his cop-in-charge kind of voice. "So, when is that lady gonna write about me?"
John Sacco served the South End of Boston as community liaison officer for nearly 30 years, but very few people outside the police force knew of his prowess in the kitchen. I set about remedying that situation a few months later, and spent one of the best days of my cooking life in his company.
We planned to shop for ingredients and then return to my kitchen to make fish soup with fennel, fresh pasta, tomato sauce with mint, and chicken stuffed with ricotta and golden raisins. We hopped in the black-and-white and drove over to the North End, Boston's most Italian neighborhood, where we stopped at the salumeria for provisions: fresh cheese, semolina, olives, and Pomi tomatoes.
The meal was memorable, the evening filled with good food and lively conversation. Perhaps because of that, or because as children we were taught to respect authority (hmmmm...), to this day I always buy Officer Sacco's favorite Pomi tomatoes — they're all-natural, no skins, no seeds, no salt — unless I can't find them, in which case I use Muir Glen or Redpack or San Marzano or Pastene, or store brands.
I can't imagine my pantry without tomatoes, the basis of gravy (that's what marinara sauce is called here in Rhode Island), as well as many soups, stews and sauces. Processed at the peak of flavor, canned tomatoes are always a better choice than poor-quality fresh tomatoes. Save the little leftover bits in a container in your freezer until you have enough to make sauce, or freeze in ice cube trays.
Officer John Sacco's chicken stuffed with ricotta
1 large roaster chicken (6-7 lbs)
1-1/2 lbs ricotta cheese
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1-1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heel of day-old bread
1 onion, roughly cut
2 Tbsp mixed dry herbs — oregano, thyme, rosemary, to taste
12 small new potatoes
1 box Pomi chunky tomatoes with garlic and basil, or canned tomatoes (add your own garlic and basil)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Wash and dry the chicken, and set in a roasting pan.
In a small bowl, mix ricotta, raisins, parsley, eggs, pepper and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and stuff into the cavity of the chicken. Place the bread over the opening. Truss the chicken with butcher's twine.
Rub a liberal amount of olive oil all over the chicken. Loosen the skin over the breast meat and stuff in the mixed herbs. Place the potatoes and onion around the chicken in the pan, and add a small amount of water to just film the bottom of the pan. Pour the tomatoes over the potatoes and onions, all around the chicken.
Roast 15 minutes, uncovered; then lower heat to 350°F and bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until chicken is done. Let stand at least 15 minutes before carving.
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Herb crusted roast chicken, from Cooking on the Side
Roast chicken with caramelized shallots, from David Lebovitz
Roast chicken with cilantro and lime, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Honey glazed lemon chicken, from Simply Recipes
Peruvian roast chicken, from Leite's Culinaria
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.