My mother-in-law's people hailed from the Virgin Island and Puerto Rico via Spain, while my father-in-law's family had come from Abruzzi region in Italy to settle in New York.
Besides learning a bit more about history, geography and anthropology, I learned an interesting concept from my father in-law. According to him, when a young Italian man marries an Italian girl, he no longer dines on his mama's red sauce, but the sauce of his mother-in-law... this is the gravy his wife learned to make in her mama's kitchen.
My mother-in-law did not have a familial gravy. Therefore, as a young bride she learned to make Grandma Lucy's sauce... the favorite of the entire clan. Lita mastered the lesson well. To this day, her Italian food rates among the best I've eaten. So, when we got married, I was fortunate to be given that prized recipe.... but that's another story.
I learned quite a few Spanish dishes from Chris' aunts and cousins. Rice and bean recipes galore, there's a sort of frittata with ground beef, sweet plantains and green beans, San Cocho, which is a rich stew filled with beef and native root vegetables, and a really great flan recipe, just to name a few.
One of our favorites is his cousin's version of chicken fricasse. Each family has its own.Ingredients
2 T. olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, chopped into large pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. sofrito*
1 15-oz. can stewed tomatoes
1/2 c. green, pimiento stuffed olives
salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds cooked brown, short grain rice
chicken broth for cooking rice
Place a large, flat bottomed pan on med heat. Add olive oil. Toss in chicken. Saute until most of pink is gone. Add onions and bell pepper. Saute for a few minutes, then add garlic and sofrito. Cook for three minutes, then throw in tomatoes and olives. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper. Simmer for ten minutes. Turn off heat and let rest for a few.
I like the chewy texture of the short grained brown rice, so that's what I serve. If you like long grain brown, use it. If you're making an ugly face right now, stop it. Brown rice is delicious when cooked in chicken or vegetable broth and it is SO much better for you than white rice.
*for the epicurious definition of sofrito, click here. Many households have their own version of this spice mixture. My husband's family taught me to make this by pureeing onion, garlic, cubanella peppers, recao, (a long leaf herb from the cilantro family,) and tiny sweet peppers native to Puerto Rico. I make it in large batches in my food processor, then freeze it in ice cube trays. One cube is roughly a tablespoon.
A commercial version by Goya, called recaito can be purchased in a jar on the Spanish food isle of most food stores. A frozen version may be found in some stores.