Central Italy’s Infinitely Variable Recipe

How a taste of rich chicken-liver crostini can transport you to the heart of Italy.
chicken-liver crostini

Many claim that it’s impossible to reproduce the food of the Central Italian countryside (I’m talking Tuscany, Umbria, and Le Marche) without actually being there and having the foodstuffs of the region right in front of you. I beg to differ.

Whenever I get tired of the grayness and frenetic pace of New York City, I go to my local farmers market and buy a pound of chicken livers to make Central Italy’s most popular crostini topping. The livers are cheap as hell, and even at the farmers market, they cost less than four dollars a pound, a very sizeable quantity where livers are concerned. I grow fresh herbs in my kitchen window and always have some wine on hand—the recipe doesn’t really call for much more. In fact, nearly any wine and any herb will do, since the other flavorings are only bit players when confronted with the loamy richness of the liver.

If I need inspiration, I consult one of the dozens of Italian cookbooks on my shelves. Umbria Cooking by Carlo Grassetti and Annalisa Breschi (Todi, Italy: Carlo Grassetti Editore, n.d.) suggests you use capers, sage, lemon, garlic, vinegar, and white wine; while Sandra Rosi’s Florence: The Art of Cookery (Florence: Mandragora, 2001) recommends that carrots, onions, anchovies, white wine, and butter be deployed. As I said, these are all bit players in an infinitely flexible recipe, and nearly anything works: The result will be a deliciously livery and chunky brown topping that makes any meal or snack festive. It’s guaranteed to lift you out of the gritty doldrums of American urbanization and deposit you—for a half hour, at least—in the sunny, sunflowered hills of the Central Italian countryside.

What follows is the way I made my chicken-liver crostini today. I had some fresh rosemary on hand, but at the last moment, the savory on my windowsill produced a crop of little white flowers, and these, deposited on the hillock of liver that graces each toast, sent the recipe spinning in an even more delicious direction.

Robert’s “I Wish I Were in Umbria” Chicken-Liver Crostini

For the crostini:
1/2 baguette, cut diagonally into about 25 thin slices
Olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the liver:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound chicken livers, roughly chopped
1/2 cup white wine, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons capers
Fresh rosemary sprig
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of fortified wine or Limoncello
Fresh savory sprigs, with white flowers

Prepare the crostini: Preheat the broiler. Dribble the baguette slices with olive oil, shake on salt, and grind on black pepper. Broil, watching carefully to prevent burning, until browned on the edges. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the liver: In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high for a couple of minutes. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until medium-brown. Add the chicken livers, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the white wine, capers, rosemary, and salt, and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, adding a little extra wine if the mixture becomes too dry. Add fortified wine or Limoncello, and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Put the liver mixture in a food processor, and blend in three 2-second spurts. The mixture should be coarse, but not too coarse. Decant the liver mixture and put one heaping teaspoonful on each toast, and garnish with a flowered savory sprig. Serve immediately with a glass of Vino Nobile, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, or Rosso de Montefalco.

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