I I once saw a woman take a plant out of a bed and then put it in her purse. I must have been about eight years old and visiting a garden, probably one that was in a National Trust house. Either my brother or sister had fallen, because we were all crouched on the gravel and Mom was examining one knee. As she pulled things out of her purse on one side of a flowerbed, so was a much older woman on the other side. Namely, a small trowel, which he used to dig up a plant and its wispy roots, and a plastic bag to receive the plant, which he then dropped into his open bag. Now, you probably wouldn’t remember anything about this particular incident if it weren’t for what happened next. When the woman snapped her purse closed, she looked up and straight at me. She held my eyes for a few seconds before cracking a small smile that was both shy and victorious. I found myself smiling back at her and as I did so I realized that she was stealing the plant and that I was now her accomplice! After all, I, too, had a handful of leaves and gravel in my pocket.
It is human nature, I know, that of the billions of memories stored and indexed in our frontal lobes, it is the highly emotional ones that recur in us most often. In this case, it is both guilt and emotion for having witnessed a crime in the garden, and also admiration for how shameless it all was, bringing a trowel and a bag and digging in broad daylight. Later, we would see the same woman in the cafeteria eating coffee cake, her bag hanging from her chair a few feet from a National Trust volunteer.
The memory is exacerbated by another incident in another garden, when a friend cut a sprout and defended herself saying that it is a robbery only if she uses garden pruners or diggers, and that by pinching she was actually helping pruning. This is how I like to think of my own habit of pruning a rosemary stem from the playground garden.
It is for use with a chicken and a recipe of Oretta Zanini Of Life‘s The food of Rome and Lazio: history, folklore and recipes, and the section on the cuisine of the Ciociaria, the name given to the Roman countryside that stretches from the south of Rome to Cassino. The recipe is one of dozens of variations on the hunter-style chicken theme, but in this version, rosemary – spicy, resinous, bitter, and beautiful – is the queen, hence the name, chicken Rosemary.
I used to think of it as a pruning, until the other day, when my eyes met another woman who held my gaze but didn’t smile. So I pretended I was just rubbing the rosemary stem for scented fingers. Then I went and bought a plant in the market, so the memory of the woman with the palette came to mind. This also shows that rosemary really stimulates the mind and memory, especially if memory is both guilty and exciting.
Chicken with rosemary, tomatoes and olives
Having browned the chicken, don’t drain the fat as it enriches the tomatoes and softens the more volatile side of the rosemary, and means the dish has a smooth, fat-induced orange glow.
It serves 4
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1.6 kg of chicken, joined in 8 or 10 pieces (cutting the breasts in 2), or 8-10 chicken thighs
2 cloves of garlic
3 bushy sprigs of rosemary
1 large glass White wine
1 can of 400g peeled plum tomatoes, chopped with scissors
1 pinch red chili flakes
2 tablespoons of black olives
In a deep skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Working in batches, place the chicken pieces skin side down, cook until the skin forms a golden crust, then flip them over and do the same on the other side. Remove and repeat with the remaining chicken.
Return all the meat to the pan with a pinch of salt, a peeled garlic clove, crushed with the palm of your hand so that it breaks but remains in one piece) and two sprigs of rosemary.
Pour over the wine, let it bubble for a few minutes, add the tomatoes and chilli, cover and lower the heat. Cook for 40 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for an additional 10-20 minutes, until the chicken is tender and the sauce is rich and thick. If at any point the pan seems a little dry, add a little more wine.
Chop the second clove of garlic and the needles collected from the third sprig of rosemary, and add with the olives for the last minutes of cooking, stirring to mix the flavors.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism