Now that I’m a mom, I’ve found that my attitude toward cooking has changed. Where I used to enjoy the challenge of a complicated dish–say, moussaka with its fried eggplants and zucchinis layered beneath meat and béchamel sauces–these recipes have become marathons in anxiety. Chopping vegetables with a one-year-old clinging to my pant-leg—and biting it—is not an evening well spent, for Ioanna or me. I’ve tried to occupy her with measuring cups and Tupperware containers. Those are momentary distractions. Like her mom, Ioanna likes to watch food being prepared, but she prefers to be held directly above the cutting board. This leaves me cooking, one-handed.
These days, I try to cook while Ioanna naps, or is asleep for the night, and I look for dishes that need an hour or less of active cooking time. So I was nervous about last week’s Greek dish of week, Kokkoras Kokkonistos. The name means reddened rooster and it’s a spiced, tomato-based stew served atop long, hollow noodles and dusted with cheese. For Spyros and me, it’s a taverna favorite and a dish we’ve wanted to recreate at home for awhile now. I wondered how a stew, with such rich, concentrated flavors, could not take hours in the kitchen and not call for a litany of ingredients.
Vefa Alexiadou’s recipe for Kokkoras Kokkinistos in her book, Greek Cooking, is the answer. Vefa’s recipe requires only one chopped vegetable, an onion. The other ingredients are tomato products and aromatics that don’t need to be measured. A win for this newbie mom.
On Kokkorras Kokinistos day, I waited until Ioanna’s nap and began my project. First, I browned the rooster pieces until they were golden and crisp, then transferred them to another dish. Next I started the sauce. It began with onions which I cooked until soft and golden. I inhaled their caramel-like scent and wondered how long it had been since I last enjoyed the aroma of something I’d cooked. I couldn’t remember. With that I poured in the tomatoes, the other ingredients and a splash of water. The mixture reached a rapid simmer and I wedged the rooster pieces into the sauce, reduced the heat and covered the pan. I set a timer for 45 minutes.
When I looked at the microwave clock, I saw that that less than half an hour had passed since I had started. I also glanced around the kitchen. In the sink, only a glass dish and a cutting board needed to be washed. The spice jars I had already returned to the cupboard and tomato cans were rinsed and in the recycling bin. I sighed and smiled. All I had left to do was boil some pasta and, perhaps, thicken the sauce by boiling it, at the end. With forty minutes to spare before Ioanna woke, I made myself a quick Nespresso. As I sipped, I mused about the recipe. I became sure that whoever invented it had been a child rearer, someone who needed to carve out a few extra minutes, while cooking.
*This is a note to myself, mostly, but you might find it interesting to take into account. Since she has started solids, Ioanna has been funny with tomatoes. I think they are a bit acidic for her. In any case, I served her portion without sauce, just rooster with plain pasta (plain in our house means with olive oil and grated cheese). She tolerated the rooster and loved the pasta. Spyros and I found the recipe flavorful, and a near replica to the Kokkoras Kokkinistos served at our favorite neighborhood taverna.
Kokkoras Kokkinistos (Rooster or Chicken Kokkinistos)
Adapted from Vefa Alexiadou’s Greek Cooking
*If serving to a toddler or child, be sure to remove any allspice berries or peppercorns. And, of course, remove any bones.
¼ cup olive oil
1 rooster or chicken, 2.8 kg (6 lbs), in pieces (buy the poultry already cut in pieces or ask your butcher to do this for you)
1 large onion, chopped
2 14 oz. (400 g) cans of chopped tomatoes
¼ cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons sugar
16 whole allspice berries
20 whole black peppercorns
salt to taste (since we are cooking for Ioanna, we don’t add salt)
1 pound box of spaghetti (my dish is pictured using a long, hollow pasta shape that I’ve only seen in Greece, but Greek grocers in your area might stock it. They are a bit unwieldy but that’s part of the fun)
In a large soup pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium high. When the pan is hot, add the rooster pieces and fry until golden on all sides. Remove the rooster from the pot and set aside.In the same pot, add a little oil, if needed, and stir in the onions; cook until soft and golden.
Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, spices, salt and pepper and stir well. Return the rooster pieces to the pot. At this point, I added a little hot water —maybe about two tomato cans full—just to make enough sauce to slightly cover the rooster. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the rooster is ready, about 45 minutes-1 hour.
Once the rooster has cooked, remove it from the sauce. Increase the heat and boil the sauce for about 15 minutes until has reduced some. It should be thicker and have a more concentrated taste.
Serve the rooster in pieces with the sauce over boiled, oiled pasta with grated cheese.