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RBR Tailgating: Tuscan Chicken Sandwich

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We probably won’t see a game like we did in 2014. Better fuel up for this one. It should be exciting.

I was pretty relaxed about this week’s game.

Yes, the Aggies are a top ten undefeated team with the only non-third string quarterback who has beaten us within the last thirty-seven games without at least getting lucky one of two meetings when his defense scored off a ball bounced from one of our cornerback’s helmet and also got a 74 yd. TD despite the fact that #70 was 4 yds. downfield from the line of scrimmage. But the opening line was 16.5. If the line was a person’s age it could drive in every state but New Jersey. As of this writing, the line is as high as 19.5 according to some sites so not only is it now legal to drive from sea to shining sea, it can buy cigarettes in Tuscaloosa.

Our team destroyed and held harmless a common foe (transitive play has never misled) that missed putting up 700 yds. on A&M by .5 less than the value of our opening betting line. Cam may be having a bit of down time, but he’s handled Myles Garret before. We are very good at running the ball. They are not particularly good at stopping teams that may or may not run the ball very well from running the ball even slightly well. Jonathan Allen exists in the same universe as does Tim Williams. The last time the Aggies came to town they were destroyed 59-0. Things looked manageable.

That was what I thought before I started putting together this week’s tailgating recipe.

While cooking, I had a UEFA game on in the background. I wasn’t really paying attention. I remember that Man U was playing some team that began with an “F.” When I next looked up, the soccer game was over and Colin Cowherd was hunching over with a picture of Nick Saban superimposed to his side.

He who predicted the dynasty was at an end, that post 2013 Gustav would own the state of Alabama, that Alabama in 2015 has the toughest schedule he’s ever seen to later say that Alabama conspires to pack their schedule with cupcakes, that last year’s Alabama was not even a top five team, that this year’s team wouldn’t be any good because we had no designated qb starter in the preseason… that guy was on my tv (television) and preparing to speak about the Tide. I was giddy to see what new soon to be provable embarrassments were about to spew forth from his mouth.

Then he stabbed me right in the heart.

Colin Cowherd thinks Alabama wins this weekend.

It gets worse. He thinks the SEC has become boring because Alabama stands so far ahead of the rest of the league that no one stands a chance against us.

The Catholic in me views superstition as a heresy; an affront to the belief in God’s plan and man’s freewill. The football fan in me thinks we just got jinxed big time.

I’ve averred several times on these electronic pages that I think game day rituals are fun. Wear a certain shirt, have a lucky seat, eat the same breakfast… all in the name of helping the team win. I won’t sit when the Tide is on the field. I pace while we play. I’m doing my part. But I know I’m not actually having an effect.

The game is not won because the poly cotton you are clothed in reflects a specific wavelength of light. Nobody missed a tackle because your uncle took the Lazy Boy or because they gave you a bacon and egg biscuit instead of a McMuffin at the drive through. Games are won because players work hard and smartly, listen to coaches who work hard and smartly, and bend their natural talent to the team’s goals. Superstition is bunk.

This Cowherd endorsement still has me rattled.

But there’s not much I can do about that (aside from wearing my game day shirt and pacing, of course) so on to this week’s recipe.

I told my wife I was making a Tuscan Chicken Sandwich. I meant it as a joke. I generally think that the word “Tuscan” on a menu can be dismissed as a marketing tag, but what the heck? If things look Italian, nobody is going to call the restaurant on it. Everything I had on this sandwich conceived, cooked, and assembled with ingredients purchased in Birmingham were also things I ate while in Tuscany, so who knows? Maybe it is Tuscan.

Tuscan Chicken Sandwich

Chicken Cutlets

Ciabatta Rolls

Canned Whole Tomatoes

Tapenade

Red Onion

Red Pepper Flakes

Fresh Mozzarella

Artichoke Hearts

Basil Leaves

Salt & Pepper

Since I have no idea how many people you intend to feed I’m not going to attempt provide measurements for the above ingredients. The math behind the proportions needed to make a sandwich is pretty self evident. If you have five people who want to eat five sandwiches you need five cutlets and five rolls with enough of the rest to dress them up.

There are two or three things to do before arriving at the tailgate site. All can be taken care of the night before and the results refrigerated until needed.

First decide if you want to make tapenade. It can be purchased pre-made. There are lots of really good producers of the stuff out there. I like to make my own because I like it garlicky, and with a nice kick. If you want to make your own, drain an 8-9 oz. bottle of pitted kalamata olives of its liquid. Add the olives with small handful of capers, a pinch of powdered cayenne pepper, a half handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, 2-3 peeled garlic cloves, 4 anchovy filets (from a tin packed in oil, use 2 if fresh as they tend to be bigger), and a splash of decent brandy. Then turn this:

Into this:

Add extra virgin olive oil to thin to a spreadable paste, pulse again, and store in the fridge.

Next, drain the liquids from can of stewed whole tomatoes and put them in a small skillet. Add a pinch of salt and the same of red pepper flakes and cook over medium heat just long enough to let the flavors of the three ingredients meld.

Strain any additional liquid and then into the fridge.

The cutlets will have thicker and thinner areas so even them out put each piece between two pieces of cling wrap and beat them without undo anger to about ½ inch thickness with a meat hammer or the bottom of a small pan. With a knife, trim off any edges that would protrude from the bun. Again, like the tapenade and tomatoes, keep these refrigerated or in a cold cooler until ready for use.

When you are finally grill side, salt and pepper both sides of the cutlets.

Put rounds of red onion on the hot grill first and give them a five minute head start before adding the chicken. Once the chicken is on, give the cutlets at least five minutes a side, depending on the heat of your grill. Don’t guess. When you think they are done, cut into the thickest part of the fattest piece (I’m assuming that you aren’t a meat pounding perfectionist and that the cutlets won’t be perfectly uniform) to be sure that it’s cooked through.

Add mozzarella to each piece. I was concerned about the artichoke hearts slipping around as soon as a bite was taken from the finished product so I put them on top of the cheese to “glue” them in place. It worked, but I’m not sure it was necessary. I’ll leave the decision to add them now or later up to you.

Grill the bread for the final minute to get a good crust on the inside.

I’m playing with a new camera so there are more pictures than I would normally deem needed to explain how to do something as complex as putting a sandwich together, but I took them, so I feel I have to use them. Note the tendency to focus on the background and blur the immediate foreground. I’ll figure out how to fix that.

Put the chicken on the toasted bun and add a few rings of grilled red onion (and artichokes if you didn’t earlier).

On top of that place a few of the cold stewed tomatoes.

Lay a few basil leaves over the tomatoes and spread a healthy dollop of tapenade on the top half of the bun.

If I were Tuscan, I’d claim that sandwich.

I may actually be Tuscan come to think of it. I’ve definitely got some Sicilian blood, a touch of Lazio, and likely some Lombardy to boot. There’s no reason to think that one of my progenitors didn’t have a tryst with a Florentine. Not that it matters. I get to claim this sandwich because even though I guarantee there are a billion sandwiches out there that are similar or even the same, I made it up with my own brain.

So enjoy the chicken. Eat well to fuel up and be loud every moment they have the ball. No Injuries. Roll Tide. Ignore Cowherd. I’ll pace.