Nonna's Roasted Chicken Thighs | Recipe | My Grandmother's Chicken

With the anniversary of 9/11 and other events surrounding my personal life, I needed to write a happy post to remind me how fortunate I am to have my family and friends.  Today's post is about my grandmother, "nonna," one of my favorite people.  She's this little pip-fire of a woman measuring in at 4'10".  She's the only person I know who makes me feel tall!  But just because she's tiny doesn't mean she's not tough.  Nonna's a survivor and one of the most resilient people I know.

I could write an entire blog on my grandmother and all she's accomplished.  But to give you a snapshot, after marrying my grandfather in 1942, she labored in the fields in Italy as a farmer's wife.  Back-breaking, pain-staking work.  When hail storms destroyed their crops, my grandfather set out to the United States to create a better life for his family, leaving behind my grandmother and three young children.  Nonna continued to manage in my grandfather's absence and cared for the girls alone.  After a year, my grandmother left her mother, siblings and extended family in Italy, and she and her daughters joined my grandfather in New York. 

Life in the United States was not easy.  Her life changed drastically from one in the fields to one in a big city where she didn't speak the language.  My grandparents taught us the meaning of working hard and giving an honest day's work.  They sacrificed so that we could have a better life.  And for that, I'm eternally grateful.

So in order to survive, nonna became tough.  She always had a Type A++ personality, something I inherited from her.  She is a perfectionist to the nth degree, something else I inherited from her.  But for two people who seemingly lack all patience, we have a limitless supply of patience for each other.  Our relationship extends beyond that of a grandmother/grand-daughter, but we have a true friendship, an inseperable bond.  She's someone I admire, respect and love deeply.  I've very blessed and fortunate to have nonna in my life.

One of my favorite stories of nonna is how she fully takes credit for Mr. Stranded and my getting together.  Our conversation (in Italian) went like this:

Nonna: Did you meet anyone at the wedding?
Me: Actually, yes.  It's someone I had met a few times before, but we reconnected.  He's really nice.
Nonna:  That's wonderful.  And what does he do?
Me: He's a doctor.
Nonna (exuberantly): I knew it! 
Me: What did you know?
Nonna: The other night I prayed to St. Anthony and said, "St. Anthony.  {Mrs. Stranded} is such a nice girl.  And she deserves to meet an equally nice boy.  Couldn't you send her a nice man to be her husband?  Amen.  Oh, it wouldn't hurt if he were a doctor!
Why nonna prayed for a certain occupation will always be a mystery to me.  But I think it's a little more than coincidental that Mr. Stranded became my husband.  Thank you, nonna!  You got me a good one!

At 91-years-old, Nonna doesn't cook much anymore, but when she did, she was the best there was.  All of her dishes were refined and delicate.  If she made manicotti, her shells were light and thin.  Same with her gnocchi, they were light and fluffy, never sinking into your stomach.  She was the best cook around. 

One of the very first recipes she taught me was her Roasted Chicken Thighs.  There are a number of tips and tricks, nonna's magic touch, so make sure you read the directions carefully.  It's the little extra steps that make this chicken scrumptious.  Serve alongside roasted vegetables for an easy, enjoyable dinner.

Nonna's Roasted Chicken Thighs Recipe
Yields: 2-3 servings

6 chicken thighs (boneless or bone-in)
4 cloves garlic, smashed
olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove skin and fat from thighs and discard.  Rinse thighs under cool water and pat dry.
2. Pushing hard, rub garlic cloves on all sides of meat.  Turn thighs so that the bottom, bone-side is facing you.  Find a small indentation or flap of meat.  Insert a small piece of garlic into the pocket.  If no natural pocket can be found, cut a very small slit with a knife and insert the garlic.
3. Season both sides of thighs with salt and pepper.
4. Place thighs, meaty side up, in a ceramic baking dish.  Place remaining garlic cloves on top of thighs.  Sprinkle with rosemary.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over thighs, just enough that a thin line is over each thigh.
5. If preparing in advance, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Thighs taste best when prepared one day in advance.
6. Place thighs in preheated oven.  Flip thighs after 45 minutes.  For boneless thighs, continue to roast another 15-20 minutes.  For bone-in thighs, continue to roast an additional 30-45 minutes.

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Adrienne said... [Reply]

I love this tribute to your nonna. My grandmother is still alive at 94, but she is very fragile and doesn't know what year it is. So a coherent conversation with her hasn't happened in many years. You are lucky she is able to be your grandmother and your friend at 91.

You speak Italian? How wonderful! I am glad nonna's prayers worked out for you and Mr. S. - that is a great story for your children. xo, A

Hines-Sight said... [Reply]

This looks so good. YOu'll have to e-mail me because I want to fill in the blank. :) What a great story about your nonna.

Tracy Wood said... [Reply]

Thanks for sharing such a nice post about your grandma - she sounds wonderful! I am going to try this chicken - thighs are our favorite! Your nonna is right - it's the little things (like that garlic tucked into the meat) that make a big difference in cooking.

Mrs. Stranded said... [Reply]

@Adrienne Yup, I speak Italian. Not perfectly, but on a very conversational level, which is all I needed to communicate with my grandparents. Nonna had a stroke the week I got engaged and hasn't been 100% there since then. But considering her age, she's still doing pretty well. We still chat regularly on the phone, although now our class only last about 5-10 minutes and I visit her every time I'm in NY. She really is one of my favorite people.

Mrs. Stranded said... [Reply]

@Hines-Sight Mr. Stranded said it's ok if I let people know he's an astrounat ;)

Margot said... [Reply]

This is such a sweet post and I relate so much to what you wrote about your Nonna. One of the greatest love stories I know is how my grandmother met my grandfather in Italy during WWII. He was a soldier and they met at a dance in the town square. They wrote letters for two years and then she left her entire family to move to Vermont, to live and start a life of their own. Thank you for sharing about her and for posting this delicious recipe.

coppataluno said... [Reply]

Weird...your nonna prayed for a trash collector? Just kidding! Mr. S is the best {blank} around!

Mrs. Stranded said... [Reply]

@Margot What a sweet story about your grandparents! These are the kind of love stories that will be passed down for generations.

Mrs. Stranded said... [Reply]

@coppataluno Haha! Love it! I'm going to share your comment with Mr. S tonight.

Anonymous said... [Reply]

What a lovely post. I have goosebumps! I just love how fondly you speak of your grandmother and how much you know of her life -- a testament to how close you two truly must be. As for the food, well, it looks fabulous as always.

annie said... [Reply]

I thoroughly enjoyed the story about your grandmother and how she came to live in America and how she feels she played a part in how you met your husband. What a beautiful story. How wonderful that you speak Italian. I will absolutely try this recipe and make sure to follow it closely! I've made chicken a thousand times, but have never rubbed it with a garlic clove. Her pasta sounds delicious too!

Gina said... [Reply]

I just love your Nonna and you are so blessed to have had her for so long. Mine died when I was much too young and he still miss her terribly everyday. She did know best, didn't she?

You've put a smile in my heart today. I'm wishing Nonna many more years.