It's always the same four ingredients -- salt, pepper, garlic salt, oregano -- recited in the same run-on order, in more or less the same proportions, measured in the palm of the hand, and it works for everything. Sauce? Brown the meat, cook the garlic, add tomatoes and saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano. Salad dressing? Olive oil, red wine vinegar and saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano.
But here's the thing: Each of these things ends up tasting distinct and different. Perhaps there's a little Magic in my mother's seasoning after all.
A greater mystery, perhaps, is understanding why and how the dish called scallopine in my family in no way resembles scallopine as it is served in Italy or anywhere else on the globe. Traditional scallopine is a thin cutlet of meat, usually veal but sometimes chicken, dredged in flour, pan-fried and served with peperonata or some kind of sauce like piccata. In my family, it's cubes of meat, browned and then stewed in tomato puree with sautéed peppers and peas (and, of course, saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano).
What I do know is that it is good, and absolutely must be eaten with a piece or two of good, crusty Italian bread. I have yet to find a bread out here that resembles what was generically referred to as Italian bread in my hometown of Schenectady. It always had a flaky, crisp crust and a light, fluffy crumb. Out here on the west coast, there's a propensity for hardier, more rustic breads. A ciabatta or pugliese will do, but the fluffier the crumb, the better for sopping up all that good stew.
Chicken scallopine, in the Battaglia manner
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 lb. button mushrooms, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced or minced
Several cloves of garlic, minced
One 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
4 green peppers, sliced
1 bag frozen peas
A good slosh of red wine (optional)
Saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano (approx. 1-2 tsp each ingredient, plus to taste)
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, brown the chicken on all sides in a small amount of olive oil. Remove and reserve. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and saltpeppergarlicsaltoregano, and cook until tomatoes have broken down and sauce has thickened.
In a separate pan, fry the peppers until completely soft. Add to the pot, along with the chicken, and simmer until chicken is cooked through. Add the peas and wine, and cook until everything is heated through.
Serve with good, crusty bread.