Late Afternoon Light at the Joffe Preserve and Venetian Stuffed Chicken

Joffe Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

I had just finished playing an inspiring faculty chamber music concert at Simons Rock of Bard College. The performance ended in the late afternoon; just enough time to enjoy the late afternoon light at nearby Joffe Preserve in New Marlborough, MA. Melodies from the concert were pleasantly dancing around in my head and as we entered the tiny marshland that surrounds the Joffe Preserve, we encountered another performance. Thousands of frogs were creating an antiphonal early spring concert with bright colorful back and forth calls; we stood still and listened, enchanted by the sounds.

Joffe Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

The late day light created beautiful reflections and patterns on the water.

Joffe Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

Joffe Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

Joffe Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

Joffe Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

Planning the menu for a dinner with friends, I thought about a recipe that we recently saw on America’s Test Kitchen for turkey breast stuffed with a filling of sage, garlic, fennel, rosemary, parsley and black peppercorns; a normal seasoning used for Italian Porchetta.

As we sat musing about the delicious sounding filling, we concocted a slightly plausible story about how a Jewish Venetian recipe might have been created in the 1500’s:

In 1555, Jews were ordered to live in a section of Venice next to a foundry that made cannons. The Italian word for cannon is giotto and some think that this may be the derivation of the word ghetto.

On a chilly early spring day, an elderly Jewish woman was hurrying through recently restricted Venice. She drew her woolen scarf closely around her shoulders and face to stay warm and at the same time trying not to attract attention to herself. She had been visiting a friend who had been in ill health and was anxious to get home. From a high window of a house on a crowded narrow street, an enticing aroma wafted through the air; fennel, garlic, herbs and spices mixed with the delicious smell of roasting pork.

According to Kosher law, eating pork was strictly forbidden but thinking about the rich and heady smells made her mouth water. When she returned home, she started to prepare Sabbath dinner and looked in her meager larder to see what was available. They had been lucky enough to have money to get a freshly slaughtered kosher chicken and she found fennel seeds, parsley and garlic. She took a few branches of rosemary from a pot on her window sill and pounded this together with olive oil in her worn and ancient mortar and pestle. She spread the mixture over the chicken and lit a fire in her wood burning oven. As the chicken roasted, the same smell she had happened upon earlier filled the air; a new dish was born!

Here is our version of Venetian Stuffed Chicken! Paul remembered the Italian roast chicken and potatoes that his mother and grandmother made with plenty of garlic, black pepper and lemon…. this was a starting point for our creation.

I marinated boneless chicken breasts overnight with minced garlic, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper, dried thyme and chopped fresh rosemary. I whirred together fennel seeds, dried thyme and plenty of black peppercorns in a small coffee grinder and then I placed the ground spices in a food processor with fresh sage leaves, parsley, garlic, salt and enough olive oil to make a loose pesto like mixture.

I cut the chicken breasts open and spread generous amounts of the mixture over the chicken and then rolled them up into neat packages. I let them marinate in the fridge for a few hours and then roasted them in a hot oven; the result was heavenly! I hope you enjoy making our invention: Jewish Venetian Stuffed Chicken! We served the chicken with roasted baby potatoes and fresh fennel along with bright green asparagus that a friend contributed to the dinner.

Venetian Stuffed Chicken

Serves Six


6 split boneless chicken breasts with skin left on

Marinade for chicken breasts:

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground pepper

Pesto Mixture:

4 cloves garlic

small bunch Italian parsley

8 sprigs fresh sage

2 teaspoons dried fennel seeds

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns (more to taste)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

To Prepare Chicken Breasts:

Pre-heat oven to 380 degrees

Place chicken in a large bowl and add rosemary, thyme, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt & pepper. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Make pesto filling:

Place black pepper mixture from spice grinder into bowl of food processor along with parley, sage, 1 tablespoon rosemary, garlic cloves, olive oil and salt. Process until mixture is finely chopped- add a bit more olive oil if needed to make mixture thinner and smoother.

Cut chicken breasts open and spread mixture on the inside of the chicken. Fold up the chicken into packages and lay seam side down in a large roasting pan. Sprinkle tops with the remaining chopped rosemary and more olive oil.

You can roast the chicken right away, but if you can let the chicken marinate for a few hours, this is even better!

Roast chicken about 45 minutes until the center of the chicken reaches 170 degrees. Place under a broiler for a few minutes to crisp up and brown skin. Let chicken rest a few minutes before serving. ENJOY!!

AND, Here is the “Tree of the Week“!

“Not sure what to think here!”


Kite Hill- Ancram, NY

Author: Judith Dansker

Professional oboist and chamber musician- member of Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness, Professor of Oboe Hofstra University; observer of people, art and nature; passionate food and travel explorer.

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