Italian Cook Out
From time to time my family would break away from the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn city life and would pack us into the car to take a drive to the “wilds” of Long Island. Back then the Belt Parkway was still drivable when you can go 50 miles without any traffic jams. My Grandfather’s 53 Hudson Wasp barely made it up to 50 MPH so it was also a very slow and pleasant drive. I could remember back then the light posts on the Belt Parkway were wooden and they still had a toll booth that collected a 5 cent toll.
Along that same family line but still living in Brooklyn was my Aunt Francis and Uncle Sal St. George (I think we had at least a dozen relatives named Sal) and their children, my cousins Cammy, Joseph & Phyllis (Phyllis and Joseph seem to be another popular name) We never got together with this side of the family for the major holidays, but would often visit them several times during the year,for the Fourth of July, visits to Jones Beach and for BBQ’s at Valley Stream State Park.
We would get to Valley Stream Park early in the morning. The caravan of cars would pull into the parking lot and every able body would lug the trays of food and coolers to the picnic tables. I could remember my grandfather would wear his special cool Fedora straw hat. He was the most important attendee at this cook out because, being the butcher of the family, he was in charge of the meats and sausage. And oh the sausage! He made a delicious sausage with cheese and parsley and sun-dried tomatoes. They came wrapped in brown butcher paper and when opened were one continuous 6 foot link of heavenly salsiccia! My aunts would start the pot of coffee and within minutes you would start to smell the bacon and eggs frying on the BBQ pit. This was an all day affair. They would have the lawn chairs all set up in a circle and the picnic tables covered in linen table cloths.
After breakfast all the cousins would have a game of football in the nearby clearing and my cousin Joseph, being the oldest male cousin, would always end up at the bottom of the tackle pile-up with my brother Richard jumping on him a few extra times just for good measure. My cousin Gail and I were about the same age, 4 or 5 years old, when we would put on a show for everyone dancing on top of the picnic tables.
And then came the serious grilling. My Uncle Frank would lift up the sausage and it looked like he was decorating a tree with garland. He would hold it up to show everyone, as he bowed his head towards my grandfather in appreciation, and then placed it as it sizzled on top of the fire pit. The smell of the olive oil and vinegar that marinated the chicken with the garlic and basilico would hit you as they cooked on the coal fire when the wind turned in your direction. You can never get that smell out of your head ever again. Till this day when I grill chicken in the back yard in that marinade it brings me back to the cook outs we had at Valley Stream State Park.
The Italian bread came out as the bowls of cold string bean, red onion and potato salad got passed around with the broccoli rabe, roasted peppers, cheeses, olives, salami and salad. My Grandfather would take out the jug of wine that he carefully hid under the picnic table and filled all the glasses. He would give me a thimble full of wine and filled the rest of the glass with ginger ale. Till this day I still enjoy that drink!
After the feast my Grandfather would take his lounge chair and find a shady spot under a tree to take a nap. He would tilt his straw hat over his eyes and drift off. Now, my Grandfather was the “patriarch” of the family. He earned that title because he was the first one in this family to come to this country from his town Vizzini, Sicily. His “nephew” my Uncle Frank was the prankster of the group and sooner or later Uncle Frank would do something to get my Grandfather riled up. One time while my Grandfather was sleeping my Uncle Frank exploded a cherry bomb under his hammock. All hell broke loose after that!!!! We all knew it was coming, we just never knew when. My cousin Johnny, who was also my Grandparent’s nephew, had a knack of upsetting my Grandfather also from time to time. That’s putting it mildly. Johnny had family pranks down to a science. If there was a college of pranks, Johnny was the Dean. But I’ll save his stories for another time.
Let’s get cooking.
Marinated BBQ Chicken
- 1 whole fryer chicken cut into quarters
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons of fresh basil, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl. Wash and dry the chicken well and place the chicken in a zip lock bag. Pour the marinade into the bag, press out the air and seal. Shake up the bag and move the chicken pieces around to distribute the marinade evenly. Allow the chicken to marinade in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, turning the bag each hour.
In the mean time light the coals in your BBQ and allow them to get white-hot. If you have a damper on your grill make sure it is at the lowest setting so the chicken does not burn. For those with gas grills, cook the chicken on low.
Place the chicken on the grill and discard the rest of the marinade. Chicken will be cooked in about 40 minutes.