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Top Chef's Mike Isabella Cooks a Family Holiday Feast

The runner-up in Bravo's hit cooking show shares "Jersey Italian" recipes for a scrumptious holiday dinner.
By Kim Caviness
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Long before he stole the show as runner-up on Bravo's Top Chef All-Stars last season with his pepperoni sauce epiphany, Mike Isabella was just another Italian-American kid in North Jersey who loved his grandmother's cooking.

Every Christmas Day, Isabella's family would gather at his Aunt Connie's house, where his grandmother and aunts whipped up a holiday feast of Jerseylicious fare. "There was lots of that classic New York-New Jersey Italian food," he says. "We did lots of pastas, lots of meats, sausages. There was a turkey, lots of different vegetables."

Back then, "they wouldn't even let me in the kitchen," Isabella says. "I didn't mind: I was running around eating all the food. Plus, as a kid, it was all about the presents."

Now, it's all about getting his family together while he does the cooking, says Isabella, who is honoring his Jersey roots and his grandmother's culinary legacy in his newly opened Washington, D.C., restaurant, Graffiato, as well as in his cookbook, Flavors From a Jersey Italian, slated for publication next fall.

WebMD asked him for three recipes he'd serve his own family this holiday season, and the star is pepperoni sauce, of course, now drizzled over spice-rubbed chicken. "I have to keep it on my menu forever," he says with a smile. "People come from all over the country to taste it." Aunt Connie and his grandmother would surely approve.

Pepperoni Chicken

Isabella switches out dark meat for light meat to offer a healthier version of this signature dish. Serve it family-style with his pepperoni sauce on the side, so your holiday guests can spoon it to taste. "The roasted cabbage and the spice-roasted chicken with the pepperoni sauce -- that's very Christmasy, with full flavors," says Isabella. "It's something a little more unique that you don't see at everyone's house."

Main Dish: Spice-Roasted Chicken With Pepperoni Sauce and Cabbage

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tbsp lemon zest

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

2 tbsp finely chopped garlic

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted and ground

3 whole chicken breasts, cut in half

2 tbsp canola oil

pan-roasted cabbage (see recipe, below)

pepperoni sauce (see recipe, below)           

Directions

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients to create the marinade.

2. Fully coat the chicken breasts with marinade and place in a large plastic bag or a glass baking dish.

3. Refrigerate for at least 2½ hours or overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

5. Remove chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for about 10 minutes.

6. Heat canola oil in a large, heavy-bottom sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, sear chicken, skin side down, approximately 6 minutes until golden brown.

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