Long before he stole the show as a runner-up on Bravo's Top Chef All-Stars, 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 honors his Jersey roots and his grandmother's culinary legacy at his Washington, DC, restaurant, Graffiato, as well as in his cookbook, Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian.
Here, he shares the recipe for his favorite holiday main dish:Spice-Roasted Chicken With Pepperoni Sauce and Cabbage. Isabella switches out dark meat for light meat to make the meal healthier.
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," Isabella says. "It's something a little more unique that you don't see at everyone's house.”
The pepperoni sauce is Isabella’s signature. "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.
Makes 6 servings
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