A Recipe for Chicken Piccata, from Philadelphia’s Sister Christine Iacobacci
“I have been blessed with energy,” says Sister Christine, “and God has been so good to me.”
A native of Pennsylvania and born in the South Philly area, Sister Christine Joseph Iacobacci, a member of the Community of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, not surprisingly grew up in a very devoutly Catholic family. “We were all Italian,” she said, “and we were all Catholic. I went to Catholic kindergarten and grade school up to the 4th grade.”
After her family moved to Glenolden, a suburb of Philadelphia, she did not return to a Catholic school until 8th grade. She then attended Notre Dame High School in Moylan, Pennsylvania, where her teachers were Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. “We were still in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” she said. “Since our numbers were fewer than the other diocesan high schools for girls, we used to be called the Academy of the Diocesan High Schools,” adding that the school was small but a beautiful campus.
Sister Christine said she had wanted to go to college to become a teacher and her diocese had a special program for women who, if accepted after graduation, would be mentored by nuns. “I applied for it,” she said, “and was one of 25 selected. I was 17 when I graduated from high school. That September, I was teaching children at St. Robert’s School in Chester, Pennsylvania, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph. After three years of teaching there, God called me to join them.”
As it turned out, Sister Christine has credited her devout Italian grandmother for influencing her faith — she went to daily Mass, she said — but Sister Christine also said her grandmother inspired her cooking passion too. “She was a simple person who loved and served everyone,” she said. “And that is how I learned to cook.”
She reminisced about the wonderful meals her grandmother made, mostly Italian, and she even made her own pasta. “I used to be tall enough to stand at the table and I could watch her hands,” she said. “She was like an artist. She used to cut pasta by hand. Her meals were superb. In our family, we were told to taste everything, and I developed a great love for all we had.”
Indeed, she remembered her grandmother requesting her to be a taster and a smeller, and those lessons worked. “Even now,” said Sister, “I go to a restaurant and can smell a dish and know what spices are in it. It is amazing what I learned from her. I didn’t know she was teaching. She never used a recipe as it was all in her head.”
Although Sister was not allowed to cook in her home kitchen until she was 12, she has cooked extensively since then. “I entered the religious life because I felt God calling me to the Sisters of St. Joseph,” she said. “When I entered the convent, we all took our turns cooking.”
For the next 40 years she offered her services, and for the last 20 years, she has been both the main and the assistant cook. She also spent time as a cook for the Christian Brothers at their provincialate in Lincroft, New Jersey. After 10 years and a kitchen renovation, Sister Christine retired from that job to make room for a male cook. “The Brothers brought me great joy,” she said. “They enjoyed all I cooked.”
Sister does continue to cook for the Seeds of Service Relief Center in Brick, New Jersey. “People who come in are in need of food,” she said. She makes soups and casseroles during the week. “So far I have made about 752 quarts of soup and 355 casseroles,” she said. “I have volunteers who pick up the food, take it to the Center and put it in a freezer until it is distributed on the distribution days. I have made a variety of 15 different soups and about seven casseroles, such as beef stew; macaroni, ham and cheese; and sausage, peppers and onions over spaghetti.”
When questioned about her favorite cuisine, she admitted she loves cooking any kind of Italian food. “With Italian, I can be as creative as I want,” she said. “I have no favorite recipe, but I love cooking with vegetables and all kinds of pasta. One of my very favorites, so often requested, is spaghetti and meatballs.”
As she ended: “I have been blessed with energy, and God has been so good to me.”
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Sister Christine’s Chicken Piccata
- 3 large, skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine, such as chardonnay
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup capers, rinsed in cold water
- 1 medium lemon, sliced into thin rings, for garnish
- 1/4 chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish
Remove any fat on the chicken breasts, then wash and pat dry. Cut the breasts lengthwise to make 6 cutlets. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the cutlets.
Add the flour, Parmesan cheese, and oregano to a shallow bowl. Coat each breast cutlet on both sides, shaking off any excess flour. Transfer the chicken to another plate in a single layer.
Using a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Once the butter melts and begins to sizzle, add 3 pieces of the coated chicken, and sauté for 2 to 4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the chicken. After cooking, remove to a serving platter. Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and sauté the remaining chicken and cook 2 to 4 minutes each side. Remove to the serving platter.
Using the same pan over medium-high heat add 1/2 cup white wine, 1tablespoon butter, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of rinsed capers. Simmer 1 minute, then dip the chicken pieces into the sauce a few pieces at a time and place them back on the serving platter. Continue simmering the sauce 2 more minutes until slightly thickened. Drizzle the sauce over the chicken and garnish with lemon slices and parsley.