My Ivy League Summer

By / Food / September 18th, 2013 / 2

This past summer I waged a war against creeping, crawling Boston ivy. Boston ivy is a despicable vine with criss-crossing tentacles that attach themselves with five grasping suction-tipped fingers to anything that doesn’t move. It is the stuff of nightmares, the vine you might find clinging to Dracula’s castle. Oh, sure, from a distance the ivy-clad castle looks inviting, sheathed in leafy green. But up close those sticky tendrils will reach out to wrap you within their dark folds and hold you until the vampire arrives. And not the good-looking vampire.

I must add that many people like Boston ivy. It crawls over the illustrious walls and buildings of Ivy League schools and ballparks. It is said to keep a building cooler. But my Italian father, who really knew his concrete, once told me ivy would suck the moisture from mortar and cause a wall to crumble. And let’s face it — have you ever seen ivy crawling over the ancient Roman Coliseum? That’s all I needed to know. The ivy had to go.

The wall around my condo was rife with the dreadful water-sucker, and while I couldn’t convince the condo association to remove it from the side that faces the street, I could pry its stiff little fingers from the wall facing my patio. This was no easy feat. Those woody stalks clung tenaciously, and when finally ripped away, left behind sticky scars. All summer, the ivy on the other side of the wall sent up tiny scouts, innocent-looking red-yellow sprouts peering hopefully into my yard. I wasn’t fooled. They were unceremoniously decapitated. Somewhere in another universe, on a planet where Boston ivy reigns as the dominant species, a Wanted poster with my face is hanging in a galactic post office.

Once the ivy was under control, I planted tomatoes and herbs in my wee backyard. Following are some of the recipes I concocted from that beloved garden.

Roasted tuscan chicken

Rating: 51

Serves: Serves 4

Dried rosemary can sometimes feel like sharp pine needles in a dish, but fresh is a whole different story. This dish will work with chicken breasts as well, but will require a slightly longer roasting time. My Aunt Maria serves this dish as a part of an Italian buffet that includes ravioli, stuffed mushrooms and a sweet ricotta pie.


  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • Chicken broth


  1. Preheat oven to 400?F. Coat a roasting pan with cooking spray.
  2. Place the chicken in the roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Scatter garlic and rosemary over chicken. Drizzle olive oil over chicken and add a bit of chicken broth to the baking dish.
  4. Bake, uncovered, 30 to 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
  5. Try a Soave with this dish.

Chicken, fig and pancetta bruschetta

Rating: 51

Serves: Serves 4

I am always looking for new ways to serve bruschetta, and I love figs. This recipe calls for fresh figs, but if not in season, dried figs work as well. This is a filling knife-and-fork appetizer that can also serve as a light lunch by adding one additional chicken breast fillet. If toasting the bread under the broiler, watch it closely as it goes from golden brown to burnt very quickly.


  • 1 boneless chicken breast fillet
  • 8 slices pancetta
  • 4 fresh figs, halved or 1/2 cup chopped dried figs
  • 4 thick slices Italian bread, toasted or grilled and rubbed with 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp minced basil


  1. Heat a lightly oiled skillet until hot.
  2. Season chicken with salt. Sauté on both sides until browned. Add 1/2 cup water and cook over low heat, covered, until cooked through, about 7 minutes. Remove. Drain pan.
  3. Add pancetta; sauté until crisp. Drain and blot with paper towel. If using fresh figs, sauté until softened, then chop. If using dried figs sauté until heated through.
  4. Thinly slice the chicken. Place two slices pancetta on each bread slice. Place chicken slices over pancetta. Sprinkle figs on top. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, honey and olive oil, using more or less as desired. Garnish with basil. Serve immediately.
  5. Serve with a fruity South African Chenin Blanc.

Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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