Coming from a multi-ethnic family, I grew up eating a lot of Italian food. Specifically, since my father was an immigrant of mixed Italian-Spanish-Basque (with a wee bit of French) heritage, my mother cooked the northern Italian dishes familiar to him. Italian-American food was a mystery to me.
My mom was a wonderful cook, and I have been trying to duplicate and improve her chicken cacciatore. I finally found a recipe that I love more than any others that I've tried, and after tweaking it a bit, share it with you.
Adapted from Eleanora's Kitchen, by Eleanora Scarpetta
1/4 c olive oil
3 (or to taste) garlic cloves, pressed or finely chopped
1 large onion, diced
2 t dried oregano
2 t dried parsley
1/4 t dried rosemary, minced
1/4 t red pepper flakes, dried (or to taste)
1/4 c tomato paste
4 chicken thighs and drumsticks, about 3 pounds
2 whole split chicken breasts, about 2 pounds
1/2 c red wine vinegar
32 ounces crushed whole plum tomatoes
1/4 c dry white wine
1/2 c pitted
good quality olives - Kalamata or Gaeta
2 or more red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch strips
4 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and quartered
1/4 roughly chopped fresh basic leaves
2-3 T fresh chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet (or dutch oven) over medium heat, until you see ripples in the oil. Salt and pepper the chicken. Lightly brown the chicken on both sides. Remove to plate. Leave about 2-3 tablespoon of oil in the pan, and pour off the rest.
2. Reduce heat. And the onion, 1 t oregano, basil, rosemary, dried red pepper, parsley, and tomato paste. Stir often, until the onion is translucent but not browned. Deglaze the pan with the 1/4 c of vinegar. Cook, stirring, for about one minute. Sometimes I add a little bit of white wine, if I seem to need a bit more liquid to deglaze.
3. Take the pan off the heat while you proceed to step four.
4. Add the garlic to the pan. Then, skin the chicken. That's right - get rid of the skin. If you do not like the flabby, wet, nasty texture you end up with after braising chicken, just get rid of it. If you do, then leave it on.
5. Add the chicken, juices from the plate, the remaining 1 t of oregano, and the tomatoes to the pan. Place back on low heat and cook until the tomatoes have reduced and slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. If the sauce is too thick for your tastes, add water until you reach the texture that you prefer.
6. Add the basil, wine, olives, sweet red peppers, and mushrooms. Cook until the peppers have softened and the chicken is very tender, about 15- 20 minutes.
7. Serve over rice or pasta.Notes:
- This is a very forgiving dish. You can use all thighs or drumsticks, and it will turn out well. No mushrooms? Leave them out, or substitute another type. Missing one of the herbs? The dish has such bold flavors, other herbs will pick up the slack.
- Add more or less of garlic or herbs, to your taste. I am not a big fan of dried red hot pepper, so I use very little of it.
- Be careful with the salt. Most canned tomatoes are salted, and the olives can be very salty. Be cautious, taste as you go, and adjust seasoning accordingly.
- Remember to pit the olives!
- If you deglaze the pan with the white wine, remove the pan from the heat, first.