Often when people dream, their fears come to life. For a student it might manifest itself as being ill-prepared for an exam. For parents, it may be losing their child in the woods. If I dare to say for Italians, it is most likely people leaving their homes hungry or not having the necessary ingredients to prepare a proper meal. This is exactly the dream that haunted my slumber last night. Unexpected visitors, all hungry and nothing in the coffers that would translate into a satisfying dish. Of course being the food hoarder I am with a fully stocked pantry, this all went down at someone else’s house. I was distraught and embarrassed as I couldn’t even pull together a simple soup or pasta. I know it is crazy with all the options for take-out available but it runs deep in my psyche that making food is an expression of love and that is how you welcome someone into your home. I have tried to relax my standards as I watch others simply open a bag of chips but the need to make something from the heart runs deep and I am most likely not going to get over it any time soon, if ever.
Last week I shared the recent visit with my grandson, Evani, and the special food requests and preparations we did while he was here. The frigid weather made us all crave comfort so I felt compelled to make one dish that always soothes my soul, Chicken Cacciatore. The aroma of the meat simmering in the rich tomato sauce always transport me to my grandmother’s kitchen and I hope it will do the same for my grandchildren. There are numerous recipes for this classic dish but the one I make I developed over the years using a robust red wine like Chianti paired with thick, rich tomato paste. Always a family favorite, I usually serve it over a creamy polenta. If polenta is not your thing, you could substitute pasta or serve it by itself. The dish is rich so I recommend a light side such as a salad of mixed greens dressed sparingly with a vinaigrette.
Cacciatore (kah-chuc-TOH-ray) Italian for “hunter,” is an American-Italian term that refers to food prepared “hunter-style,” with mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, various herbs and sometimes wine. Chicken cacciatore is the most popular dish prepared in this style but it can be made with other fowl or rabbit. Here is my version.
CHICKEN CACCIATORE Makes 6 servings
Stewed chicken in red wine tomato sauce
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 large onion, sliced
4-5 lb chicken thighs, skinned and trimmed of excess fat
1 small can or equivalent tomato paste
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 c dry red wine ( i.e. Chianti, cabernet, merlot, burgundy)
¼ – ½ lb fresh mushrooms (criminni, or mixed wild, preferred)
1/2 t each of fresh thyme and parsley minced
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese
Heat olive oil in a deep heavy skillet. Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown in batches on all sides. Remove from pan. Add onion and cook until soft but not brown. Add garlic and cook until aromatic being careful not to burn it. Return chicken to the pan. Combine tomato paste with 1 ½ c wine until it is a thick sauce. Pour over chicken and simmer over low heat until chicken is tender (about 30-35 minutes). Add remainder of the wine, mushrooms and herbs. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Serve in a nest of hot polenta or pasta with freshly grated cheeses on top.
This time I served this over white polenta made with milk and Parmesan cheese. It elicited rave reviews from the diners at my table and feelings of hugs from Nonna that I hope accompanied my grandson all the way back to California and beyond.
Speaking of hugs, I cannot leave this post without mentioning another brush with youth that I experienced this week. My nephew who lives in New York has been active in musical theater for a number of years. Because his performances are mostly on the east coast, I have never had the pleasure of seeing him on stage. Presently he is a member of a company that is touring the US performing “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” This week the group was in WI and we were able to view his performance up close and personal. I couldn’t cook for him like I would have liked but we were able to steal a few hours, share a restaurant meal and catch up. I hugged him as much as I could in hopes it will sustain him in his travels. Young men like him are such an inspiration. Like our grandson, he gave me hope that the future of this crazy world is in good hands.
So I leave you today with that ray of hope shining bright. Gather your family and friends around the table, give them each a hug and keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. Warning! It is contagious. Sending hope and love from my heart to yours. Until next time, Jeanne