Last week when I wrote about chicken cacciatore, I invited my readers to submit their favorite recipe for the dish. Well, fellow blogger and cookbook author, Diane Darrow, who publishes “Another Year in Recipes,” an extremely informative and culinarily literate food blog, submitted her recipe.
It was for a Campanian version of the dish, which intrigued me for two reasons. First, it did not require browning the chicken, thus eliminating the dreaded cleanup associated with this process. Second, before any tomato is added, the chicken is infused with the flavors of a battuto, a mince of carrots, onion, and celery.
So last night I decided to make the recipe exactly as it was presented on Diane’s blog. I’m happy to report that it turned out perfectly, with succulent chicken napped in aromatic and savory sauce.
Since her recipe is richly illustrated, I chose to provide a link to it below and use only one photo of my finished dish. I strongly recommend trying this recipe as well as checking out Diane’s blog. Here is the link: Campanian Chicken alla Cacciatore.
Because I cook at home almost every night, our refrigerator is often at its max capacity. As I triage the remainders of meals gone by, tossing out wilted parsley, a shriveled zucchini, and sundry unidentifiable objects, I often find some salvageable items. Such was the case yesterday, when I discovered a couple of chicken thighs from Thursday’s cacciatore, a half a bottle of tomato passata from a pasta dish, a half of a smoked mozzarella along with some basil from Friday’s pizza night, and a small chunk of ricotta salata.
After I put these discoveries aside, I rummaged through my pantry to see if there was anything there I could use with them. When I saw a box of orzo and a canister of bread crumbs , I thought why not make a small timballo, in other words, bake the orzo along with the other ingredients.
I removed the skin and bones from the two leftover chicken thighs, pulled the meat apart, and placed it together with the sauce from the cacciatore into a 2.5 quart saucepan. To supplement the scant sauce, I added the half bottle of passata and some chopped basil to the pan, which I covered and placed on a low flame for about 20 minutes.
While the chicken and sauce were reheating, I cooked 8 ounces of the orzo until just a few minutes before it would reach al dente and then drained it well. Meanwhile, I cut the smoked mozzarella into chunks, grated the ricotta and some Parmigiano-Reggiano, and finally buttered an 8” x 8” baking dish, which I dusted with a couple of tablespoons of dried breadcrumbs.
After the chicken and sauce were fully reheated, I stirred in the orzo and let it cook for a few minutes so that it would be infused with the sauce. I then tasted it and adjusted for seasoning, with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.
I transferred half the chicken and orzo mixture to the baking dish and spread it into an even layer, which I then covered with half of the mozzarella, ricotta salata, and Parmigiano. I subsequently made a second layer with the remaining chicken and orzo, which I then topped with the remainder of the three cheeses.
I placed the baking dish into a preheated 375° F oven and baked it for about twenty minutes. When it was finished cooking, I removed the dish, tented it with some foil, and let it rest for about 10 minutes so that it would firm up a bit.
I must admit this dish was delicious and turned out far better than I had thought it would. (In fact, that’s one of the reasons I have no photos, as I usually do, of its preparation.) The pasta was richly flavored, the chicken succulent, and the melted cheese, creamy and piquant, tied everything together. Yet what was even more satisfying was being able to create this dish from what could have easily found its way into the trash. My frugal mother would have been proud.
Except for the Italian-American chicken parm, cacciatore (Italian for hunter’s style) may be the most ubiquitous poultry offering on Italian restaurant menus. As might be expected, given its popularity, there are many variations on the dish both here in the U.S. as well as in Italy. Even at home, my mother and my aunt, Sicilian and Neapolitan respectively, prepared their distinctive versions: my mother’s more savory with capers, olives, and vinegar; my aunt’s more sweet and spicy with onions, tomatoes, and crushed red pepper.
Last night, I chose to prepare a version closer to my aunt’s based on a recipe from Arthur Schwartz’s Naples at Table. This Neapolitan cacciatore epitomizes the simplicity of Italian cooking, calling for just a few ingredients and a minimum of technique. However this austerity requires that the basic ingredients, the prima materia, be of the highest quality—especially the tomatoes. My aunt would use the Roma tomatoes she jarred every August. Working in the confines of a New York City apartment, I rely on the imported canned whole San Marzano variety. As for technique, it’s essential that you take the time to brown the chicken thoroughly and avoid overcrowding the pan to get the most flavor from the bird.
I’m sure many of my readers have their own version of cacciatore and I would enjoy hearing about them. As I said earlier the recipe below is based on one from Arthur Schwartz. The original recipe uses a whole chicken and also includes a variation with red peppers. Here’s a link to the original on the author’s website.
Chicken Cacciatore Adapted from Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs, well trimmed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion sliced thin (3/16”)
2 5-inch sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 cup dry white Vermouth
Big pinch hot red pepper flakes
1 28 ounce can imported whole and peeled San Marzano tomatoes, well-drained and coarsely chopped
1. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.
2. In a 12-inch saute pan with cover, heat the oil over medium-high heat and when it is hot, brown the chicken on the skin side first, then the underside. Do not crowd the pan. Brown the chicken in batches if necessary, setting aside the browned chicken on a plate until the rest is done.
3. When the last few pieces of chicken are almost browned and still in the pan, add the onion and rosemary sprigs and sauté until the onion is tender.
4. Arrange all the browned chicken in the pan, skin side up, and add the vermouth. Add the hot red pepper flakes, and then let the wine cook until it has almost entirely evaporated, just a couple of minutes. While it is reducing, turn the chicken in the liquid once or twice, but leave it skin side up at the end.
5. Add the tomatoes. Cover the pan, lower the heat, and let cook at a gentle simmer, without turning, for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is done. Check the pan every so often to make sure the sauce does not stick to the pan.
6. Remove the chicken to a serving platter, increase the heat to high and let the sauce reduce for about 2 minutes. Adjust for seasoning.
7. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.
One of my go-to books for Neapolitan cooking is Naples at Tableby New York based food maven, Arthur Schwartz. The book is a veritable tome of authentic recipes gathered by the author during his travels in Campania, a region in southern Italy, the capital of which is Naples.
The “Introduction” provides a wealth of background information on the history and culture of the region and the prefaces to each of the book’s sections, as well as the many sidebars, are chockablock with culinary advice and guidance. Arthur’s encounters with home cooks personalize many of the recipes, like the one I chose for dinner last night: Pollo al Limone di Agata Lima (Agata Lima’s Lemon Chicken).
This dish does require some babysitting to ensure that the chicken pieces do not stick to the pan, but with good company in the kitchen and a glass of wine, the time passes quickly. I should also point out that since the recipe does not call for any browning of the chicken and all the cooking is done over a low flame, the chicken takes on only a pale-gold color. Nevertheless, the dish’s intense lemon and herb flavors compensate for any chromatic deficiency. In fact, the finished dish reminded me of many chicken or rabbit offerings on Italian trattoria menus labeled “in bianco.”
As you will see from my italicized parenthetical comments, I made very few departures from the original recipe. I substituted well-trimmed, skin-on, bone-in thighs for the cut up chicken because we prefer dark meat. I also added the zest of one of the lemons to intensify the citrus flavor.
I served the dish with some string beans which I had on hand, but I think a side of rosemary and garlic oven roasted potatoes would have been a welcome addition.
Pollo al Limone di Agata Lima From Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz
Serves 4 (at least)
1 3½- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces (I opted for 10 well trimmed bone-in skin-on thighs.)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed
12 or more large sage leaves
2 or 3 6-inch sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped off the stem
½ cup dry white wine
2/3 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (I added the zest of one lemon.)
1 rounded tablespoon finely cut flat-leaf parsley
1. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
2. Arrange the chicken (skin-side down) in a skillet or sauté pan that can hold it all in 1 layer – a 10- to 12-inch pan. The chicken may crowd the pan. Tuck in the garlic, the sage, and the rosemary. Do not add any oil or fat. (I cheated here and lightly misted my pan with some olive oil.)
3. Set over low heat and continually shake the pan or jiggle the pieces of chicken so they don’t stick to the pan. After a few minutes, the chicken’s fat and juices will start running, and this will become less of a problem.
(Note: This first stage of cooking took approximately 10 minutes, which is the amount of time I waited between each of the subsequent turns of the meat.)
4. Turn the chicken pieces. Continue to cook over low heat, turning the chicken frequently. It will not brown, but will take on color. If the chicken juices accumulate in the pan, more than just skimming the bottom of the pan (because the chicken is particularly moist), increase the heat slightly.
5. After about 15 minutes, when the chicken has taken on some color, add ½ the white wine. When the first addition of wine has nearly evaporated, in about 10 minutes, add the remaining wine. There should never be more than a skimming of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Keep turning the chicken frequently.
6. When the second additional of wine has evaporated, add ½ the lemon juice (and, if using, the lemon zest). When the first addition of lemon juice has reduced, add the remaining juice. Altogether, the chicken will cook about 50 minutes. In the end there should be very little sauce – just a few spoons of reduced juices and fat.
7. Arrange the chicken on a platter. Scrape whatever is left in the pan – herbs, garlic juices – into a strainer. With a spoon or spatula, Press the juices out of the solids and let them drip over the chicken.
8. Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley. (As you can see from my photos, I forgot the parsley.)