This cacciatore is a classic in my kitchen and an excellent meal for cold weather days. Cacciatore is the Italian word for "hunters" so this is hunters' chicken, a hearty rich dish to feed hungry hunters after a chilly day in the woods. I enjoy cooking this on the weekends, filling the house with the smell of simmering herbs, onions and tomatoes. It's a big recipe that will feed 4-6 people, just add enough chicken thighs for each serving, unless you are going vegetarian. (Honestly, I can't decide whether I like the classic chicken cacciatore or the vegetarian version. They are both so flavorful.) This recipe is enough for two supper meals and a lunch too--like many saucy dishes it just gets better each day.
Chicken Cacciatore with Polenta
2 TB EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
8 oz mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp fennel seed
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
2 TB tomato paste
2 cans of diced tomatoes in juice
2 TB EVOO
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
2 TB flour
Salt and pepper
3 c chicken stock or water
1 c milk
½ tsp salt
1 c corn meal (I like course meal, but the Italiani prefer fine meal)
1 TB butter
¼ c grated parmesan cheese
Film the bottom of a large heavy bottomed cooking pot, I use an enamel covered Dutch oven, with the oil over medium high heat. When the oil is shiny, that means it’s hot, add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook for 3 min, until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and the mushrooms with a pinch of salt and cook for 3 min. Add the peppers and a pinch of salt (each time I add vegetables to a dish I season them with salt so that everything in the dish is evenly seasoned) and cook for 3 min. Add the herbs and stir them in, cook for about 1 min until they begin to release their scents and make a hot spot in the center of the pan and add the tomato paste. Let the paste cook without stirring for a minute allowing it to caramelize and then add the tomatoes and their juices. Stir and bring it to the boil. As soon as it begins to boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer.
*If you are cooking vegetarian, skip the chicken part obviously and make your polenta with water and milk if you wish, or just water.
While you are waiting for the sauce to boil you can begin the chicken. Over medium high heat film the bottom of a non-stick saute pan. Dredge the thighs in flour, shaking off any excess and put them in the oil, season with salt and pepper. Cook 3 min on each side. They will just be golden brown but not cooked through. Remove them from the heat and place them in the sauce, it should be gently simmering by now. Place a lid on the pot and simmer for 15 min or until the chicken is cooked through, it will be tender, no need for a knife.
If you do not like polenta, cacciatore is excellent over egg noodles or any other type of pasta, but if you want a winter treat, I suggest polenta. Polenta is super easy, just know that for the next 10 min or so you cannot leave the kitchen.
Place a large, heavy bottomed pot on the stove over med high heat and add the stock and milk and then add the corn meal, stirring it in with a whisk—ta da—no lumps! Now just keep stirring until you see steam beginning to rise and you can feel the polenta taking shape, it will begin to thicken. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting on the smallest burner and continue stirring. As the polenta thickens it will begin to resemble a golden pudding, when it is the consistency of a thick yogurt or like cream of wheat, remove it from the heat. It will continue to cook and thicken so don’t be too concerned if it is a little lose. Add the butter and parmesan cheese, stirring it in as it melts. Taste and season with salt if needed.
To serve the cacciatore make a medium (polenta is very rich) mound in the center of a warmed plate or large open bowl, add a chicken thigh and ladle on the sauce. Add a little parmesan cheese and enjoy. Buon appetito!
Yogi, instructor, seeker