When my sister mentioned earlier this week that chicken cacciatore means “The Hunter’s Meal,” I knew I had to try making it again. I’d first tried my hand at it when I was 22, a grad student freshly uprooted from family, cooking my way through the one cookbook I trusted. Sometimes good things in life happen at the wrong time and slip by unappreciated. Likewise, chicken cacciatore was a good meal that came at a time when I hadn’t yet learned to sink into the process of cooking (instead of just sinking a fork into the result). I also hadn’t cultivated a taste for the flavors of traditional Italian food, beyond the marinara sauce.
That phrase– hunter’s meal– was an invitation to re-imagine this dish a decade later, to go back to the cutting board, to roast chicken and vegetables anew. The phrase brought to mind stone hearths and damp woolen jackets, muddy leather boots, and a motley pack of terriers and retrievers settling beside the stove.
Actually, I think it’s Wuthering Heights I’m picturing there. Wrong country. But this meal does have an Old World flavor that takes you back across the centuries, just like the pages of a classic novel will. And perhaps it’s necessary to imagine such old time scenery as you make it, tasting as you go, adjusting herbs and spices, throwing in the vegetables of the season, perfecting a dish that would satisfy someone who’s just spent the day in the wilderness.
Chicken cacciatore makes a flavorful and flexible meal. It’s not a meal you can throw together in ten minutes with half a mind on the paper due the next morning. But the process rewards you. There are colorful vegetables, a rush of garlic, the sweet smell of spiced wine filling the house as it simmers.
One step that does save time while adding flavor is to make (or even can) bruschetta ahead of time. This bruschetta recipe, which Rachel VanDuzer of Rachel’s Farm Table demonstrated at Wolff’s Apple House earlier this summer, bursts with tomato and basil flavor. So make this bruschetta, stick it in the fridge early in the week or can it when your tomato plants are at their most productive, and then erase the memory of all that work and start fresh with the chicken cacciatore recipe.
The hearty flavors of this classic Italian meal would be especially good with chicken that has not been rushed to grow up. Chickens from Canter Hill Farm in Malvern, whose meat Wolff’s has just started carrying, are slower-growing chickens raised on pasture. Like the best farms of yesteryear, Canter Hill Farm moves its chickens to fresh pasture every day.
So with all of these valuable ingredients coming together, it’s time to slow down time and make a delicious full-flavored hunter’s meal.
- 2 cups red bell peppers
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
- 1 large red onion, sliced
- 5 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- About 5 pounds chicken breast, thigh and drumsticks (or cut up whole chicken)
- 1½ tablespoons rosemary
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped, or use small leaves.
- ½ cup dry Italian wine, such as Chianti
- 4 cups bruschetta (divided)
- 1 cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup drained artichoke hearts, chopped
- 1 pound whole wheat penne, cooked
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- In a large bowl, combine 1 cup bruschetta, mushrooms, peppers and onion and add vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and a sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir gently.
- Spread this mixture in a rimmed cookie sheet and roast about 50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until onions are browned and vegetables are no longer crisp.
- Remove from oven and set aside. Set oven heat to 350°F.
- In a bowl, combine chicken, 1 tablespoon rosemary and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat.
- Add chicken and brown on each side (5-6 minutes per side). Remove chicken to a glass roasting pan and set aside.
- Deglaze the pan with wine, boiling the wine until reduced by half and scraping up the browned scraps on the bottom of the pan. (This should go quickly.)
- Stir in remaining bruschetta and chicken broth. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
- Pour sauce over chicken and roast 25-35 minutes or until chicken temperature has reached 165°F.
- Stir in roasted vegetables and artichoke hearts and return to oven for 5 minutes.
- After cooking, sprinkle ½ tablespoon rosemary, basil, salt and pepper on top. Serve over penne pasta.
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