If you don’t know Sheila yet, you’re going to love her when you get to know her. She is a delightful woman with a passion for loving others through the gift of food. Every Friday on her blog Eat2Gather she invites everyone – whether blogger or reader – to share a favorite recipe, meal, or food that’s a favorite to share with others. It can be simple or complicated, long-winded or just a few words. It’s up to you. But most important, is that it shows how you love others through the gift of food.
Today, I would like to share one of my favorite dishes to make…
This was a staple growing up in my home. Today, it is my frequent go-to dish for family Sunday dinners as well as a dish to share with friends when they are in need of a home-cooked meal to be delivered to their front door.
Cacciatore, in Italian, means “Hunter” with alla cacciatore meaning “Hunter-style” and originated among Italians in central Italy starting around the mid-1400′s. Cooks needed to create a dish that could make good use of what the hunter brought home…often a rabbit instead of a chicken…that could be slow-cooked to tenderize a possible tough piece of meat. Today, most cacciatores are made using chicken pieces braised on medium low heat in a mixture of vegetable, tomatoes, and their juices.
This is quick to make – the bulk of the cooking time is left to the stove top – and it will feed an army…or a family with lots of hungry kids! It also re-heats well, making for great leftovers. So let’s get started…
One caveat…as those of you who know me well, I am very much an intuitive or improvisational cook and not one to provide detailed recipes…but I’ll do my best here…
But it’s also my hope, that my sweet friends and dear readers, will not feel the pressure of having to follow a very exacting recipe but instead will venture forth to experiment, knowing that it’s OK to substitute this or that, to use what is in season or on sale at the market…and most important…to understand that nothing is set in stone. What matters is to enjoy the process – “the means” – not just the end. (And I’m confident that in your capable hands…”the end” – your final dish…the one that you have created – will come out delicious!)
First, I like to start with a whole chicken that I cut up myself. But you can really use any parts of the chicken and you can buy them all ready cut up. What I do recommend is that you use cuts of chicken that are on the bone. The bone imparts, not only nutrition, but also flavor. And besides, if you use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the meat will be dry. (Not to mention that they are usually rather expensive.)
Once you have your chicken pieces ready, salt and pepper each piece, then dredge them in flour (I like Wondra flour for this purpose because it has a fine texture). Brown each piece in some olive oil and butter – maybe about 2 tablespoons of each – in a large Dutch oven (about 7 quart size or so) on medium heat. Don’t worry too much about how much oil and butter you use. This is not an exact science. Or, as Emeril Lagasse would say…”This is not rocket science!”
It’s more important to develop a love of cooking and receive enjoyment from the process rather than to focus on being perfect or exact. When cooking with love, the whole process of preparing meals for yourself, your family, or friends becomes fun and enjoyable…even – dare I say – relaxing.
When I worked as an attorney, I couldn’t wait to get home and roast a chicken. The process was so therapeutic for me. Even today, I wholeheartedly believe that cooking lowers my blood pressure! And it’s true even when things are crazy in our home…and I have to get dinner on the table fast before my husband and son go to forage in the pantry. I zone in on the rhythm of the whole food prep process which keeps me calm – even with a hundred interruptions.
Over time, with a little practice, most home cooked meals will turn out just fine. The secret to preparing a tasty meal is more about having confidence in yourself and learning about what you, your family, and your friends like to eat, than being a whiz in the kitchen. And – excuse me for sounding corny (but it’s true) – when everything is prepared with love, it really does make a difference. Your love can’t help but shine through.
Getting back to the chicken (oh my, how I digress!)…try not to crowd your chicken pieces as you’re browning them. They won’t brown if things get crowded because the chicken pieces will start releasing all their juices which don’t have time to evaporate. But don’t worry if this happens. Just take out a piece or two, allow the excess liquid to evaporate, then add them back in when the existing pieces have been browned and removed.
Once browned (but not cooked through), place each piece on to a platter and set aside.
I have to share a little story here…I have a friend, who while raising four boys, had to come up with a clever way to disguise food that might be a little burnt. Not unpalatable, but maybe just a little darker than what would be considered cooked or browned. This way, her sons would eat what she cooked and nothing would go to waste. Her expression for slightly overly browned food?…”All cowboyed-up.” Her sons thought it sounded very rugged and ate every last bite. I love it. So, excuse my chicken wing. It’s still palatable…just “all cowboyed-up.”
At this point, it can be a good time to deglaze the bottom of the Dutch oven with about 1 cup of chicken stock, white vermouth (or white wine), or just plain water. Traditionally, cacciatores were often made with wine as the braising liquid.
Scrape up the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and let the liquid evaporate a bit. Then add in 6 sweet bell peppers of mixed colors and three onions all rough chopped into about one inch pieces. You can also add a bag of baby carrots and some mushrooms. (I told you this can feed an army. )
Sprinkle everything with about 2 teaspoons of salt, a 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a tablespoon of dried Italian seasoning. As an alternative, you could use fresh herbs instead of the Italian seasoning, but I find the dried herbs – albeit a bit retro – really do hold up better in slow cooked dishes.
Next, add 2 large cans – 28 ounces each – of chopped tomatoes, stir to mix-up everything. (If you only have whole canned tomatoes on hand – that’s fine. Just break them up a bit with your hands before adding.) Place the chicken pieces back into the Dutch oven – skin side up – on top of all the veggies. Put on the lid, turn the stove-top to medium low, and let the whole thing simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half.
When it’s done (the chicken should be falling off the bone and the veggies should be tender but still with a bit of bite – not limp), remove the chicken and veggies and place them on top of a big bowl of spaghetti, cooked al dente. Bring the liquid that is remaining in the Dutch oven to a boil and reduce by about half, taste to adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, etc.), then pour atop the chicken, veggies, and spaghetti.
I add a simple romaine salad and some garlic bread and the meal is all set to go…
Romain lettuce tossed with a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing
This garlic bread is so easy to make and it’s absolutely delicious. All you have to do is whirl up the ingredients in a food processor (or mix by hand) and then spread the luscious mixture on to thick slices of Italian bread that are placed on to a baking sheet, (I like to line it with aluminum foil for easy clean-up but you don’t have to.) and then popped into a 450 oven for about 5 minutes. Everyone’s oven is slightly different, so just keep an eye on them. When they look nice and toasty, their done.
All I do to make the garlic bread “spread” is take a stick of butter, 6 cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, and about a handful of my favorite fresh herbs (you can use about a tablespoon of dried herbs in place of the fresh.) and whirl it all up in a food processor.
When the garlic bread is done…dinner is ready. Enjoy!
Before I leave you, I want to share one more thing about Sheila that you might not know…
If you’re a fan of Ree Drummond, otherwise known as The Pioneer Woman, you’ll love this…
Sheila is cooking through the new Pioneer Woman’s cookbook titled: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier. And, in case you missed it, Sheila has already cooked her way through the Pioneer Woman’s first cookbook: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl. All of which are chronicled on Sheila’s blog.
As someone who struggles to follow recipes, I can’t help but applaud Sheila (and stand a little bit in awe of her!) for this amazing effort.