Sunday: Sunday Sauce
Monday: Shrimp Salad
Tuesday: Spanish Style Flat Bread with Prosciutto with Tomato and Black Bean Stew
Friday: Spiced, Tomato-Braised Cod
Saturday: Margherita Pizza with Burrata
Sunday: Chicken Cacciatore
Retro-life and Cooking
It’s a nostalgic time at Casa Stuarti. Some of it sad – just this week we saw family members we had not seen since the beginning of Covid at the funeral Mass for Linda’s sister Jane. Some of it joyful – last week I had a chance to meet Teddy, son of my godson Peter and his wife Abby.
And before all of that, came the big event of the fall, SWMBO’s significant birthday, which reminded me of the long, happy marriage* we’ve had, and our children and parents and cousins and in-laws and friends. We had a grand party to celebrate her birthday with family and friends in the grillroom of a club we have known since we were toddlers – more nostalgia. Then I began to remember how we met, when the boys were born, our first house . . . In fact, I am now swamped in so much nostalgia that Beez has to remind me which day and month it is and rarely, but on occasion, that I have forgotten to put on pants.
*God, I hope she agrees. I originally wrote, “mostly happy marriage,” but then thought that that would not make it past her editing pencil.
Here are some pictures from the party (please note that I am wearing pants). . .
Well, all of this nostalgia and remembrance got me thinking about the food of our youth or even of our young adulthood. Things were different. There was no Aleppo Pepper or Sriracha or tofu on the grocery shelves. Beer was Iron City, or Budweiser, or Duquesne. Bread was white. And growing up with my 4 brothers and Mom and Dad, I remember dinners that were satisfying but might strike a contemporary as a bit strange. A favorite was sliced hard-boiled eggs on toast, smothered in Campbell’s mushroom soup. And there was this potato and hot-dog casserole that I would gladly pay for, today. But there were also dishes that were fairly sophisticated but have fallen out of favor, such as a well-seasoned Pot Roast or Chicken Cacciatore.
Pollo alla Cacciatora is Italian for Chicken, Hunter’s style. Apparently, hunters would cook rabbits they had bagged along with onions, mushrooms, herbs and wine, and their home-bound wives decided to cook chicken in this way.
In Mom’s kitchen, the only rabbit I ever saw was brother Jeff’s ‘Harvey’ and hunting had nothing to do with Mom’s take on this hearty dish which involved, I think, Campbell’s tomato soup (yes, the stuff that glops out of its can) to add a tomatoey element. Mom did cook hers with nice vegetables, including green bell pepper – crunchy, not cooked down like the Italians – but no mushrooms. In her defense, I must remind you that she had five boys and a husband to feed and the markets back in those days carried only canned mushrooms. And I just remembered that we purchased a minimum of 6 half gallons of milk each week – 3 on Saturday and 3 more at mid-week. Whatever we lacked in culinary finesse was more than made up in sheer volume.
And here’s a contemporary version of Mom’s Chicken Cacciatore with my own twist on developing a really crisp skin. It takes just a bit of cooking, and you have to allow time for the chicken to braise. My suggestion is that you do what the hunters in Italy did while waiting for their rabbits to cook – drink wine or grappa, tell jokes and recount old, but enhanced stories about the past and relax, which is pretty much a description of how we all acted at Beez’s birthday party.
(adapted from Food & Wine, October 2022)
Timing: 1 hour, 45 minutes
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (since most supermarket thighs weigh more than the 4 oz. called for in the recipe, I’ve increased vegetable volumes and raised the braising time)
½ cup chopped bacon or prosciutto (about 4 slices of bacon)
2 large celery stalks, cut into small cubes (3/4 cup)
Carrots cut into small cubes (3/4 cup)
1 ½ cup sliced shiitake mushroom caps
28 oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed
1 medium garlic clove, thinly sliced
Yellow onion, thinly sliced (1-1/2 cups)
2 cups chicken broth
4 thyme sprigs
1 ½ tsp kosher salt, divided, more to taste
1 tsp black pepper, divided
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry red wine
2 Tbsp canola oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Rice for serving (or polenta or braised greens)
Pat dry chicken thighs and trim, if needed, then salt and pepper both sides of thighs
Chop bacon or prosciutto – I cut bacon slices in half, lengthwise, then into 1 ½” pieces
Slice the onion, cube the celery and carrots and slice the garlic clove
Measure out the red wine and chicken broth
Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high until it shimmers, then reduce heat to medium and lower thighs, skin-side down, carefully into pot – I’d use tongs.
Sear chicken without moving until browned on first side – 8-9 minutes, then flip and brown second side, 8-9 minutes. Transfer to a plate – do not wipe the Dutch oven clean.
Reduce heat under pot to medium-low and add the bacon, then the garlic and cook, stirring until bacon is slightly crispy, about 2 minutes. NOTE: If you use thick-sliced bacon, you’ll need about 4 minutes – don’t put the garlic in until the bacon has been cooking for 2 minutes.
Now increase heat to medium-high or slightly lower (if you are using a high btu burner). Add the onion, celery, carrot and mushroom caps and ¼ tsp of salt. Cook, stirring from time to time for, until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes.
Now add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces by half, about 5 minutes.
Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and another ¼ tsp of salt, then stir in the crushed tomatoes with their juices. Bring to a simmer over medium, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce gets jammy, about 7 minutes. Now stir in the thyme sprigs.
Arrange the chicken thighs, skin-side up, in a single layer over the mixture and add the broth, trying not to soak the skin. Bring to a simmer over medium and then cover and turn to low and simmer, undisturbed until chicken and vegetables are very tender. (A thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh should register 165 or higher. This will take about 50 minutes.
Now use a wooden spoon to break up any large pieces of tomato, then remove the Dutch oven from the heat and recover and let rest about 10 minutes.
Remove thyme, taste tomato sauce and add salt to taste.
My twist: Heat the broiler while the chicken is braising and after resting the chicken, put the thighs directly under the broiler for a few minutes to re-crisp the skin. You might want to reheat the sauce while this is going on.
Serve with braised greens, polenta or rice. We used Uncle Ben’s cooked with chicken broth and butter and added broken-up walnuts and raisins just before serving.