Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chicken Cacciatore, for when your brain hurts

During our 4th year in college, we lived in this gorgeous, old low-rise apartment building in Chicago. Unlike our current place, the rooms were ample and always full of light, making it a great place to have people over. Our dining room table was (and is) a well-used ikea number that doubles as a two person desk during most of the day, and we had more than enough room for two couches where you could often find my little brother hammering away at his 1st year English essays or Calculus problem sets. I would let him know that something yummy was on that night's menu, and that there would be more than enough to share (being as yet unwilling to experiment with the proportions of all these 4 person recipes. Without my brother to act as an appreciative garbage disposal, we have since become very good at halving every recipe off the bat), and he would wander over sometime after afternoon class and plug himself into our wall sockets for hours on end. D would drag himself away from lab and bring a graduate student friend with him, enticed away from experiments in favor of a non-cafeteria, non-eateria dinner. It was great. I really miss it. Unfortunately, neither one of us has a brother in D.C. and we live too far away from our jobs to casually drag unsuspecting colleagues home. Ah well, hopefully when we go to grad school in the fall...

This recipe, I believe, may have been what convinced D to defer grad school and follow me out to DC for a year. It's that good. Or at least, he reacted that positively when I made it for the first time in college... in retrospect that may say more about what I'd been serving him to date, but ehh. :) Chicken Cacciatore is like pure yumminess in a bowl, slathered in hearty tomato sauce over pasta. This recipe is hearty and flavorful and classic, without being reduced to some trite Italian reference. D inserts, "It's everything you like about a classic pasta sauce, but more. More spiced, more complex, deeper." The chicken is super moist and melts off the bone. We always serve it over noodles, to lap up that great sauce and to make the dinner stretch to feed 3 hungry University boys. Best of all, it's simple enough that even I, a super inexperienced cook (at the time) and nervous hostess (still), could pull it off without thinking twice. If I had to list only three culinary successes that we got out of that year, Chicken Cacciatore would top the list.

A quick word on the source. I clearly didn't take the photo above (notice the lack of pasta and the professional lighting -- definitely not me); it's the photo that accompanies the recipe in the "Real Simple: Meals Made Easy" cookbook. I really recommend it, we've had good luck with everything we tried. Unlike with most cookbooks that are marketed as "simple" or "college-level," these recipes have all been very flavorful, well-balanced texture-wise, aesthetically pretty, crowd-pleasers, and INTERESTING. I've heard some folks complain that Rachel Ray-type recipes are more "simple," but I find these recipes very clearly written, straight-forward in terms of steps and techniques, and really not requiring a lot of stressful juggling in the kitchen. And every one can be accomplished on a weeknight. The only drawback is that some of the recipes are less inspiring to me, mostly the "empty pantry" and the "no-cook" meals. Ah well, definitely worth leafing through in a bookstore!

Chicken Cacciatore with Pasta
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
kosher salt and black pepper
1 3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken, cut into pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced (eeh, optional)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme (more is always better)
1 bay leaf
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 lb pasta (more or less depending on how many you're feeding)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper. Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Working in batches, lightly coat the chicken in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Add some of the chicken to the pan, being careful not to crowd the pieces. Cook the chicken until browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; set aside. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Add the onion to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Stir the tomatoes into the vegetables, crushing them with the back of your spoon as you go along. Add the wine, and salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken, reduce heat, and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally.

In the mean time, cook the pasta in boiling water. When the Chicken is ready, remove and discard the bay leaf. Serve the cacciatore on top of the pasta and sprinkle with parsley.

Serves 3-5, depending on how many starving college boys you have at your table.

Check out the Presto Pasta Nights roundup at Once Upon a Feast.


Ruth Daniels said...

Great post and great dish! Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights. I'll have to remember to drop by if I'm ever in DC.

kat said...

I'll have to see if the library has that book, sounds like its worth checking out

Kevin said...

Chicken cacciatore is great comfort food.