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In pursuit of delicious

May 10, 2010

I know it’s May and I should be craving delicate baby vegetables or whatever, but sometimes my stomach has a mind of its own. Sometimes my stomach wants wide eggy noodles topped with something rich and meaty, and sometimes my refrigerator and my pantry corroborate, by containing a jumbo pack of chicken leg quarters and a bottle of red wine that’s been languishing unopened since November, when I received it as a thank-you gift from the cast of Anne of Green Gables. And then I have to go find the recipe for chicken cacciatore.

I first made this dish about two months ago, in late February. I knew it came from a magazine, probably in a wintry month, and I had a hunch it was an older issue of Food and Wine. One containing another favorite recipe, since that was how I stumbled on this one — I’d skipped right over it in the first place, remembering how I’d disliked chicken cacciatore as a child (sorry, Mom). But this recipe looked different, its flavors simpler and brighter, and it seemed worth a try. Well, suffice it to say, I liked it so much in February that now I’m hankering for it again, totally out of season.

I think I actually picked up the right issue first, the one with this pasta recipe. But in scanning the recipe index, I didn’t see anything under “chicken cacciatore,” so I moved on. After checking all the winter months of three years’ worth of Gourmet and a year of Food and Wine (plus a couple of older single issues), I gave up and Googled it. Sure enough, it was in the February 2008 Food and Wine, but listed as “Spicy Chicken Cacciatore.” Hmph. Next time I’ll check the whole magazine myself.

While out buying a bell pepper, parsley, tomatoes, and a jar of peperoncini, I also succumbed to the wiles of a fresh-baked loaf of Italian bread (on sale for $1), a log of goat cheese (not so cheap, but made in Vermont, which is practically local), and a bag of radishes. I think at least half of my impulse grocery purchases are radishes. Somehow they never make it onto my shopping list, but then I see them in the produce section, so round and cheerful-looking, and exclaim, “Oh, right! Radishes! I LOVE radishes!” Because really, who wouldn’t go nuts for a little, bright-red vegetable with a cool, peppery crunch? They’re perfect. I eat them whole, in two bites, for breakfast, with lunch, whenever. I’m eating one right now.

tasty things

Back in the kitchen, I poured myself a glass of the zinfandel to enjoy while cooking. It was tasty, nicely fruity and a little peppery (whoever picked those gifts, I salute you), but halfway through, I began to feel a bit tipsy. Jacob quite sensibly asked if I’d eaten anything recently, and in retrospect I hadn’t, not since the fried eggs and toast I’d made for a late breakfast, oh, four or five hours ago. I cut two emergency slices of the Italian bread, slathered them with the cheese, and ate them with, of course, a couple of radishes. And some peperoncini, after I opened the jar. Mmm. That fixed me up pretty quickly, so I could deal with more important things, like browning chicken parts and slicing peppers and onions.

Anyway, about this recipe: it’s from a feature where three big-name chefs who also own markets were asked to come up with a meal from ingredients they sell, for less than $30. The chicken cacciatore was Barbara Lynch’s main-dish contribution, and it calls for a totally manageable list of pretty standard ingredients.

I make a couple of minor substitutions, based more on what’s available in my local supermarkets than actual preference: she says to use 8 boneless chicken thighs, but I’ve had an easier time finding bone-in thigh-and-drumstick combos, which are probably a little more flavorful anyway. She calls for a pound of ripe plum tomatoes, but Star Market wasn’t selling those in February (boo!), and I found that a big can of crushed plum tomatoes works just fine. Or half a can, and you can save the rest to use as a base for minestrone soup. Lastly, I’m not sure exactly what kind of pickled peppers Lynch uses, but my dad recommended peperoncini. Since they’re tiny, I’ve been using 4-5 instead of the 2 originally specified, but that hasn’t been enough to convey their spicy, vinegary character. I think maybe next time I’ll try the whole (12 oz.) jar and see what happens.

Oh, and Lynch says to cook the whole thing for a mere 30 minutes once all the ingredients are in the cooking vessel. Maybe it’s because I use bone-in chicken, but I find I really want a good 60-90 minutes to get the chicken fully cooked and delectably tender. The extra time also helps the sauce components meld into a complex, flavorful whole.

Spicy Chicken Cacciatore

Adapted from Barbara Lynch in Food and Wine, February 2008. Serves 4.

2 Tb. olive oil

4 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (orange or yellow is OK too)

5-10 pickled hot peppers (depending on size and desired spiciness), thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves (or 4-5, if you’re me), thinly sliced

1/2 cup red wine

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 lb ripe plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, -OR- some of a 28-oz. can crushed plum tomatoes

2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

1. In a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat olive oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to pan, skin side down. Cook over medium heat, turning once, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. (Unless your cooking vessel is huge, you will probably need to do this in two batches.)

2. Add the onion, peppers, and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Now is a good time to scrape up any browned chicken bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.

3. Add chicken stock and tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Return chicken to pan, skin side up, and bring to a simmer. (If you had to brown your chicken in batches, you will probably also have to stack the chicken pieces. Just make sure the top ones don’t get too dry — I like to spoon some of the sauce over them, which makes the skin too soft to eat, but I’d rather have that than dry chicken.) Cover partially and cook over moderate heat for 60-90 minutes, until chicken is cooked (insert a knife to test for doneness) and sauce is noticeably reduced.

Serve with any wide, flat noodles — pappardelle or tagliatelle would be lovely, but plain old egg noodles are good too. Just don’t buy Shure-Fine. They have kind of a weird texture. Not that I would know.

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