Who else out there considers themself a book worm? I know there are plenty of you. As a kid, I loved getting lost in the pages of a book, learning about our world and its history, and meeting characters who showed me who I did and didn’t want to be. As an adult, I love being able to challenge my thinking, sit with those new thoughts, identify authors who speak to me, and escape the parameters of my own life.
I tend to be a more serious person than I’d sometimes like to be and, as such, I often ready pretty heavy books. My Goodreads lists (let’s be friends!) most definitely lean toward non-fiction and historical fiction. Historical fiction, in particular, really gets me going, especially when it helps me expand my understanding of history through the eyes of women and children. In the past few years, I’ve learned the value of reading books that fill my soul, help me relax, and bring me laughter. Admittedly, much of this is still through historical fiction or fiction that is heavily influenced by the place and time of its setting. I am who I am, I suppose.
The book I just finished was a truly delightful read about four women in World War II England who are competing to be the cohost of the BBC’s famed radio show, The Kitchen Front. The programme (no other way to spell it, right?) aimed to help wartime cooks make the best of rations, substitutions, and foraged ingredients. In The Kitchen Front: a Novel, one of the contestants is a cook in a manor house who comes in contact with an Italian POW being held in service at that manor. He teaches her to use ingredients found around the manor’s fields to make coniglio alla cacciatora–wild hare cooked with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and herbs. In the States, it’s more commonly made as chicken cacciatore and, by the end of the book, I had a massive craving for it.
Thankfully, the weather cooperated and I had the first batch of cool nights to make my version of the dish. I combined two recipes, looking to New York Times Cooking for some updates and to Marcella Hazan for authenticity. I used boneless, skinless breasts because I had some in the freezer, though a variety of bone-in, skin-on pieces or a whole, cut up chicken are more classic. I served my cacciatore alongside the easiest polenta because, let’s be real, polenta is fancy grits and this Texas girl will always be happy with a bowl of grits on a chilly night.
Chicken pieces transform into something truly special when they simmer away in a deeply flavorful sauce of tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and herbs. Served over polenta, pasta, or ladled into a bowl on its own, this chicken cacciatore is sure to nourish and comfort your body and soul.
Chicken Cacciatore with Easy Parmesan Polenta
polenta from Food & Wine, March 2020
for the polenta (original recipe halved):
4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh black pepper
1 c. polenta or cornmeal
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
2 TBSP unsalted butter
for the cacciatore:
6 slices bacon, diced
up to 1 TBSP olive oil, if needed
3-4 pounds chicken pieces (your choice, breasts halved if large)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sea salt, divided
1 tsp. fresh black pepper
2/3 cup dry red wine
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 c. chicken broth
1/2 pitted Gaeta olives (Kalamata will work if, like me, you can’t find Gaeta)
1/4 c. capers
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
up to 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
minced parsley, Parmesan cheese, and more red pepper flakes, to garnish
- To make the polenta, bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir in salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and gradually add polenta, whisking constantly. Cover and let stand 45 minutes.
- While broth is coming to a boil, begin the cacciatore by frying the bacon in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the bacon into a separate bowl, leaving the bacon grease in the pot. If needed, add up to 1 TBSP olive oil and bring to temperature.
- Combine flour, 1 tsp. salt, and black pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly. Sauté the chicken in the same stockpot, then deglaze the pot with the wine.
- Add the cooked bacon and all remaining cacciatore ingredients (other than garnishes) to the stockpot. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for approximately 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed.
- Uncover the polenta and whisk to combine. Don’t be alarmed if there is some broth on top–it will come together. Whisk in butter and parmesan. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed.
- To serve, spoon polenta into low bowls, then ladle cacciatore over. Garnish with parsley, parmesan, and additional red pepper flakes, as desired.
yield: 8 servings