Classic Italian: Chicken Cacciatore

When I sent Nancy DeStefanis an email confirming that she was signed up for the Pomodori!~Tomatoes in the Italian Kitchen workshop at the Italian Consulate she asked that I include chicken cacciatore in the line up. If you know Nancy, you also know that she's a larger than life local hero, committed to the welfare of great blue herons and underserved youth and that she's not one to whom one can say no.

"Alla cacciatora" means hunters' style in Italian, and therein lies the problem: there are about as manyversion of this dish as there are hunters in Italy. I narrowed it down to one with tomatoes, given the class's subject matter and Nancy also said her mom's had mushrooms and I so happened to have a jar of dried porcini sent straight from Umbria by a friend.

May I present then, my version of chicken cacciatore. Enjoy!

By the way, if you are free this Saturday, Nancy is leading a heron's nesting watch in Golden Gate Park.


Pollo in umido alla cacciatora

Chicken braised with tomatoes and mushrooms

for 4 people

1/4 cup dry mushrooms (ideally porcini)

1 smallish chicken cut in 8 pieces (about 3 pounds, or you can also use thighs)

salt to taste

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 medium yellow onion

2 slices pancetta

2 very ripe large tomatoes

olive oil

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup dry red wine

pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms in hot water.

Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and leave on the counter to come to room temperature.

In the meantime, chop the carrot, celery and onion finely.

Mince the pancetta into a paste.

Score the tomatoes and immerse them in boiling water for about 30 seconds.

Fish them out of the pot and run them under cold water. Peel them, remove the seeds and chop them into a rough dice.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and add the carrot celery and onion with the bay leaves and a generous pinch of salt.

Soften over medium lively heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Transfer the aromatics to a dish and set aside.

Add the pancetta to the same pan and let render for 2 to 3 minutes.

Brown the chicken pieces in the pancetta in one layer. Do this in batches if needed.

Return all the chicken to the sauté pan and deglaze with the wine.

Once you no longer smell the acidity of the wine, return the carrot, celery and onions to the chicken.

Drain the mushrooms and squeeze the excess water, add them to the sauté pan.

Save the liquid in which the mushrooms have soaked and filter to eliminate dirt, if necessary.

Sauté everything for another 5 minutes. Add the diced tomato pulp.

Bring to the boil then turn down the heat to a low simmer.

Cover and braise gently for about 30 to 35 minutes, occasionally checking for water.

If necessary, add small amounts of liquid. The water in which the mushrooms have soaked is perfect for this.

When the chicken is tender but still compact and not falling off the bone, arrange attractively on a platter and cover to keep warm.

Adjust salt and pepper in the sauce and stir over the heat for a few minutes.

Pour all over the chicken and serve immediately.

Pollo alle Olive ~ Chicken with Olives

On Thursday night, I rented the beautiful Naked Kitchen on Valencia and taught a class of 35 delightful people how to turn an evening of cooking into boisterous fun among friends. Today's featured chicken was a last minute addition for those who preferred not to eat pork. It is simple and my husband adores it, yet I had not made it in some time and couldn't recall ever teaching it in one of my classes, yet all who had it raved about it and I was reminded of how it came to be.

It has been a favorite since 1988 when, not even 25 years old, I created it for a man I was sure I would marry. As it turned out, even back then, my instinct for food was far superior to my understanding of men.

Ted, the fellow in question, eventually married my beloved friend Olivia-aka the risotto queen, while I tortuously found my way into Ted's best friend John's imperfectly perfect arms.

Before you get all hot and bothered expecting salacious details...there are none. There was no overlapping, no hair pulling, no fisticuffs nor duels. The only strife happened at Olivia and Ted's wedding, when they could not agree on whose side I would stand-he won.

Today the four of us are still bonded by a deep, unquestioning affection and a long shared history of joys and sorrows, disappointments and successes.

Chicken and olives continue to be part of the never-ending conversation that is our friendship.

Olivia, Teddi, Johnny: here's to love and friendship. And yes it is forever.

Pollo alle olive in teglia

Stove top chicken with olives


for 6 to 8 people

1 chicken

salt to taste

1 cup black olives

4 sage sprigs

2 wide strips lemon peel

1 clove garlic olive oil

1 small green garlic stalk (or 1 clove garlic)

grated zest of 1 lemon

splash white wine

2 cups hot chicken stock

pepper to taste


The day before making the dish, have the butcher cut your chicken in 10 pieces and skin them. Instruct them to keep the back, as it will impart great flavor to the final dish.

Salt the chicken generously, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to start cooking, remove the salted chicken from the refrigerator and place on the counter to come to room temperature.

Rinse the olives well and place them in a small bowl. Squeeze them lightly with your fingers to loosen the flesh.

Pick the leaves off 1 sage sprig and rub them and the lemon peel strips between your palms to release their essence. Smash the garlic clove without peeling.

Add the rubbed sage and lemon and the smashed garlic clove to the olives then cover everything in olive oil.

Mince the green garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt and mix with the zest. Pick the leaves off the remaining sage sprigs and rub them between your palms to release their essence.

Select a sauté pan wide enough to accommodate the chicken pieces in one comfortable layer. Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in it and add the lemon/green garlic mince.

Set on gentle heat and add the sage leaves. Soften for 4 to 5 minutes stirring often to prevent burning and sticking.

Add the chicken pieces and bring the fire to medium to brown lightly on both sides, still stirring to ensure the garlic doesn't burn.

Raise the heat to high and deglaze with the wine. When you no longer smell the acidity, but just the sugar, pour the stock all over the chicken.

When the stock start boiling, lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan.

The chicken will need to cook for 30 to 35 minutes in a lively simmer. It will get quite tender. You will have to return to it often to ensure it is not burning nor sticking and has a bit of liquid on the bottom.

Discard the garlic clove and pour out some of the excess oil from the olives then add them to the chicken.

Braise for another 10 to 15 minutes, adjust salt and pepper. Transfer to a warm platter and serve.


  • I prefer to use back olives for this. Gaeta, nicoise, taggiasca, Kalamata will all work. Even the sun dried or roasted ones are suitable, though they will give a slightly different flavor
  • Use green if you prefer, the flavor will be tangier but still delicious and I'd probably go with an herb like marjoram or oregano
  • Either way: leave the pit in, it does make for a better flavor
  • Use a cast iron pan, if you have it
  • Crack the chicken back in half before adding it,  as cracked bones give depth of flavor to stews

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 5: cappone bollito con 2 salse

I am a little off with my countdown, I just realized. If my limited math skills serve me correctly, 12-5=7 but 25-20=5. Instead of cramming 7 recipes in 5 days, we will continue our journey past Christmas to make the best out of leftovers. And nothing produces better leftovers than the capon my mother unfailingly poached every Christmas. In case you are wondering, a capon is a chicken whose renounces his manhood-possibly not willfully-tobecome larger, fattier, tenderer, juicier and much more flavorful.

I am lucky enough that in San Francisco, I actually get to pick which butcher will do me the honor of purveying the ingredient without which Christmas just isn't Christmas for me, elsewhere in the US capons might not be terribly common, so order it in advance from your specialty butcher.


Cappone bollito con 2 salse

Poached capon with 2 sauces


for the bird

1 onion

6 cloves garlic

2 celery stalks

3 carrots

2 leeks

1 lemon

2 to 3 bay leaves

6 to 8 peppercorns

1/2 cup white wine

1 handful coarse salt

1 capon


for the salsa verde

1 tablespoon capers in salt

1 clove garlic

1 bunch parsley

1 lemon

3 to 4 anchovies fillets

thick slice stale country bread

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

splash of vinegar


for the salsa gialla

1 pinch saffron

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons butter

1 pint capon stock

1 egg yolk

juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper to taste


Peel the onion and spike it with the cloves. Peel the celery and carrots. Remove the green leaves from the leeks. Score them along the middle and remove the dirt under cold running water. Cut 2 slices from the lemon.

Fill a pot with water big enough to hold the capon fully submerged. Add the spiked onion, celery, carrots, leeks, lemon slices, bay leaves, peppercorns, wine and salt and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat to a simmer and lower the capon into the water. It will need to poach gently until very tender, for about 1 hour.

While the capon is cooking, make the sauces.

For the salsa verde: rinse the capers off the salt and soak them in hot water.

Pick and wash the parsley leaves, dry them well.

Smash and peel the garlic.

Grate the zest of the lemon and juice it. Drain the anchovy fillets from the oil.

Remove and discard the crust off the bread slice. Tear the remaining soft part in chunks.

Place the parsley, garlic, zest, juice, anchovies and bread chunks in the food processor bowl.

Drain the capers and add them to the food processor.

Lock and start processing while adding oil in a thick stream. Keep the motor running until you have a homogeneous paste.

Transfer to a bowl adjust the balance of salt, vinegar and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The salsa gialla will need to wait until the capon is almost done as you are using the stock in which it is poaching.

Ladle a pint of capon stock out of the poaching pot and filter through a paper towel.

Crumble the saffron threads in between your thumb and index finger into a small sauce pot and toast it gently for 2 to 2 minutes.

Add the flour and very lightly toast for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it around constantly.

Add the butter, It will melt with the flour and saffron into a deliciously fragrant, golden roux to which you will add the hot stock in a thin stream, whisking continuously.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens and emulsifies well.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the yolk and lemon juice.

Adjust salt and pepper and transfer to a cool container right away to avoid curdling the yolk.

When the capon is ready, drain from the stock and cut as you would a chicken.

Arrange in a shallow bowl with a few ladlefuls of the stock on the bottom to keep warm.

Place the capon in the middle of the table with the 2 sauces alongside it.


  • A capon can easily serve 10 to 12 people, for a smaller party, you can use a chicken
  • The stock is like a chicken's to the Nth power, you will have a lot since the capon is quite large, keep it for a myriad other uses
  • Keep the vegetables in the stock, we will use them in our Christmas leftover project

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 1: Timballo di pasta

Holiday cheer is uncharacteristically late in our household this year. Decorations just appeared this morning and the tree is yet to be trimmed-or purchased, for that matters. I figured I can at least be timely with gifting. My gift to all of you, the marvelous audience who has supported me from the inception of my teaching career and still cheers me every step of the way, will be a recipes every day between here and Christmas to give an Italian flair to the table of your winter holidays.

From the rapid and simple to the lengthy and laborious, these dishes are born from the marriage of traditions and creativity always at work in my Italian kitchen in California and they are the flavors without which the joy of Christmas just does not taste as it should.

Let's start the journey with timballo di pasta alla napoletana, an elaborate pie filled with egg pasta in a richly flavored ragout. It was part of last Sunday night's program at 18 Reasons and I posted a picture of it on instagram. I got so many requests for the recipes, it became the inspiration for these series of posts, thus the obvious choice for day 1.

This stunning dish shows up in many different incarnations in Neapolitan cuisine. I chose this version because it houses both animals found in Italian holiday meals: the pig and the chicken. The chicken moves sideways, plucking the last crumbs, making way for the pig that forges ahead, undeterred symbol of renewal and the advent of a new season.

Enjoy and share.


Timballo di pasta alla napoletana

Neapolitan style pasta pie


for a 9 to 10" spring form

for the shell

400 grams flour

200 grams butter

3 eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt


for the filling

1/2 cup dried porcini

1 small onion

1 small carrot

1 small celery stalk

2 mild Italian sausages

1 pound mixed wild mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

lard (or olive oil)

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup marsala

1/2 cup chicken livers

1/4” thick ham slice

1.5 quarts whole milk

3 tablespoon flour

3 tablespoon butter

1 pound egg tagliolini (or other egg pasta)

1.5 cups grated parmigiano


Make the dough for the shell by mixing the flour, diced butter, 2 eggs, salt and sugar. Work quickly. Divide it into 1/3 and 2/3 giving each piece a thick disc shape and let rest for about an hour wrapped in the fridge.

Soak the porcini in boiling water. Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. Take the sausages out of the casing and crumble it with a fork. Clean the mushrooms and slice them thinly. Strain the porcini and set the soaking water aside. Chop them roughly.

In a sautèe pan heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of lard. Add the onion, carrot and celery with the cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. Soften them until golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the sausages and mushrooms. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes over lively heat, stirring them often to ensure they do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

While the sausages and mushrooms are cooking, chop the pistachios finely and add half of them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Deglaze everything with half the marsala and when the alcohol no longer smells acrid, adjust salt and pepper, transfer to a large bowl and set aside

Wash the chicken livers well with water and vinegar, rinse them and dry them carefully with paper towels. Generously season them with salt and pepper. In a skillet over lively heat, brown them in 3 tablespoons of very hot lard.

Deglaze with the remaining marsala. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the livers are fairly firm to the touch and slightly pink inside. If they seem too dry during the cooking process, add small amounts of hot water to moisten. Chop them roughly and add them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Dice the ham quite finely and add it to the chicken livers, sausages and mushrooms. Set everything aside.

To make the béchamel, start by heating the milk.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, toast the 3 tablespoons of flour for about 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it continuously.

Still whisking, add the 3 tablespoons of butter in it and cook for about 5 minutes into a golden and fragrant roux.

Slowly whisk in the hot milk, pouring it into a thin stream. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce starts thickening. It will come to a boil and then shrink back as it thickens.

Cook for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, never letting up on the whisking. Now taste it: you should not detect flour, if you do, cook the sauce a little longer. Adjust salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Line the bottom of the spring form pan with a circle of parchment paper of the same diameter as the pan. Brush the sides of the pan with butter and dust them with flour. Move around to ensure they are well coated in flour then shake off the excess.

Roll out the two discs of dough to about 1/4”. Use the largest one to line the pan. Place the smallest on a plate and put them both back in the refrigerator.

Cook the pasta VERY al dente in salted boiling water, about 3 to 4 minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

Drain loosely and transfer to a bowl. Dress with the meat sauce, 2/3 of the béchamel and half the grated parmigiano. Toss well and pour into the spring form pan. Cover with the smaller disc.

Seal and crimp all along the edges of the pie. Whisk the remaining egg with 3 tablespoons of cold water and use it to brush the top of the pie. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in a 350˚F preheated oven.

Let stand for 10 minutes before springing it out of the form. Serve while still piping hot with the extra béchamel, grated parmigiano and pistachios on the side.

Fear of flying, roast chicken and marriage

I believe in indulging in negative feelings when they arise. For me, it is the only way to reason myself to the other side. But considering in the last 15 years I have boarded airplanes an average of once a month, my fear of flying is not an easy one to handle. I have tried everything to quell the slithering sense of mild anxiety that seizes me the 2 to 3 days before I take off for my long Italian summer break every year: from sleeping it off, to acupuncturing it away to distracting it out of my system. Nothing works. Pills can soften the edge, but they leave me foggy and unsure of where to next.

As I walk through this particular bout of travel related fret, I find it is more than the uncontrollable panic that being in an airplane can cause me (though those who experience it, will understand what I am describing). It is the unease of leaving behind whom, where and what make the fabric of a life I love.

The old friends who might need me through a rough patch, the new ones with whom I just started a conversation I do not wish interrupted, the students who enjoy my classes. The goods of the summer markets, my colorful loft, my neighborhood, my causes.

Johnny and Pie for blog

And of course, and most of all, my husband John. I have far from the perfect marriage. In fact, my marriage is being deeply tested right now. But our choices, our brains, our hearts, our laughter overlap on so much and so often, that I have known from our first kiss he'd be the companion of however many years there would still be for me.

I know he will spend the next two months buried even more than usual in his work, that he will be soothed and saddened by the echoes of a situation on temporary hold, that he will miss our child more than he can voice, that he will be relieved and pained by my absence at the end of a challenging year.


And though he will not make an effort to assuage my fear of flying, I know he loves me and that he alone knows the why of my wistful smile as we let each other go for a bit. His foibles make me love him all the more, so I strengthen the bonds the only way I know how, by cooking his favorite roast chicken.


Pollo arrosto con pane raffermo e verdure Roast chicken with day old bread and vegetablesPollo arrosto

for 6 people 1 chicken salt 2-3 thick slices stale bread in large cubes 4 medium yellow potatoes peeled and wedged 1 onion in chunks your choice of seasonal vegetables in chunks pepper olive oil 1 lemon zested and cut in half 2 garlic cloves a generous bouquet of your choice of herbs

The day before, season the chicken very, very generously generously inside and outside with salt and let sit over night in the fridge. When ready to roast, take it out to bring to room temperature.

In the meantime, season the vegetables and cubed bread with salt, pepper, lemon zest, olive oil and the juice of half the lemon. Toss well and distribute evenly on the bottom of a roasting pan. Place a roasting rack on top.

Season the chicken well inside and outside with salt and pepper. Stuff its cavity with the remaining half lemon, garlic cloves and herbs.

Place the chicken on the rack breast side down untied and somewhat splayed. Bake at 450˚F for about an hour, depending on its size.

When about 15 to 20 minutes from done, turn the chicken breast side up to crisp the skin.

When done (test by all the usual methods: loose leg joints, clear liquids from the thickest part), remove and let rest for 5 minutes. Carve as you usually would and serve on a platter over the roasted vegetables.


  • For this recipe, I have used everything from carrots, to fennel, to Brussels sprouts, to zucchini. Let the season be your guide. And the same goes for the herbs.
  • I have re-purposed many types of bread for this dish, from Italian to country, from baguette to pullman. I do advice leaving the crust on only if you like the crunch, otherwise remove it.
  • If you do not have a roasting rack, you can use a cooling rack or simply place the chicken directly on the vegetables.