tomatoes in Italian cooking

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.

Discover hydroponic waterboarding, travel to Italy and eat tomatoes filled with rice and basil

For those of you eager for my recipes, feel free to skip today's anecdote about family life, but do click here to join me on an adventure to DISCOVER MAREMMA, one of Italy's best kept secrets. The trip is scheduled for the 3rd week in September. My 5th grader told me Thursday morning he needed a total of 20 small potted plants of 4 different kinds to conduct and experiment that would start exactly at 12:40pm.

We rushed to the local garden center to acquire the plantlings while I prodded for details. Ernesto and his classmates had devised 4 different hydroponic environments in which to observe how the same plant reacted. Why 5 of each then? He needed a control living in an ideal environment, he then explained the numbers/letters cross referencing grid he drew to chart the progress of the trial.

The ideal environment? "Soil, of course", Ernesto said. Then he gathered a couple of different kind of vinegars and asked that we stop to get a sports drink on the way to school. By Tuesday, I should know exactly what age balsamic is best to kill an organic basil plant in 48 hours or less.

Boston Participation medal
Boston Participation medal

This charmingly fallacious study in plant waterboarding may have in part been inspired by my excitement about Caleb Harper's CityFarm project, at which I got a first row look last week when I spoke at MIT MediaLab as one of the panelists who considered the intersection of tradition and innovation in large scale food production.

Plants waterboarding

Plants waterboarding

If I can get my kid to forego the vinegars and sports drinks, our loft might even see its own vertical farm soon. In the meantime, I managed to save one of the basil plants for this oven friendly tomato dish I so adore.


Pomodori al riso con patate

Rice filled tomatoes with potatoes

for 6 people

6 round cluster tomatoes

salt to taste

1 garlic clove

lots of fresh basil leaves

9 tablespoon rice

olive oil

2 to 3 medium size yellow potatoes

pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes and cut a thin disk off the stem side of each tomato. Set the disks aside as you will use them later as a lid.

Using a melon baller or a small spoon, remove the pulp and seeds of the tomato, leaving a shell of skin and flesh. Salt the interior of the tomato shells and place them open side down to drain on paper towels.

Discard the harder parts and save the softer, more liquid part of the pulp.

Chop the garlic roughly and tear the basil leaves with your hands.

Place the saved tomato pulp, garlic and basil in the food processor or blender. Add a quantity of water equal to about 1/3 of the liquid you already have and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and blend for a couple of minutes

Peel the potatoes and cut each in 8 long wedges. Season them with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Spoon 1.5 tablespoons of rice in each tomato shell, then fill to the brim with the blended tomato mixture. Mix using the back of the spoon and top with more liquid if needed.

Arrange the tomatoes in a baking dish lined with parchment paper and cover each with the "lids" you set aside.

Stick the potato wedges in between the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some salt and drizzle with olive oil. Everything should be quite snug in the baking dish.

Bake at 350˚F for about an hour. The rice and potatoes should both be thoroughly cooked and the tomato skins a little wrinkly. They are best served between warm and room temperature and are a perfect midnight snack.

NOTES

  • My mother taught me that the best tomatoes for this are what I know as costoluti-meaning they have costole-ribs. See their picture below, if you find them. most definitely use them, as their sweet flesh and thin skin definitely pays off.