Mama’s Chicken Cacciatore
When your Italian mother cooked her Italian mother’s chicken recipe, you could hear the singing in Italy. Mama’s family came from Abruzzo, Italy to Santa Barbara then down to Ventura County to farm the lush soils of the Camarillo plain. Since they had their own chickens and tomatoes, the meals they ate were based on the freshest ingredients, made for hearty appetites coming in from the farm. And since they were now in California, sometimes a new item crept into the recipe. And sometimes old items were omitted. Here is the version that we grew up with, from the original recipe of Mafalda D’Orio. (I have embellished and edited where necessary for political correctness, 2012-wise)
|1 chicken||cut into pieces|
|1 onion||peeled, quarter, then sliced|
|1 green bell pepper||stemmed, seeded, membranes removed, sliced into matchsticks|
|2 garlic cloves||whapped with the side of the knife on a cutting board, then minced: the garlic clove held in one hand, and a sharp short knife in the other, Mama would make a series of parallel cuts lengthwise until she had a grid of deep cuts, then she would turn the clove sideways in her hand, cutting the clove against her thumb to produce a tiny mince. No garlic on the cutting boards, thank you, but be careful.|
|Fresh Italian tomatoes||these are Roma or San Marzano, more than a handful, less than an apron-full or about 2 cups when cleaned and cut up|
Have a fresh old chicken ready for cooking. (By this she meant plucked, etc. Old chickens were a little larger, and slower, than young chickens, a little tougher, better for stewing like this.) Wash in cold water. Cut the chicken into the usual serving pieces: legs, thighs, breasts cut into 2 or 4 pieces, wings. Set the back aside for soup.
In a large pot wide enough to sauté the chicken in: add enough olive oil to the pot (with her thumb over the top of the olive oil bottle, in a circular motion, she drizzled in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan). Then dry the chicken pieces, add to the pot and sauté over medium high heat until nicely browned. Add the onion and bell pepper, and continue until softened, and the onion starts to brown, and then add the garlic. Stir gently so the chicken skin doesn’t tear (use a wooden spoon).
Reduce heat; add tomatoes and enough water to completely cover the chicken. (Depends how wide your pot is, how juicy the tomatoes are). Simmer with lid on for 45 to 60 minutes, or until chicken is completely tender: older chicken equals longer cooking. The sauce should cling to the chicken and the vegetables should almost be absorbed into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread to catch the sauce. Wonderful with Charbono.