When I was a kid, chicken cacciatore was a common family dinner and I loved it. It consisted of cooked chicken in a jar of pre-made sauce on rice. It was an easy meal for my busy Mum to throw together mid-week for her picky kids (well to be honest I was the picky one, my brother was the easy kid). Recently I started craving it again after many years, but I wanted to make a more authentic version of this Italian nomfest. After cooking from scratch for the past few years, I just can’t go back to sauce from a jar – it just tastes like preservatives, sugar and salt to me. I’ve gone and spoiled myself.
The base ingredients are: white meat, onion, capsicum, garlic, white wine (Northern Italian style) or red wine (Southern Italian Style) and herbs. In my opinion most Italian and French food is better when started with a mirepoix, so I have added celery and carrots to the onion base. A lot of recipes will include mushrooms (which a hunter could easily gather from the forest) but I hate them so you won’t find any mushrooms here. Rosemary and other woodsy herbs are also more traditional, but I was keen to harvest some of our basil so I opted for this instead. The other non traditional addition was asparagus, just because I love it so much and couldn’t help myself. Omit it if you want to stick to a more authentic recipe. I also threw in some leftover cherry tomatoes, but did not include this in the recipe because they are not necessary. This meal is traditionally served on pasta or polenta, but we chose to serve it on brown rice. It adds a nutty flavour and doesn’t bloat me up like a balloon like pasta does.
I made this in big batch style on a Sunday night to serve both of us for three to four week nights (depending on serving size), but just halve the recipe if you don’t want to make such a big batch. Alternatively just freeze the leftovers.
- 4 large lean chicken breasts, diced roughly into whatever size you fancy
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1/2 red onion, sliced
- 2 celery sticks, diced
- 1 large red capsicum, sliced
- 6 spears of fresh asparagus – woody ends removed, chopped into 1 inch segments
- 150g pancetta, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
- 2 x 400g cans of whole peeled Italian tomatoes
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups pitted kalamata olives (depending on how much you love olives)
- 4 tbs drained capers
- 2 tbs wholemeal flour (or plain if your prefer)
- Salt and pepper
- 2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
- 2 x bay leaves
Other spins: Slow cook this rather than cooking it on a stove top. The longer this meal cooks, the more flavoursome it is. If you are short on time, then just bring it to the boil and simmer it with the lid off until thickened to speed it up – this will halve the cooking time, but at the expense of less flavour development. Swap out the chicken for another white meat, or even use a whole chicken in there for a real hunter’s style. Swap the pancetta for bacon or proscuitto, or else leave it out altogether. Swap the basil for rosemary, sage and/or thyme for a different flavour. Swap to Red wine for a Southern Italian flavour – it will taste totally different this way. Skip the miropoix and just start with the onion. Or get creative and spin it another way I haven’t thought of….how long is a piece of string?
- Start by making the mirepoix – cook the onion, celery and carrots in as small an amount of oil as you can get away with over medium heat until the onion is transparent and the other vegetables have softened.
Stir in the pancetta in the last few minutes to allow it to start to crisp and garlic in the final minute.
- Meanwhile, add flour, salt and pepper to a large bag. Shake the chicken in the flour mix until lightly coated. You may need to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your bag. I find oven bags pretty good for this task.
- Add chicken to pan, brown on all sides.
- Add the white wine and simmer the chicken in this for about 5 minutes or until the wine has reduced. This will make your chicken deliciously tender – mmmm.
- Add stock, capsicum, tins of tomatoes, bay leaves, Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for (at least) one hour on low-medium heat.
- Take the lid off, add the asparagus, fresh basil leaves, olives and capers. Continue to simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
- Serve on pasta, polenta, mashed potato, or rice, or even with a side salad. However you like it!