In the wholesome family cooking, there is nothing more appetizing than a so-called pollo alla cacciatora: chicken braised in a pan with various seasonings, the prototype of which is represented by the famous pollo in padella of Roman cuisine.
Ada Boni, Il Talismano della Felicità
The chicken Ada Boni is referring to as pollo in padella is braised in a pan with lard, garlic, fresh marjoram, tomatoes and white wine, one of the many recipes generically known as pollo alla cacciatora.
Every Italian region – but it would be appropriate to say every household – has its own version of chicken cacciatore, all equally authentic.
What makes a dish “alla cacciatora”? The meat of choice is that of a farmyard animal – not only chicken but often also rabbit or guinea fowl -, braised in a pan on the stovetop. It has a robust flavour, given especially by the thick sauce cloaking the meat. This rustic sauce calls for polenta, a crusty country loaf, or even a bowl of homemade egg noodles.
Chicken cacciatore can be cooked with tomato sauce, or without it – in this case, it would be called in bianco -, with white wine, red wine, vinegar or stock. It is a recipe born in the countryside, and as such takes advantage of the few seasonal ingredients that are easily available. Aromatic herbs, garlic or onion to give the basic aromas, sometimes accompanied by carrots and celery, as in the most classic Italian soffritto. Depending on the region, extra virgin olive oil, butter or lard will be used to brown the chicken. The season instead would influence the other ingredients, such as ripe tomatoes in late summer, foraged mushrooms, or preserved olives.
Its name, pollo alla cacciatora, means hunter’s style stew, referring to the habit of hunters to roast their preys with herbs, garlic, and a glug of wine.
For me, there is only one recipe, though, and it’s Zia Lina’s pollo alla cacciatora.
Zia Lina was my mum’s aunt, a strong, smiling, no-nonsense woman. She lived in the countryside near Barberino Val d’Elsa, in a farmhouse with a vegetable garden, an orchard, a vineyard, an olive grove and farmyard animals. When we visited her as a child, we would play outside with her granddaughters, and we would end up exhausted on the lawn laughing our heads off for nothing, looking at the sky and the clouds, breathing in the fresh air of summer evenings, the crushed dry mint and the jasmine tangled in the nearby fence.
Then she would call us from afar, and we would run to dinner, stealing pieces of hot rosemary schiacciata from the trays ready to be brought to the table as we passed by. We sat in a fresh cellar with a marble table and straw chairs. Chicken cacciatore was one of the dishes she cooked most often: at the end of the meal there was a thick, glossy sauce left on the plate, to be mopped up with the corners of Tuscan bread left on the table.
Pollo alla cacciatora – Chicken cacciatore
Recipe developed in collaboration with Cecchi.
The history of the Cecchi family began in 1893 with Luigi Cecchi, an extremely talented wine taster. The Cecchi soon became famous abroad for their skills. In the 1970s they moved to Castellina in Chianti, in the area historically renowned for the production of Chianti Classico, and there they began their winemaking adventure. In the following years, they expanded their production areas to include San Gimignano, where they produce a renowned local white wine, Vernaccia, and Maremma.
The wine we chose today is Storia di Famiglia, the protagonist among Cecchi wines. It is the wine in which the company identifies more. His high profile is the result of a long experience. The Cecchi family has always believed in that name that represents the past, present and especially the future of Tuscan wines. Red ruby tending to garnet with ageing, fine nose, the taste is intense and persistent, its structure is large and with a great balance.
To accompany this Chianti Classico D.O.C.G., we chose chicken cacciatore, a dish that for us has a strong sense of family, a recipe whose simplicity and straightforwardness well represent our approach to cooking.
The tomatoes in this recipe are the last ripe tomatoes I picked from the garden, peeled and crushed by hand. It was my personal goodbye to summer, a way to welcome autumn, the time of stews, soups, and rustic sauces, when the vegetable garden flavours mingle with those of the fire, of a buzzing kitchen, of a table laid out for a family Sunday meal.
- 1 chicken, about 1.2 kg (2.6 lb), cut into 8 pieces
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 75 (1/3 cups) ml, extra virgin olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 3 sage leaves
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 cup red wine
- 400 g (14 oz) peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 60 g (2 oz) pitted black olives in brine
- Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper and set aside.
- In a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Brown the chicken pieces all over, about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set them aside.
- Now, add the sliced onions, the minced garlic, the sage, the rosemary, and the diced carrots and celery to the pan. Season with a generous pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring frequently, on low heat, until the onions turn translucent and the vegetables begin to brown, about 10 minutes.
- Add the chicken pieces to the pan and pour in the red wine, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the wine is almost completely reduced, about 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and their juices and ½ cup water, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time, until almost all the liquid has evaporated.
- Uncover, stir in the pitted olives, and cook, uncovered, for a few more minutes, until the sauce is thick and glossy. Taste the sauce and season with additional salt or pepper.
- Serve the chicken immediately, or let it rest aside for a while. As with all stews, it will benefit and develop a more intense flavour. At the time of serving, simply reheat it thoroughly and bring it to the table.
Serve chicken cacciatore with…
Here is my menu to say goodbye to summer. It has already the warm tones of autumn and the smells of a kitchen that is slowly getting ready to prepare soups and stews.
- Barley risotto with chanterelles. An orzotto is just a risotto made with orzo, barley. Here I used chanterelles and a freshly made stock with dried porcini and herbs. The mantecatura of the risotto, the act of whipping the risotto with butter to make it creamier, is simple, made with the classic Parmigiano and a bit of fresh goat cheese.
- Roasted pumpkin salad. A warm roasted pumpkin salad with peppery rocket, black olives, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and toasted pine nuts.
- Olive oil apple cake. My favourite apple cake, soft and full of apples.
- Eleonora from Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino has a recipe for pollo alla cacciatora, too.
- Enrica from A Small Kitchen in Genoa has a recipe for Anchovies cacciatore, “alici alla cacciatora” in Italian, is a culinary nonsense.
In today’s newsletter, you’ll find more ideas for making chicken cacciatora, shared by my favourite Italian cookbook authors.