Chickens aren’t safe with me around. I like to eat chicken fried, roasted, stewed, and poached. I love chicken any time and any day and just about any way. The only chicken I won’t eat is canned chicken. Unfortunately for you my dear reader, you may get sick of chicken once this blog begins to age. Chicken recipes? I’ve got a million of ‘em!
I have an old, well-worn, often used cookbook called “The Regional Italian Kitchen” by Nika Hazelton. Almost every recipe I have tried from this book has been delicious. Last fall, right around this time of the year when we still have basil at the Farmer’s Market and the tomatoes and peppers are at their peak, I discovered a wonderful recipe for chicken. It is a chicken fricassee that features a sauce of red peppers and tomatoes. The flavors are wonderful and the dish pairs well with thick slices of Polenta.
Polenta is one of those foods that now have a reasonable fast food version that you can pick up at any supermarket. Polenta now comes sealed in tubes of plastic. I have to admit that I have bought my share of these polenta tubes in the past because they are easy to use and minimize any mess. The chicken fricassee is a little bit of a production number so I have to admit, I only made polenta once last fall and gave up on it after I burned myself and had to soak my sauce pan for a week to get the leftover polenta off. I wanted to make fricassee last night but I forgot that polenta was the side dish of choice. I did not buy the convenience tube. I did have a bag of polenta in the pantry. I made polenta from scratch, I did not burn myself but I did trash my saucepan. It was worth it. Homemade polenta tastes fresh and hearty. If you have time, I highly recommend doing the work.
The chicken dish normally calls for a whole chicken cut into serving pieces. This recipe is highly adaptable. You can use chicken breasts. I used 2 lbs of whole chicken legs last night (I should have used 3 lbs. The chicken to sauce ratio was a bit low). There are a bunch of time intensive instructions in the fricassee recipe like skinning the peppers or peeling the tomatoes. The recipe is fine without all of the attention to detail. Recipes for both the chicken and the polenta follow.
Chicken Fricassee with tomatoes, peppers, and capers (Spezzatino di Pollo Picante)
Adapted from The Regional Italian Kitchen by Nika Hazelton
6 tbsp. Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
4 large red bell peppers cut into strips
3 large tomatoes, diced
¼ cup fresh basil, minced (or 1 tbs. Dried basil)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste (or other vinegary hot sauce such as cholula)
2-3 lbs whole chicken legs (or 1 whole chicken cut into serving pieces)
Whole-wheat pastry flour for dredging
1 cup dry red wine
1/3 cup pitted black kalamata olives, cut into halves
4 tbsp drained capers
Heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil in a deep frying pan (big enough to hold sauce and chicken). Add garlic. Cook for a minute until golden. Add onions and peppers. Cook the onions and peppers over low heat until the peppers begin to get tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and basil. Season lightly with salt (the olives and capers are salty so don’t overdo it), pepper and hot sauce to taste. (The hot sauce should add flavor and a touch of heat but not make the dish too spicy). Mix well. Simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. During this time, heat the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan. Coat the chicken lightly with flour and fry on all sides until golden. If the sauce is still cooking, transfer the chicken to a plate. When the sauce has cooked for 30 minutes, stir in the red wine. Add chicken to the pan, making sure you cover the chicken in sauce. Sprinkle olives and capers over the chicken. Simmer the chicken covered for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is very tender. Serve with Polenta. (see recipe below the polenta picture)
Recipe from the back of the bag of Bob’s Red Mill Polenta
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 cups polenta
3 tbsp unsalted butter
In a deep sauce pan, bring water to a boil. Add salt. Add polenta gradually, stirring and then lower the heat to a simmer. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Use a long handled wooden spoon to stir, polenta tends to spatter and will burn you! Be careful! If the polenta does start to shoot out molten polenta bombs, you can lower the heat to just below a simmer. I did so last night and the polenta cooked just fine. Cook for 30 minutes until thick. At the end of the cooking time, stir in the butter. Oil a deep pie pan. Spoon the polenta into the oiled pan, smoothing the top down. Let the polenta cool for at least 10 minutes. Invert the polenta onto a serving plate. Serve polenta sliced.