There are many different renditions of chicken cacciatore, all using a variety of different ingredients. I have tried many of these varied recipes, but I always come back to this very simple and delicious version that my grandmother (little Nonni) used to make. I have tried very hard, for many years, to achieve the exact taste of her’s, but somehow I always fall, ever so slightly, short. I know her secret ingredient (to be revealed later), but I still always miss the mark. After hundreds of attempts, over many decades, I have decided to blame it on the chickens. Yes, the chickens. They are different now, in taste, as well as in appearance. While I wasn’t looking, the chickens got bigger over the decades. They are pumped with hormones, so they are huge, and the taste is just not the same. While we have recently moved to more humanely raised, free range, organic, local chickens, there is still a difference. So the way I get this recipe as close as possible to what I remember is to buy a chicken that is as close as possible to what we ate decades ago. I stay away from the brands that use hormones, etc. to plump up their chickens, and I buy the smallest pieces I can find. Also, use the heaviest skillet you have. She used a big black cast iron fry pan that probably weighed as much as she did.
The thing about this recipe is the smell of the chicken cooking with all the flavors. It really is very distinct. We could smell this wondrous aroma when walking up the stairs to their apartment. I was under 8 years old but I still remember the excitement I felt, climbing the stairs and praying that it was indeed the smell of her chicken cacciatore. We would burst into the apartment and run to the kitchen to see that big, black pan on the stove with those succulent pieces of chicken, just oozing with juices amidst pieces of tomato, bacon and onion. Sometimes she would sneak me a small chicken wing just to see my delight. This is what she lived for….to see her family smile with happiness while enjoying the food she had cooked for us. I really think that she loved me because of my love of her food. She once gave me a standing ovation at the Sunday dinner table because I ate a dozen of her homemade ravioli (they were small). Did I mention that I was an overweight child? Did I need to mention it? What 8 year old remembers the smell of chicken cooking with tomatoes and bacon and onions and nutmeg (the secret ingredient)? Once I discovered boys, several years later, the only choice I had was to fake stomach aches so that she did not expect me to eat so much. I could not disappoint her by saying that I was on a diet. I don’t know if there even were “diets” back then, and I certainly don’t think there was a word for it in Italian. Anyway, better for her to think I was sick than to think I was denying myself of her food.
I hope you will try this recipe, and breathe in the luscious aroma while it cooks on the stove.
1 chicken cut into small pieces
1/2 large onion, sliced
4 slices of bacon, sliced or cut in cubes
grated fresh nutmeg
1 small can Italian plum tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil
Saute the sliced onion and bacon in the olive oil in a heavy skillet for a about 5 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and brown. Lower heat and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, turning often. While cooking, add lots (thats the best I can do, sorry) of grated fresh nutmeg while the chicken is cooking. Then add 4 of 5 handfuls of plum tomatoes, squished in your hands (no juice), salt and pepper to taste. Cook another 20 minutes on low flame, turning often. Feel free to add more oil if you need it, and certainly add more nutmeg.