RECIPE Pollo alla Cacciatora

Despite my 12.5% Italian ancestry and my lifelong adherence to the Azzurri I was a bit hesitant about including an Italian dish with people like Italian Foodie around the site. Still, Pollo alla Cacciatora is a great cold weather comfort casserole and a favourite that I cook regularly, so here goes…

Cacciatore’ means ‘hunter’. All over Tuscany and Umbria in summer you see conventions of these guys, clad in bright waistcoats and mad bearskin hats, and mingling with the backpackers, Americans-doing-Europe and Japanese happy-snappers. Everything I read about this dish tells me that, given a commonality of chicken, bell peppers, tomatoes and wine, there are umpteen variations so I’m no reason to suspect that mine is not authentic.

You can use any lidded casserole, ideally one large enough to put all the chicken into one layer. I use a Portuguese cataplana, a two-part copper/steel dish (imagine 2 woks clipped together!) of which I have 2 or 3. It enables you to brown the chicken and sweat the vegetables on top of the stove and you don’t need to transfer everything to an oven proof casserole. In addition the air-tightness of the cataplana helps preserve the rich flavours during the cooking process.

1 chicken, jointed. At least free range and as righteous as your budget allows.

1 medium onion, finely chopped.

1 bunch small carrots, topped, tailed and scraped.

1 stick celery, chopped.

3-5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine

1 bell pepper, red, green or a mix, cut into chunks

5-6 large flat mushrooms

350 ml good passata (or a can of chopped tomatoes)

350 ml red wine

handful of herbs – at this time of year (March) I use sage, rosemary and fresh oregano from my garden.

salt and pepper to season. I’d recommend truffle salt for this purpose if you have it.

Serves 4

Pre-heat the oven to 220 C. Brown the chicken. I usually leave the skin on but you can remove it if you wish. Remove from heat and reserve. Sweat the onions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic in the chicken fat (or olive oil) just until the onion starts to change colour. Put in the lidded casserole and place the mushrooms on top i one layer. Top with the chicken, skin, side up. Deglaze the frying pan with the wine and add the passata. Cook for one minute then pour over the dish. Cook in oven for approximately 1 hour. Remove, take the lid off, turn the oven down to 190 C and return the casserole to the oven. Cook for a further 15 minutes with the lid off to brown the chicken and thicken the sauce.

Serve with your choice of saute potatoes, mash, boiled rice or fried polenta and a green vegetable.