Cacciatore is a traditional Italian stew made with chicken or rabbit braised in a tomato sauce with vegetables. For this recipe, I’m using boneless, skinless chicken breast, but you could easily use thighs, go traditional with bone in pieces or even leftover cooked chicken (this would be added near the end of the cooking time so that it could be heated through).
There’s something about the combination of chicken and tomato sauce that works for me but you’re not limited to chicken for this dish. Sausage is nice or you could add a flexitarian spin and choose extra firm tofu or white beans. Alternately, you could increase the amount of mushrooms and forego the meat or tofu altogether.
We’re serving this skillet cacciatore over polenta. Polenta is a porridge or gruel made from cornmeal cooked in water or broth. It’s popular in Italy and Eastern Europe. You can buy coarse ground cornmeal which may or not be packaged as polenta, or use grits. Don’t waste your time with the stuff in the tube. The quick cooking variety works well for this dish but if you start the polenta before you prep all the other ingredients it will have a good 45 minutes to cook.
Whether you use water or broth, quick cooking or coarse ground corn meal, the method for cooking polenta is the same. Bring salted water to a boil and pour the polenta in while stirring briskly with a whisk. Four parts water to one part polenta is a common ratio. Continue stirring until the polenta begins to thicken. Reduce the heat to low and allow the polenta to simmer slowly.
At this point the polenta doesn’t require any more attention than the occasional stir to prevent the bottom from scorching. The longer you cook it, the silkier the polenta will become. Before serving, add a couple tablespoons of butter and/or parmesan cheese and salt and pepper if desired.
For the sauce, use your favorite spaghetti sauce– homemade or store bought it’s up to you. If you like the sauce, you’ll love the combination of ingredients cooked in it. I used dried herbs because I’m trying to use up my store. If you’d like to use fresh, triple the amount given.
- One or two boneless, skinless breasts cut into chunks (between a pound and a pound and a half)
- ½ large onion cut into petals (about 1 ½ cups)
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 green peppers, cut into strips
- 3 cups quartered button mushrooms (a small pack)
- 4 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 2 cups marinara style tomato sauce
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the polenta:
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup polenta (coarse ground cornmeal)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
- If serving polenta, add water and salt to a quart sauce pan and heat to a boil. When the water begins to boil add the polenta in a trickle while stirring briskly. Reduce the heat to a minimum and keep an eye on the polenta as it thickens. You’ll want to stir it on a regular basis to prevent the bottom from scorching.
- Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. You’ll only need enough to keep the chicken from sticking as it browns.
- Salt and pepper the chunks of chicken.
- Stir the polenta.
- Brown the chicken in the hot pan a couple minutes per side. Add more oil if necessary.
- Stir the polenta.
- The chicken does not have to be cook through, but it should be nicely browned on all sides. Remove it to a plate and hold.
- Add some more oil to the pan and sauté the onions, garlic and green peppers.
- Stir the polenta.
- When the onions and peppers have softened somewhat, add the tomatoes and mushrooms. Stir to mix all the ingredients.
- Add the tomato sauce and the dried herbs.
- Stir the you know what.
- Return the browned chicken to the pan. Stir again to mix and cover the pan with a lid. Reduce the heat so the sauce is bubbling at a gentle simmer.
- The cacciatore is ready when the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes for boneless chicken, longer for bone in pieces. Whichever you choose, it will hold at very low heat until the polenta is done to your satisfaction. Adjust the seasonings as you like.
- Add the butter to the polenta and give it another good stir. Taste and adjust the salt. Add pepper if desired.
- Serve the cacciatore over the polenta.
Have you had polenta before? How do you prepare it?