Dad's Chicken Cacciatore
During my adolescent years I spent succulent summers at Bethany Beach, Delaware, body surfing, riding waves of hormones, pretending to be the man I wanted to become. My dad ruled the small kingdom of Beachcombers Flat, the nest and crash pad for the family. One unbroken rule of beach life was that Dad did the cooking, the kids did the cleaning up and the dishes, and Mother rested.
My father’s style of cooking can be best described as intuitive, inventive, passionate and chaotic. When he gathered beach plums for the yearly batch of jam, day after day large pots of the warlock’s brew simmered on the stove, and the kitchen looked like the playpen of a child who had spilled purple paint.
Whenever guests were expected, Dad would begin early in the morning to make Chicken Cacciatore. The largest skillets and pots came out. Mountains of chicken were cut up and browned in olive oil with as much garlic as was available in southern Delaware. Whole fields of tomatoes, onions, celery, peppers and mushrooms disappeared into the caldron, in no particular order or proportion. Salt, pepper, basil and varieties of spices, unknown to the Frugal Gourmet were added - to taste. Always to taste. Every hour or so, the concoction was tasted and discerning comment was gathered from any family member or visiting friend who happened by.
As the sun lost its intensity, the sea grew calm and emerald -- the dinner hour arrived. What I remember most was the appetite we brought to the table, the rich simmered symphony of the Cacciatore, the profusion of talk, the plenty-for-all, sweet chaos of the feast around the kitchen table -- the wine and wafer of food prepared with wild love.
Makes 10 to 12 servings
Olive oil, as needed
4 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped along with their juices
3 ounces tomato paste
1 pound mushrooms
3 medium red onions
4 stalks celery
1 green bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
4 cloves (or more, to taste) garlic minced
Salt and pepper to taste Chicken broth, as needed
1/2 cup minced fresh basil
Warm homemade corn bread,for serving
Cut up chickens into serving pieces; discard skin and wing tips. Pour olive oil into a large frying pan. Brown the chicken in batches, adding more olive oil as necessary. Transfer the pieces as you brown them into a large pot. To the pot add tomatoes and tomato paste.
Prepare vegetables as follows: slice carrots and mushrooms, chop onions, celery, green and orange bell peppers. Add the vegetables to the pot with the chicken and tomatoes along with minced garlic, salt and pepper. Stir, and if the liquid does not cover the ingredients, add some chicken broth as needed. Cover, and simmer over very low heat while you spend a lazy afternoon doing nothing in particular, or until the chicken is tender and begins to fall off the bones.
To serve, remove the chicken bones from the pot. Stir in the minced fresh basil. Serve in bowls, accompanied by warm homemade corn bread. Give thanks before eating.