The first peppers of the season shining brightly in hues of red, orange and pale yellow beckoned to me as I strode through the farmer’s market last Saturday. I think of all the possible delicious dishes that can come of these golden jewels – open flame roasted and marinated, oven roasted with potatoes, sautéed or stir fried quickly, stuffed, grilled on the barbecue, made into a “peperonata” ….the list goes on. But one of my favorite ways reminds me of our glorious days at our beach house in Terracina during the summer and that is braised in a similar way a “chicken cacciatore”is cooked. My mother used to like to make it because it could be paired with spaghetti, polenta, potatoes, rice, or sopped up with lots of crunchy bread. Even though chicken was quite expensive, the dish stretched well and was oh so tasty!
The basic ingredients are simple: chicken, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic.
- One whole chicken fryer
- 6 peppers of various colors. Make sure the peppers have some “heft,” not too thin or they will melt away in the cooking process.
- 2-3 fresh tomatoes or 1 can diced tomatoes (or a combination of both)
- 3 tbl olive oil + 1/4 cup safflower oil
- 3-4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 cup white wine
- salt and pepper
I prefer cooking this dish with a complete fryer chicken because I don’t really like the way butchers break down the chicken in precut packages. I like the variety of the whole chicken, but this dish can be made with thighs or legs only, whatever you prefer. I separate the thighs from the leg and remove the wings. I take the skin off the thighs and breast pieces to reduce the amount of fat. I use the back and split it in two pieces. Even though they are bony, they provide extra flavor to the dish. I debone the breast (this helps create more portions and reduce bulk). I remove each tenderloin and cut each breast in two pieces. Finally I rub salt on all the pieces and let them rest as I prep the vegetables.
I slice the peppers into strips and set them aside. Chop the garlic and have it ready. If using fresh tomatoes, I sometimes peel them if the skin seems tough. Then cut them in half, take out the seeds, and chop coarsely.
Once the peppers, tomatoes, and garlic are prepped, we are ready for action!
- In a pan at medium heat, add a tablespoon or two of safflower oil. Brown the chicken on all sides, first the larger pieces, then the smaller.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and place in a bowl. Drain the pan of some of the fat without losing the bits of browned meat. Return to the heat and add the olive oil. When it is hot, add the chicken and the garlic. After 5 minutes when you see the chicken and garlic are beginning to turn golden, add the wine.
- Add the tomatoes once the wine begins to evaporate. Cook these for about five minutes until you see the tomatoes begin to break down. Then add the peppers and season with some salt.
- Add a cup of water and let the ingredients come to a boil for 5-10 minutes, then cover the pan. Turn down the flame and let the chicken and peppers braise for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on the peppers because you don’t want them to fall apart. If necessary remove the lid and let the liquid evaporate. You want a nice sauce, but not too watery or too dry.
This dish is so good in so many ways as I said earlier…with spaghetti, over polenta or rice. You can even add potatoes in the cooking to make this a one pot dinner. If you make it the day before serving, you will find its flavors mellow and become even more delicious the next day. Enjoy these last days of summer in the warmth of this dish!