People who write cookbooks are always asked where they get their recipes. Often they will claim that they are family heirlooms, handed down from one generation to the next. Or that they are dramatic new versions of golden oldies. Only occassionally will it be claimed that the dish is a pure invention. This is one of those occasions. That's right. I am the man who invented chicken cacciatore.
A word of explanation may be in order here. I invented chicken cacciatore in much the way Helmut Matuso invented the typewriter. Helmut, you may remember, spent 60 years in the Swiss Alps living as a recluse. During those long years as a hermit, Helmut was inventing a machine to make printing appear on a page.You would hit a button-say, the "A" button"-on a keyboard and the same letter-"A", in this instance-would appear on a page of paper.
Making the components of hand-carved wood and rubber bands, Helmut finally finished work on his machine a ecrire ("machine to write"). He carried it down to the main patent office in Zurich. Unfortunately, the year was 1974, and as he walked into the patent office, he heard the terrible clatter of electric typewriters. Helmut, incidentally, is back on his mountaintop, where he is working on a machine that plays music from revolving discs.
The full story of how I invented chicken cacciatore will follow. Here's how you can do it.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hald: salt, pepper, flour, confectioners' sugar, olive oil, garlic, thyme, oregano, eggs.
The Shopping List: Two frying chickens (cut into serving pieces); 2 large onions; 2 green peppers; 2 cucumbers, 1 bunch parsley; 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms; fresh dill; sweet white grapes (2 pounds); 1 small can tomato paste; 1 large can Italian plum tomatoes; 1 pound spaghetti; butter; 1 small container sour cream; grated parmesan cheese (4 ounces); 1 bottle dry red wine.
4:30 p.m.: Put 1/2 cup of flour in a brown paper bag and add large pinches of salt and pepper. Shake the pieces of chicken in the bag.
Place a large heavy frying pan over moderate heat. Add a chunk of butter and a splash of olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the chicken and cook until the pieces are browned on all sides.
Remove chicken from skillet. Add more oil and butter. Chop the onions and put them in the pan. Next, the green peppers also chopped. Two cloves of galic, minced. A large pinch of oregano. Another of thyme. Salt and pepper. Stir.
When chopped onions are tender, add 1 cup of red wine, a small can of tomato paste, the large can of plum tomatoes.
5 p.m.: Add the chicken pieces to the pot and cover tightly. Cook over a low heat, checking every now and then to make sure the chicken isn't sticking.
5.30 p.m.: Rinse the grapes and break the large bunches into small clumps. Beat together the whites of three eggs for just a couple of minutes, until they are thick but not stiff. Dip the grapes into the egg whites and dust them with powdered sugar. Keep cold until ready to serve.
5:55 p.m.: Rinse the mushrooms and cut away the tips of the stems. Add the mushrooms to the chicken for the final half-hour of cooking.
6 p.m.: Start a large pot of water boiling. For a pound of spaghetti-or any pasta-use between a gallon and 6 quarts of water. Add a small handful of salt and a tablespoon of oil to the water.
When water comes to a full boil-that should be in 20 minutes or so-add the pasta slowly, a small bit at a time, trying not to interrupt the boil. (Danger! Never cover a pasta pot-or you'll spend the next 10 minutes mopping up the stove.) Check for doneness in about 8 minutes; the spaghetti should be chewy but never tough.
6:15 p.m.: The salad. Peel the cucumbers and slice them as thinly as possible. Add a dressing made up of 1/2 container of sour cream, a large pinch of minced dill, a small shot of vinegar and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
6:30 p.m.: Check the chicken to make sure that it is cooked through. Serve it beside a generous helping of the spaghetti to which you have added butter, salt, pepper and the parmesan cheese. Serve the cucumbers on the side.
As you first bite into the chicken cacciatore, you may well wonder how such a marvelous dish was invented. Let me tell you how it came about. (Incidentally, you may find this an even simpler way of cooking the dish.) One day I found myself with a large quantity of left-over spaghetti sauce. As an experiment, I stewed some chicken in that left-over spaghetti sauce. A guest that evening smacked her lips and said, "My, this is a wonderful chicken cacciatore." And that is what I decided to call my new invention.