I may have mentioned that my very good friend Shawn has been in Tuscany for the past 4 weeks. He has 1 week left and I know he must be experiencing a sort of panic because his days have flown and he can’t figure how he is going to have a wonderful time in the next week without thinking about the dreaded departure date? I’m sure it is very sad for him to leave but all I can think about is how he is going to miss the food. He has been keeping us updating on his daily life and from what I can gather, what he has for lunch and dinner is just as important as a visit to the Medici Palace! He waxes on about the prosciutto from the butcher shop and the fresh pastas, as well as the wine tasting he went to with his Sommelier friend from Cortona – wow, what a miserable time he must be having! I cannot stop thinking about his gastronomic adventures – I want to be there strolling to the bakery and from there to the local butcher or down to the fishmongers. Last night was all about Italy. I was going to make do with what I had – no special trips to the supermarket for squid or ricotta! It might be becoming clear that I keep a well stocked house as far as food is concerned, so I was pretty optimistic about pulling something Italian (sort of?) together! I assembled things from the fridge and the pantry and assessed the situation? I had 1 cut-up chicken, herbs, a tin of San Marzano plum tomatoes and of course some red wine? These ingredients would have to transform themselves into the sort of dish as to make me believe I was somewhere other than in my crappy kitchen? It happened. I made one of my best chicken dishes ever. I knew I was taking a bit of a chance using a whole 28oz can of plum tomatoes as the basis for my sauce as my children are still somewhat resistant to very tomato-y dishes. I went ahead anyway and decided to satisfy my own longings first for a change! I wanted to make a richly flavorful slow-cooked red sauce with a red wine layer, boosted with some very basic ingredients like carrots, celery and herbs – on the lines of a Cacciatore? The results were so unexpectedly good. Upon her first bite of chicken my daughter declared it to be the best she had ever tasted – high praise coming from a girl whose absolute favorite dinner is roast chicken with more of a brothy white wine based pan-sauce! My son made room for seconds and was very upset when there were no leftovers for lunch today – that says it all. If I was in Italy last night I feel quite sure I would have made this exact dinner.
You will need: 1 cut-up chicken (about 4 lbs with skin and bones and cut into 8 pieces – I used a kosher chicken which has been steeped in a salt-water bath – flavorful and tender meat), 3 stalks celery, 1 cup baby-cut carrots or two carrots sliced, 1 sweet onion, 4 cloves garlic, 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 tbs chopped fresh rosemary, 2 tbs lemon juice, 1/2 tsp chili flakes, 280z can (880g) whole skinned plum tomatoes (I used San Marzano brand), 3/4 cup red wine, 1/2 cup chicken broth, Freshly ground black pepper, salt to taste, 3 tbs olive oil.
Preheat oven 375*
Season chicken all over with pepper. Season with salt also if not using a kosher chicken (I have found it does not need it if the chicken is kosher) Put big saute pan on high heat and add 2 tbs olive oil.
When very hot add 1/2 of the chicken (don’t try to cook the pieces all at the same time or chicken will not brown) and cook for 4 minutes on both side until nicely seared. Transfer to plate and cook the next batch (you may need to add another tbs of oil). While chicken is searing do your prep-work: dice onion, slice celery, chop herbs, chop tomatoes roughly, squeeze lemon, slice carrots (if using baby-cut carrots slice down the length of the carrot.), finely chop garlic.
When chicken is done turn pan down to medium/low and add carrots, celery and onions and saute for 5 minutes until starting to brown and soften. Turn heat up to medium and add wine, garlic and herbs and cook until wine reduces by half (about 5 minutes). Add tomatoes, chicken stock, lemon juice and chili flakes and bring liquid to a full simmer. Add the chicken and spoon the sauce all over the chicken.
Turn off heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook in oven for 45 minutes. Take out and remove breasts to a big plate, cover with foil and return pan to oven and cook for another 15 minutes until the dark meat is very tender. Remove pan and transfer all chicken to the plate and cover. Take lid off of pan and cook at a simmer on the stove-top for about 10 minutes so the sauce thickens and intensifies. Taste sauce for salt and pepper.
Turn off heat and let the sauce cool for 5 or so minutes before serving. I served this with basmati rice.