Authentic

A. adj. 1. a. Of authority, authoritative (properly as possessing original or inherent authority, but also as duly authorized); entitled to obedience or respect.

Tradition

4. a. The action of transmitting or ‘handing down’, or fact of being handed down, from one to another, or from generation to generation; transmission of statements, beliefs, rules, customs, or the like, esp. by word of mouth or by practice without writing. Chiefly in phrase by tradition.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that what is “authentic” to each of us, is what we have grown accustomed to; our personal “tradition”, if you will.

According to Mario Batali in his very good cookbook, Molto Italiano,

Chicken “catchatori” seemed to be a subset for every mediocre chicken dish ever served to me at restaurants in the ‘70s and ‘80s: everything with a mushroom or an onion in it qualified for the title.

Hmm.  Traditionally an Italian dish, like many others (spaghetti and meatballs, anyone?) co-opted into North American cuisine by desperate housewives in the 40s and 50s looking for anything with a new flavour.

Mom discovered chicken cacciatore when I was very young.  With four kids, living in a village an hour from the city, Mom and Dad didn’t get out for dinner very often.  Mom was known to very carefully savour and investigate dishes she enjoyed “out”, so she could recreate them at home (I’ve been known to “cheat” this way myself).

Mario would have definitely turned up his nose at the version Mom made.  We loved it in our house, though, and rather than go “fancy” for chicken cacciatore day, I phoned Mom and asked her for her recipe.  I also asked her if I could share it here.

Her answer:

Well, you need onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms, and green pepper.  You sauté that up with some [diced] chicken, some cayenne and some chili flakes.  You could use a fresh hot pepper if you want, I suppose.  I like it spicy but your Dad doesn’t as much.  Salt and pepper.  Then you stir in some tomato sauce, some tomato paste, some paprika.  Did I say salt and pepper?  You need some broad noodles.  Then you layer noodles, chicken, mozzarella in a pan twice, and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes.  Let it sit for 10 minutes.  I serve mine with salad and garlic bread.

This is the chicken cacciatore I grew up eating.  It is, in my opinion, the most authentic.  It is comfort food, to be eaten on a cold, rainy day, with family.  I serve mine with a salad, some garlic bread, and a good, strong wine.

This is my tradition.

E.

P.S. Apologies: due to unforeseen circumstances (I drank too much wine on Thanksgiving and left my camera at a friend’s place), I have no picture of Mom’s chicken cacciatore to share with you.  But I can tell you it looks absolutely nothing like this.

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