Lola looks forward with great anticipation to her special day each month spent with my sister Sue . Pasta making was on the agenda this Saturday – something I thought Lola wouldn’t have the stamina for but Sue assures me she stuck at it and even made her own little batch.
I’m surrounded by good cooks in my family and amongst my friends and I keep benefitting from it – this time with freshly made pasta just when I was about to make a Chicken Cacciatore and wanted to serve it with buttered noodles, ah serendipity.
Sue has generously provided me with her pasta making story and I have included it at the end of this post for you information and amusement.
The weather can’t decide whether it’s going into winter or coming into spring at the moment but we’ve definitely had our first taste of the cooler weather to come and this stirs up rumblings for long, slow cooked meaty goodness, rich flavours and lingering over a glass of robust red. So Cacciatore was on the menu for a wintery weekend.
Chicken Cacciatore is of course a classic. My version is adapted from many and I make it from memory as it’s a dish I’ve been making since I could first cook. I used all chicken drumsticks this time because I wanted free range and that was all that was available at my local supermarket – and it worked very well. I’ve often used thigh pieces (or chicken chops) because they are neat meaty little pieces. Traditionally it’s Chicken Marylands (thigh and drumstick together). I ended up removing the chicken after cooking in the oven for just under 2 hours so that I could reduce the sauce to a lovely sticky thickness. I used red wine but I often use white for a lighter colour in the finished dish. Adding olives at the end allows them to maintain their texture while releasing their flavour better by being warm.
We had this dish twice and on the second night I did a side of Brussels sprouts – now that they are in season I just can’t walk by them at the market in all their resplendent bright green freshness without filling a bag to take home – especially the baby ones that have become more commonly available.
A classic liaison is Brussels sprouts with bacon and pine-nuts. Because my Mum was coming for dinner and for some strange reason doesn’t like pine-nuts (go figure) I used slivered almonds instead – also a very nice combination. I love the slightly caramelised taste of the brussels after tossing them in butter, bacon and nuts in a hot fry-pan.
1-2 Tbl vegetable oil
12 small free range chicken drumsticks (I don’t believe free range chicken tastes better but I like to think it’s treated better while it’s alive) or 4-6 marylands
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1/2 red and 1/2 green capsicum (or one small of each)
250g swiss brown mushrooms (large cut into smaller thick slices or whole button style)
800g tinned diced tomatoes
1/4 cup red or white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
2tsp of brown sugar
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 fresh bay leaves (fresh because I’ve got them growing in my garden but if you haven’t use 1 dried)
1/2 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped plus extra to garnish.
1/2 cup mixed Kalamata and Sicilian green olives (with pips in – you may recall my disdain for olives bought with pips already removed – unless they’re stuffed)
Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper then brown in a large flame proof casserole dish or large oven proof fry pan with lid until golden all over. Remove to plate.
Fry onion and garlic with chilli flakes (if using) and dried oregano,until soft and golden.
Add wine and simmer until reduced by half, then add tomatoes, stock, capsicum and simmer until capsicum starts to soften. Add mushrooms.
Simmer for 10 minutes or until everything is melded nicely.
Stir in fresh herbs
Return chicken pieces to pot and gently mix everything together. Bring to the boil, cover and bake in oven for 1&1/2 – 2 hours (check after an hour and see what you think – I like my chicken to be falling of the bone). After an hour you may like to take the lid off the pot so the sauce can reduce to your desired thickness (easier than lifting the chicken out at the end and boiling the sauce on the stove although this works too).
Serve with buttered noodles (home-made if you’re skilled or lucky enough to have some on hand – if not the Weichs Barossa Valley egg noodles are the next best thing) and Brussels sprouts with bacon and almonds (recipe below).
Brussels with Schulz Bacon and Almonds
Enough brussels for 4 people
1 Tbl butter
1/2 Tbl olive oil
2 rashers of top quality smoked bacon (my favourite is the Schulz’s bacon from the Barossa)
2-3 Tbl slivered almonds
Trim and halve brussels. Cook in boiling salted water until tender (about 4 minutes), drain.
Meanwhile toast almond slivers in dry fry-pan and remove.
Chop bacon into small dice, melt butter with olive oil in fry pan large enough to take the Brussels all at once and leave some room for moving them about.
With heat on medium begin frying bacon and when about half way done add the brussels and saute until the exposed sides are becoming golden and caramelised looking and the bacon is crisp. Add the almonds and toss through.
Serve as a sensational side
Start by adding one very addled aunt and one very enthusiastic 2 and 1/2 year old mini chef
Either make direct by hand onto the bench top by heaping the flour into a pile and make a large flat well in the centre or (more advisedly with mini chefs), do it in a mixer with dough hooks
Add 600gms of ’00’ pasta flour, try to get as much in the bowl as possible and don’t worry about the flour that is now all over the bench top, floor, hair, clothes and the cat as this will help coat the finished pasta by default.
Crack 6 very golden, large free range eggs and 2 yolks
Add one more egg for the one that was a bit too lovingly squeezed by the mini chef!
Clean up the lovingly squeezed egg from the counter, the floor, the mini chefs face, hair and clothes
Add a good ‘scrunching’ of Maldon Sea salt per egg (enough to cover each yolk)
Scrape up all the precious salt now scattered over the counter top and add a little more to the mix to compensate for the mini chefs pinch size
Mix to a ‘brought together’ consistency (really no particular method is best and makes no real difference to the finished product)
With strong arms or a strong mixer continue to mix (knead) either until your mixer struggles (at which point tip onto a floured surface and just go for it) or until it gets a kind of silky smoothness in texture.
It is advisable to break off a piece at this stage for the mini chef as it is apparently lovely to rub over your chin and feed to the cat!
Wrap the remaining dough you have assessed as OK for human consumption in plastic and rest for at least an hour
Unwrap dough. Cut into approx 6 same sized pieces and, in turn, pass each piece through your pasta maker on the widest setting, folding in half again each time, for approx 6 – 8 passes. The number of passes at this stage will determine the texture at the end (less passes for softer and more passes for a pasta with a bit of resistance)
Continue to pass through to about number 3 or 4 depending on your desired finished product, continually place the handle back into the machine and chase the mini chef at least 6 times to retrieve said handle
Hang out to dry allowing for several pieces to wander apparently by themselves into the living room and out into the garden
Once dried collect remaining pasta into an airtight container as this will keep for several weeks or months if dried well.
Return mini chef with pasta samples (now suspiciously coloured) to Mother along with enough fresh pasta for Dad to Oooo Ahhh over
If you are going to cook within a few days you can add some good olive oil for beautifully flavoured and silky pasta
For a twist, add cooked and well squeezed spinach (no stalks) or some pureed roasted capsicum
Oh…… allow at least 4 hours for process from start to finish or about 2 hours (which includes resting time) if just made by the addled aunt (not as entertaining though)