We all like chicken.
~Malcolm X

Shortly after my fetching daughter’s glorious wedding in a mountain field, I felt compelled to write about rabbit cacciatore (July 24, 2013).

Today’s cacciatore recipe goes to show (as with coq au vin) just how many myriad versions exist of this rustic braise, so many of which are luscious. Really, what are “authentic” kitchens and “classic” recipes anyways — especially when your lands or regions have been invaded, conquered, occupied or colonized by other culture(s) over time?

For instance, tomatoes (pommodori) are often traced from origins in Peru, where they were domesticated by the Mayans and later cultivated by the Incas. These divine fruits likely entered Europe by way of Spain, after conquistador Hernán Cortés‘ early 16th century conquest of the flourishing Aztec city-state of Tenochtitlán, on a swampy island on the coast of Lake Texcoco in the valley of Mexico. When these globular red (often yellow) berries arrived on Italian shores, they were strictly a curiosity for those who merely studied or ruminated about plants, but not anything anyone would ever consider eating. Tomatls (an Aztec term) were considered “strange and horrible things” — aberrant mutants, even feared as poisonous. It was not until later that tomatoes finally were embraced in Italy as pomi d’oro, or “golden apples.” Imported tomatoes assimilated easily to the Mediterranean rim climate and finally became a vital part of Italian cuisine in the 17th & 18th centuries and beyond — over two millennia after they were first domesticated in South and Mesoamerica. The sometimes tortured path of food.

The notion of pollo alla cacciatore seems a rather amusing take on hunters who utterly fail to nab anything while pocketing hearty fare from home. Gentle souls, they must be.

And yes, Malcolm, chicken is unforgettably irresistible.

CHICKEN CACCIATORE (POLLO ALLA CACCIATORE)

4-5 leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 C all purpose flour

1 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 T extra virgin olive oil

3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t rosemary leaves, chopped
1 t oregano leaves, chopped
1 T fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Sea salt

1/2 C dry red wine
1 C chicken broth
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes in juice, diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C crimini and/or shittake mushrooms, trimmed and thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rosemary sprigs, for serving
1/2 C basil, ribboned, for serving
2-3 T capers, drained, for serving

Penne, rice, risotto or other pastas, cooked according to instructions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high in a large, heavy skillet until shimmering. Meanwhile, season the chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper and then dredge in flour, shaking off excess, so the leg-thighs are just slightly coated. Brown, in batches if necessary, for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl as they are done and loosely tent. Discard the olive oil and chicken fat from the pan.

Next, turn to a Dutch oven, place on medium heat, add the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and the onion, heirloom tomatoes, and carrot, as well as a pinch of sea salt. Cook and stir, until the vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, oregano, parsley and sea salt to taste. Cover, turn the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is barely soft and the garlic not brown.

Turn the heat back up to medium, stir in the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook while stirring, until the mushrooms are just tender.

Stir in the wine, vinegar and stock and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes, until the wine-vinegar-stock mix has reduced by about a third. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, so they are well submerged in the tomato mixture. Cover and braise over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the juices run pale yellow from the chicken.

Place pasta, rice or a simple risotto in large shallow bowls and place over a chicken quarter and ladle with sauce. Strew the rosemary sprigs, chiffonaded basil, and capers over the top and serve with a Sangiovese.

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Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.
~Fernando Pessoa

Records of chocolate use date back to the pre-Columbian Olmec culture, with evidence of the oldest known cultivation of cacao having been discovered at a site in the Honduras, dating from about 1100 to 1400 BC. Cacao beans from this tree native to lowland, tropical South America were used by the Aztecs to prepare a hot beverage with purported stimulant and restorative properties—with the white pulp around the cacao beans likely used as a source of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink. Chocolate was commonly reserved for the upper crust, such as warriors, nobility and priests for its reputed ability to confer wisdom and vitality. Offered as a drink, this chocolate concoction called xocoatl was also served during religious rites, and the sacred concoction was associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. Not surprisingly then, legend has it that each day emperor Montezuma II drank 50 golden goblets of frothy, sometimes bitter xocoatl. (Later, the nuns of a Mexican convent quietly made the bitter drink more palatable with the addition of vanilla and sugar.)

The Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, had lavishly praised chocolate in a letter to Charles V of Spain, and brought an ample supply home in his galleons after the cruel conquest and colonization of the Aztec nation which was completed in 1521. He also established a cocoa plantation in honor of the king, and as he explored other tropical lands and islands, he planted cocoa beans in their native soils. It should be said that Cortés was far from a truly romantic hero, noble explorer or munificent soul—rather, he has been roundly accused of open brutality and heinous violence towards the Indians by many historians.

About a century after the Iberian iniation, the Spanish enthusiasm for chocolate was passed to the French court with the marriage of Marie Thérèse, a chocoholic of the first order, to Louis IV in 1660. Here, the drink was considered an aphrodisiac and happily imbibed by the court and members of the wealthy classes. The popular drink was also spread throughout Europe when the Spanish friars carried the beverage with them from monastery to monastery. Originally, the Europeans mixed their chocolate with water, coffee, wine and a number of fermented drinks, as well as with pepper and other spices. Remember, chocolate was only served as a beverage or used as a pastry ingredient until the 19th century, when the bar was invented.

Recent research has linked flavanols, especially epicatechin, to improved blood circulation, heart health and memory in mice, snails and humans. Besides improvements on certain memory tests, researchers also found increased memory function in an area of the brain’s hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, and the entorhinal cortex, which is often impaired in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

These chocolate gems known as “truffles” are meant to mimic the highly prized edible fungi found in France and Italy which fetch such exhorbitant prices. Once the truffles are formed, they are often rolled in cocoa powder to simulate the “dirt” found on the real truffles.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

6 oz quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
2 organic, free range egg yolks, room temperature
2 T heavy whipping cream
1 t strong coffee
1/3 stick butter, cut into small bits

1 t brandy, Grand Marnier, kirsch, rum (optional)

Coatings: quality cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, toasted coconut flakes

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler—a medium size bowl set over a large saucepan with simmering water. Remove bowl from heat, but allow the saucepan to continue to simmer. Add the egg yolks to the melted chocolate, slowly and constantly whisking for a few seconds to avoid curdling. Add the the cream, coffee (and alcohol), then place back over the simmering water for a few seconds until smooth, while constantly whisking. Remove the bowl from the heat again and add the butter bit by bit, whisking after each addition. Once all the butter has been fully assumed, whisk for 3 minutes or so to aerate the mixture. With a rubber spatula, spoon into another medium sized bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for approximately 6 hours.

Place your chosen coatings for the truffles on a plate. Remove the truffle mixture from the refrigerator, and using a spoon, divide the mixture evenly to make small balls. With your hands, form the chocolate into rounds about 1″ to 1 1/4″ in diameter. Immediately roll the truffle in the coating and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Carefully cover and place in the refrigerator until firm.