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A Winter Dinner for a Crowd: Chicken Cacciatore and Creamy Polenta

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 It was a cold, drizzly day in L.A. yesterday, and we were expecting a few friends over to spend an evening of fun and frivolity.  But, what to make?  I needed a crowd pleaser that wasn’t too fussy, but hearty and relatively healthy after all the excesses of the holidays.  I thought of Chicken Cacciatore–full of vegetables, and I could lighten it a little by using skinless chicken thighs with the fat trimmed off.  Now, the Polenta–that’s what was decadent, loaded with Fontina cheese–was a great complement to the Cacciatore.   I also served this with red chard braised in chicken stock with onions and garlic, which is not pictured.

And props to my patient friends, who didn’t mind me setting up my studio immediately after I had finished my plate so I could take a picture. 



These recipes are made to serve 8, but can be easily halved.

Chicken Cacciatore

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, with the fat trimmed off (can use chicken breasts, but shorten cooking time because breasts will dry out quickly in braising)

1 1/2 cups flour, seasoned with salt & pepper

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 large white onion, diced

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 1/4 pounds crimini mushrooms, sliced

4 cloves garlic, diced

1 bay leaf

5 sprigs fresh thyme

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

3/4 cup dry white wine

1-28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

Salt & pepper

Chopped parsley (optional)


Preheat oven to 325°
Heat 5-quart dutch oven on medium heat;  dredge chicken pieces in seasoned flour and brown 2-3 pieces at a time, about 3-4 minutes each side.  Place browned pieces on a plate and set aside. 
Add onion, red pepper, mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and rosemary;  sweat on medium heat until the juices from the vegetables are released (mushrooms will release a lot of water) and simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquids begin to reduce. 
Add white wine and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and oregano, and return chicken to the pot, burying the pieces in the sauce. 
Bring to a full simmer again, top with lid, and put into oven for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and is fork-tender.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Creamy Polenta

4 cups water

4 cups lowfat milk

2 cups coarse ground polenta

6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded

Salt & pepper to taste


While the Cacciatore braises in the oven, pour water and milk into 4 quart pot and bring to a hard simmer.
Sprinkle the polenta into the simmering liquid (it should “rain” polenta–don’t just dump it in.  Dumping = Clumping.  Got it?), while whisking constantly. 
As the polenta starts to thicken, switch to a wooden spoon to stir.  Stir frequently while polenta simmers–as it thickens, take care as it will start to bubble and splatter (think hot lava). 
When the polenta is of a thickness like porridge, approximately 15 minutes, add fontina, season with salt and pepper and serve with Cacciatore.

Note:  This makes a rather large batch of polenta–if you have plenty leftover, pour the excess into a buttered loaf pan or cake pan.  Polenta firms up as it goes cold, and can be sliced into pieces and pan-fried–absolutely delicious served with eggs the next morning.



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