Memories of Grandma Martinucci, and her chicken cacciatore

I come from a very large family — the fourth of 10 siblings. My oldest brother was just 14 when my youngest sister arrived, which made for an incredible busy household bursting with children, from infants through high school students.

With so many mouths to feed, our mother rarely asked us kids what we wanted for dinner. Not that it really mattered — we learned at an early age if we did not eat what was put in front of us, a sibling gladly would clean our plate.

Diane Kortus grew up in a family of 10 children, so it was always a big treat to choose what she wanted for her birthday dinner. She always chose Grandma Martinucci’s chicken cacciatore, shown here. (B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Diane Kortus grew up in a family of 10 children, so it was always a big treat to choose what she wanted for her birthday dinner. She always chose Grandma Martinucci’s chicken cacciatore, shown here.
(B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

There was only one day of the year when our mother asked what we wanted for dinner, and that was our birthday. Most of my brothers and sisters chose standard kid foods— macaroni and cheese, pancakes and fried bologna sandwiches.

But much to the chagrin of my siblings, I always asked mom to make chicken cacciatore for my birthday dinner. My brothers and sisters would wail, “not spaghetti again,” but to me, chicken cacciatore was special because it was the only Italian dish Mom made with chicken instead of meatballs.

We were a brood of half-Polish and half-Italian kids, but since mom was Italian, we ate a lot more Italian dishes than Polish.

Thinking about this today, pasta and red sauce is inexpensive to make, and since mom cooked dinner for 12 people every night, I’m sure cost factored into her decision of what to make for dinner.

Every week my mother and Grandmother Martinucci, who immigrated from Italy in 1912 when she was 12 years old, chopped onions and garlic, sieved fresh tomatoes, added fresh basil and oregano, and put on a huge pot of red sauce with hamburger and meatballs.

But when they made chicken cacciatore, the red sauce was cooked down without any meat until it was time to drop in sautéed chicken pieces. Then the red sauce and chicken simmered on the stove for hours, until the chicken fell from its bones.

To this day I love chicken cacciatore because it makes me feel special.

Here is my grandmother’s recipe, which is over 60 years old.

But don’t wait for a special occasion to enjoy it. It’s easy to make and takes less time than lasagna or other pasta dishes.

Grandma Martinucci’s Chicken Cacciatore
For the chicken

  • 5-6 lbs whole chicken cut into pieces, or 5 lbs chicken legs and thighs
  • ¼ c. olive oil
  • salt, pepper and other preferred seasonings

For the sauce

  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced – not chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large can tomatoes (29 ounces)
  • 1 large can tomato sauce (29 ounces)
  • 1 large can tomato puree (29 ounces)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp oregano leaves (crushed)
  • ½ tsp basil leaves (crushed)
  • ½ tsp celery seed
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 c. dry red wine
  • 1 c. water

Select chicken with skin on the bone. This can be a whole chicken, or an assortment of legs, thighs and breasts. If the breasts are large, cut in half.

Wash and pat dry chicken dry. Coat with seasoning and brown all sides in olive oil, about 10 minutes on each side. Set aside.

For sauce, saute onions and garlic in olive oil (until the onions are clear). Add other ingredients and cook on low between two hours and three hours, until the sauce thickens. Add chicken pieces, and cook for another hour until the chicken begins to fall off the bone.

Chicken cacciatore can also be made ahead of time and popped in the oven for 45 minutes before serving. If you want to do this, place your browned chicken in a large 9 X 13 casserole dish, and pour the red sauce over the chicken. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, until the red sauce bubbles and the chicken pulls away from the bone. If desired, sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella or other Italian cheeses on top the last 5 to 10 minutes, until melted.

Serve with pasta.

Editor’s Note: Some of our favorite foods not only taste good, but prompt cherished memories, too. We hope this new feature, ‘Recipes to Remember,’ will provide a source of recipes for foods you will enjoy. We also hope the recipes we feature will inspire you to share your recipe, and the story behind it. Want to know more? Email moc.s1524171554wenzt1524171554ulrek1524171554al@no1524171554inamc1524171554b1524171554.

Published July 8, 2015

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