Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Chicken Cacciatore

Most chicken cacciatore recipes take 45 minutes to an hour or more and go better in cooler weather.  This lighter version is for summer nights and takes less than half an hour, 20 minutes if you aren’t chatting with a loved one too much.  Well, if the loved one is helping to chop the vegetables, maybe 20 minutes is right. 

Chopping and sautéing the vegetables take the first 10 minutes while the water for the pasta heats.  The second 10 minutes is devoted to creating a sauce with the skillet vegetables and steaming chicken breasts topped with cheese in that sauce while the pasta cooks.  The lighter sauce is made from fresh tomatoes and vegetable juice.  The result is flavor that remains "summer garden" pure.  If you can get most of the ingredients out of your garden or at the farmers market, you will really appreciate the difference this lighter touch brings to a classic, especially if you have fresh herbs and freshly picked tomatoes.

Summer Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 sweet onion (Vidalia), sliced
4 small sweet peppers (or one large red pepper), seeded and sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 large tomatoes, diced including liquid
2 cups tomato-based vegetable juice (Knudson’s Very Veggie organic or V-8 juice)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (1tablespoon fresh)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (3-4 springs  fresh)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil (3-4 chopped leaves fresh)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste (may need 1/2 teaspoon salt if using a low-sodium vegetable juice)
8 oz uncooked, dried pasta (whole wheat rotini or penne are nice and cook in about 8-9 minutes)
4 5-oz chicken cutlets (Try Perdue Perfect Portions for this quick dish or pound larger breasts flat so that they will cook in 10 minutes.)
4-6 thin slices mozzarella cheese
1 cup steamed fresh spinach
optional: 1/3 cup chicken broth, white wine

Method
  1. In a large pot, begin to heat salted water to boiling for the pasta.  
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet that has a cover (to be used later in recipe). 
  3. Add onion, peppers, carrots and celery and sauté until they are crisp-tender.  
  4. Add tomatoes and their juice plus vegetable and herbs.  Stir to coat and add broth or wine (or water) if desired.  There should be enough liquid to cover vegetables completely. Lower heat and cover for 2-3 minutes to combine flavors.  
  5. Remove cover and allow to cook down a bit while you add pasta to the (now) boiling water. 
  6. Add chicken breasts to skillet, laying them out over the vegetables.  Cover skillet to allow chicken to steam over sauce for about 5 minutes.  
  7. Uncover and turn chicken over.  Place a slice or two of cheese on each breast and cover with lid.  Allow chicken to cook additional 4-5 minutes until cooked through ant at least 165˚F.  
  8. When pasta is ready, drain and reserve about 1/2 cup pasta liquid.  
  9. Remove chicken from skillet to a warm platter (or directly to plates) while you finish the pasta dish. 
  10. Mix pasta and steamed spinach into the vegetable sauce.  Add a bit of pasta water if sauce has thickened too much: it should not stick the vegetables to each other.  
  11. Serve pasta alongside chicken breasts.