Manfredi’s version of chicken cacciatora was chock-full of delicious Sicilian eggplant. Indeed, the vegetable chunks shared the spotlight with the meat and made it more bountiful and satisfying. Undoubtedly, I realized, this dish must reflect the resourcefulness of cooks in Sicily in generations past. With many mouths to feed, and a limited supply of chickens (or money to buy them), they could extend the dish with the sweet tomatoes and meaty eggplants that grow so prolifically in every small garden patch.
I hope you’ll be creative with this recipe too: if your chicken is smaller than the one called for here, or if you want to serve more people, fry up more eggplant and cook up more tomatoes for sauce. From one small chicken, you’ll have prepared a feast, all in one pot. Serve this with polenta or dress a bowl of pasta with the sauce and eggplant. Rest assured, no one will leave your table hungry.
- 2 or 3 small firm eggplants (1 pound total)
- 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste
- 3½-pound chicken (preferably organic), trimmed and cut in pieces
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 or 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped bacon (2 thick-cut strips)
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
- ½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups (or a 28-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- A heavy-bottomed skillet for frying the eggplant and chicken, 12-inch diameter
- A heavy-bottomed saucepan or sauté pan, with sides 3 or 4 inches high and 12 inches in diameter or wider, with a cover
Trim the eggplants, and slice them (skin on) into chunks 2 inches long and 1 inch thick. Toss them with 1 teaspoon of salt, and drain in a colander for 30 minutes to an hour. Rinse, and pat them dry with paper towels. Rinse the chicken pieces, pat them dry as well, and season all over with ½ teaspoon salt, so they’re ready for frying after the eggplant.
Pour the vegetable oil in the skillet, and set over medium-high heat. Sprinkle flour over the eggplant chunks, dusting them on all sides. Spread them in the hot oil in one layer, leave them in place until sizzling, then turn and toss until nicely browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. Lift out the eggplant chunks with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan, and spread them on paper towels to drain.
With the skillet again over medium-high heat, lay in all the chicken pieces in one layer in the hot oil. Let them sizzle in place for a minute or two, coloring the underside, then turn to brown another side. Fry the chicken, turning frequently, until each piece is golden all over, 6 minutes or longer. As the pieces are done, lift them, let the oil drain off, and set on a platter.
Meanwhile, start the sauce in the deeper pan (or wait until you’ve finished frying the eggplant and chicken, if you prefer). Pour in the 2 tablespoons olive oil, and set the pan over mediumhigh heat. Stir in the chopped bacon, and cook until the fat starts to render, then scatter in the garlic cloves and peperoncino flakes. Cook, stirring and tossing, until the bacon and garlic are lightly colored.
Pour in the wine, stir well, and raise the heat. Boil for a minute or so, until the wine is reduced by half. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, and stir well. Slosh a cup of water in the tomato container to rinse it clean, and stir in along with another ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, and adjust the heat to keep the sauce perking steadily.
One at a time, submerge all the browned chicken pieces in tomato sauce, and pour in any juices collected on the platter. Return the sauce to a bubbling simmer, and set the cover slightly ajar. Simmer the chicken for about 20 minutes, then drop the eggplant chunks on top of the sauce. Don’t push or mush the eggplant down, but shift the chicken aside so the eggplant chunks fall into the sauce and are completely covered.
Heat until simmering again, and cook 10 minutes or so, until the chicken and eggplant are cooked through and tender. Leave the pot uncovered if you want the sauce to reduce and thicken. Near the end of cooking, taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning.
Remove the pan from the heat, and let the dish rest for 20 minutes before serving. Or let it cool in the pan and reheat slowly, gently turning the pieces in the sauce. Just before serving, sprinkle the chopped parsley over the chicken and sauce.