(Special thanks to professional food photographer Russell French for photographing this meal. His photos appear courtesy of Russell French Studio.)
This is one of my prized recipes. My grandmother, Bruna, used to make this and it was my favorite dish when I was a little boy.
I remember sitting at her kitchen table, with a glass of red wine mixed 50/50 with ginger ale (that’s what the kids got to drink). I’d pluck out the little black olives that were covered in a red sauce and stick them on all ten fingers, and then eat them one by one. My fingertips would be hot and then instantly cool as I ate each one.
Here’s the recipe from that memory:
Chicken with Polenta: The Chicken Recipe
This is what you call peasant food, created in northern Italy where my grandmother learned to cook it.
- Chicken: I like to use a mixture of bone-in breasts and bone-in thighs. For this recipe, you could use four bone-in breasts
- and four bone-in thighs to serve between 6 and eight people. You could also use a whole chicken, cut up, or even rabbit.
- Two or three sweet Italian sausages
- About 16 oz. of mushrooms
- One can of pitted black olives
- 1 1/2 to 2 cans of tomato paste (and about the same amount of water)
- Two or three garlic cloves
- A sprig of fresh sage or about a tablespoon of dried sage
- A sprig of nepitella or about a tablespoon of dried nepitella. Can also substitute a combination of basil and mint. (Optional)
- About four or five tablespoons of olive oil
- About 1/3 to 1/2 cup of red table wine
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of nutmeg
- Step 1 Clean fat from chicken and soak in salted water.
- Step 2 Boil sausage for about three minutes.
- Step 3 Fry sausage with chicken, one clove of garlic (crushed), sage, salt and nutmeg in about one tablespoon of olive oil.
- Step 4 Fry mushrooms in about one or two tablespoons of olive oil, with garlic clove (crushed), and nepitella. And then add to chicken.
- Step 5 Add red wine, pitted black olives, tomato paste and dissolve with water to make a sauce.
- Step 6 Heat in oven. If heating in oven immediately after cooking, set at 350 and heat for only about 15 minutes or so. If you’re not going to serve it for a while, turn heat down to 250 or even 200 just to keep warm. (Don’t overcook chicken as it gets tough.)
Chicken and Polenta: The Polenta Recipe
- Three cups of corn meal
- Seven cups of water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Step 1 Bring seven cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a boil over medium high heat.
- Step 2 Gradually stir in three cups of corn meal in a slow and steady stream. Stir vigorously as you add the corn meal to avoid lumps. Continue to stir vigorously until polenta is a creamy, yet stiff, consistency. (Tip: Have boiling water on hand in case polenta gets too thick.)
- Step 3 You can either spoon polenta onto plates in a small pile or you can dump the whole pot of polenta on a large wooden board and let it spread out and cool a bit before slicing into rectangles or squares.
- Step 4 Spoon tomato sauce from chicken dish on top of polenta when serving.