It is a testament to my parents’ confidence in their ability to transmit their values to my sister and me that they were not threatened by Christmas. I was allowed to attend Christmas dinner at the Bartolinis, listen to holiday music on the radio, help my neighbor Rosemary decorate her Christmas tree, and go to the Lorenzano brothers home on Christmas Eve for a very small glass of Creme de Menthe. Maybe they knew it was unavoidable since we attended public school, but their liberal attitudes gave me the freedom to learn about Christmas, see how it was observed, and discover that in the homes of our Italian neighbors and friends, food played a central role at their family gatherings as well.
This Friday night as the last days of Chanukkah were approaching, and Norm and I had Shabbat dinner by ourselves, all I wanted was Chicken Cacciatore, the kind of hearty dish that Mrs. Bartolini might have made for Christmas Dinner. I felt lucky that I had those wonderful memories to call on and as I placed freshly made, piping hot latkes on my husband’s plate, and with no apple sauce in sight, he used the latkes to soak up the sauce of the Chicken Cacciatore. The next night our friends joined us for a Christmas Concert where Norm was singing in the choir, and afterwards we went to one of our local kosher dairy restaurants for “Toastim.” Without giving it much thought my parents instilled a love of Judaism that doesn’t prevent me from being able to appreciate the beauty of Christmas.
6 Chicken Thighs, legs attached
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
1 large brown onion, chopped
1 lb. white mushrooms, halved
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 – 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tsp chili flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and then dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off excess. In a large pot, heat the oil, add the chicken pieces to the pan and brown over high heat, about 5 minutes per side. Avoid crowding, browning in two batches if necessary. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Add the chopped bell peppers, onion, and garlic to the same pan and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the wine, crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, garlic, chili flakes, and oregano. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot, and the mushrooms, making sure the sauce covers everything. Bring the pot to a simmer and cook, covered, over low heat for about 1 1/2 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serves 4 generously.