Wine Trail - Cook's Edition

Delicioso! Peppers, Tomatoes & Chicken

T his dish is adapted from a recipe by Biba Caggiano in her Modern Italian Cooking cookbook. We have had the pleasure of meeting her several times, though it was fleeting. We've eaten at her restaurant in Sacramento, California. We've collected all her books and they are an important part of our recipe collection. Highly recommended. This recipe isn't hard. It's just plain delicious. We keep going back to it and think you will too. Ms. Caggiano calls it Pollo in Umido alla Romana (Chicken with peppers and tomatoes, the Roman Way). We have adapted it to suit our own tastes.

Teasing the Summer

Early Tomatoes

When height of the season tomatoes are ready we eat a lot of The Sandwich. We grows lots of tomatoes, always some cherry tomatoes and mostly medium sized sandwich tomatoes. We don't bother with heirlooms (they have never produced enough for us) or 'paste' tomatoes (ones to be used for tomato sauce) because good canned tomatoes can have very good flavor for some dishes. This recipe is an example of one that you can do all year long. Meanwhile we keep looking out the window at those green tomatoes and wait for the first blush of summer.


Today we are talking bell peppers. Though they are part of the food grouping (genus) Capsicum (which includes hot chile peppers), the 'bell' pepper does not produce capsaisin, the compounds that makes chile peppers hot. While treated culinarily as a vegetable, the bell pepper also known as a sweet pepper, is a fruit. What you see the most is the green bell pepper, followed by the red bell pepper. Turns out they are exactly the same. The red bell is just a green bell that has been allowed to ripen to the red stage. At that point it does taste different. Some say 'sweeter', but to us, we'd say less bitter than the green. We know a parrot that will only eat red bells. She probably knows something.

Peppers are part of the 'nightshade' family of plants that includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant (and tobacco), among others. To us it means that in our limited garden space, we have no room to plant them as we want all the tomatoes we can get. So we can't plant them in the 'fallow' plots as it would destroy the concept of rotation.

This dish makes use of a lot of tomatoes and a lot of red bell peppers. Does that relationship mean anything? Not that we know of, but, as we've said, it really is delicious.

When working with bell peppers there is (at least we are guilty of) the tendency to cut them up fast and toss them into what you are cooking. Or, maybe to bite into them like an apple. Beware. A perfectly good looking pepper might have a hidden surprise. In our experience, they are prone to mold on the inside as we found in one of the peppers we were cooking for this dish.

bell pepper mold

Skin or Skinless?

One way or another you want some of the chicken fat that is in the skin. Tons of flavor. Our recipe calls for sauteing the chicken with skin and using the fat that comes from the skin to saute the garlic and peppers. We have tried alternatives. For example, we have removed the skin and sauted it first to release the fat. We then discard the skin and saute the garlic in the fat. With this method you can reduce the amount of chicken fat and use olive oil to replace. Keep some for flavor! (Remember not to overcook the skinless chicken, It will sear but not really brown.)

The Recipe

We eat large main courses (there is just two of us) and you may find that it is more than you want. We might have leftovers which are very tasty for breakfast. In Ms. Caggiano's recipe she calls for 3 red bells, but says you can double it so that you have extra to put on pasta another night. We have doubled them to start. Her recipe calls for a 3 to 3 1/2 pound chicken cut into serving pieces. We never see chickens that small (except at farmer's markets for quadruple the price or more). And because we like the way dark meat tastes and cooks, we call for only chicken thighs. So make as much or as little of the chicken as you prefer. The sauce takes up the chicken flavor and a big part of the dish is to sop that up with bread (if you were just going for flavored sauce, you could use one chicken thigh). Which is very much like having the left over sauce with pasta except eating it tonight. Once you have made it you'll see. And you will want to make it again.

1 28oz. can (LESS 3 TOMATOES) good quality tomatoes. We gravitate to Muir Glen. Plum tomatoes would be nice but not required. We found a whole can made it a touch TOO tomatoey.

4 chicken thighs (big or small is up to you, use more or less as you want)

3 TB olive oil (or less as desired)

2 garlic cloves (or more as desired), minced

4-6 large red bell peppers sliced into strips and then cut in half

1 cup dry white wine

Nam Plan (few drops, optional. Our trick for a little umami kick)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Optional first step: Brine the chicken pieces in 1 quart water and 1/4 cup salt. We put the brining chicken in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes depending on how big the pieces are.

Brining Chicken

Puree the tomatoes in a food processor. Or, if you like having one less thing to wash, carefully squeeze the tomatoes in the can to break them up (don't get cut on the rim!) then chop them up finely. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Dry chicken sears instead of steams, which is what you want.

Saute the chicken over medium heat. You are both browning them and getting the skin to give up fat. Remove the chicken and set aside.  Saute the garlic in the pan for a few minutes.  We might tilt the pan so the garlic has something to swim in if there isn't a lot of fat. Don't let it get brown. Add the peppers and slowly saute until they are soft. (Don't cover them. We tried that for awhile but they tend to steam and have less flavor.)  Use some or all of the olive oil as needed or desired.

Add the white wine and cook over medium heat until the wine is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, the optional nam pla, salt, pepper  and the reserved chicken. If you have brined the chicken, you might want to use less salt, Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the chicken is done. This can take 25-45 minutes, give or take, depending on how much you sauteed the chicken in the first place and how big the pieces are. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Cook the tomato/pepper mixture uncovered until it is reduced to a pretty thick consistency. This step is important. It concentrates the flavors which are delicious sopped up with bread. Notice in the picture below how you can scrape the pan and it stays scrapped away.  It is that thick. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.

thickened sauce

Plate the tomato/pepper mixture and top with chicken. Serve with bread. We prefer sourdough. Of course you could use pasta instead.

Wine Pairing

Nalle Wine

Nalle Winery
We were thinking a Bordeaux style blend when it came to us that the Nalle Cabernet is a blend of 75% cabernet and 25% merlot. (In California a wine can be called by the grape name if it has 75% or more of that varietal.) It turned out to be a very good match. It you don't happen to have that wine at hand, we're also thinking that a nice Barbera or Sangiovese might be a good match.
Nalle Winery Squirrels


Here is a summary of the recipe in a .pdf you can print