Pollo alla Cacciatora (Chicken Cacciatore, in English) means Chicken Hunter’s Style and there are as many styles as there are hunters and cooks.
I grew up eating a Southern Italian version in a red sauce with peppers and mushrooms.
This recipe, using anchovies and no vegetables, is from Rome and goes back to the late 1800’s at least. I learned it from Auntie Helen. Auntie Helen was actually the aunt of Eugene (Gene) d’Aquili, my undergraduate advisor at the University of Pennsylvania and the psychiatrist with whom I set up my psychiatric practice in Philadelphia many years later.
Gene’s grandparents left Rome around the turn of the 20th century and moved to Trenton, New Jersey with their four children, Guido, Helen, Louise and a fourth daughter who died shortly after the move.
Gene’s father, Guido, was an artist and part of what was sometimes referred to as the New Hope School after a town of the same name in Pennsylvania on the New Jersey border. He painted a series of Old King Cole murals similar to the ones Maxfield Parrish painted for the St. Regis in New York City.
Those murals ended up on the walls of my dining room in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. For several years, from early medical school until partway through my internship, I rented the carriage house on the d’Aquili estate in Berwyn. The murals were installed in the dining room after the d’Aquili family purchased them from the social club in Trenton that had originally commissioned them.
Here are some pictures of the murals.
There is a blog that features the murals and information about them, if you’re interested.
Here is a picture of my parents, standing in front of one of the murals in my dining room. I believe this was taken in May 1981 when I graduated medical school.
Auntie Helen and Auntie Louise never married. They both became school teachers and lived in Morrisville, New Jersey until the early 1980’s when they moved into the carriage house on the d’Aquili estate that I vacated after I bought my first house.
Auntie Helen was a wonderful cook. This recipe for pollo alla cacciatora came from her, and before her, from her mother. Don’t let the anchovies put you off, even if you don’t like anchovies. The “fishiness” cooks away leaving a savory, umami flavor. I will bet you that none of your guests will guess that there are anchovies in this dish.
In addition to her other wonderful Italian specialties, including brodetto, panpeppato, and cheese bread, the last of which unfortunately I do not have a recipe, among others, Auntie Helen made some American dishes that were fashionable at the time including Impossible Tuna Pie!
I want to give a shout out to Julie Paradise for reintroducing me to Impossible Pies. Julie is the master of the genre and her pecan version is going to end up on my table soon!
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