There are so many ways to make a great casserole. There’s the cream of mushroom soup/tater tots/frozen broccoli variety (magical in its own way), and then there are the more hard-won varieties. This week, I made a Hunter’s Stew (aka Chicken Cacciatore) with mushrooms, olives, tomatoes and roasted peppers. I then topped it with cheesy polenta and let it let reduce and bubble in the oven. It took the better part of the afternoon, but it was so, so worth it.
For the Hunter’s Stew:
1 whole roasting chicken (about 4 pounds), washed, dried, oiled, and salted **Or 1 pre-cooked rotisserie chicken if that’s how you roll.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 yellow onions, medium dice
5 large garlic cloves
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 C. dry red wine
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 jar roasted peppers, pureed in the blender or FP
Big handful of your favorite olives (about 15)
Handful of chopped Italian parsley
S & P
If cooking your own chicken, roast it in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 for 30-45 minutes longer, or until internal temperature is 165 degrees. This is best done ahead of time so that the chicken is cool enough to handle.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Start by sauteing the onion for 5-10 minutes. Give it a generous pinch of salt (with all of your fingers – think half a teaspoon) and at least a dozen cranks of pepper. More if your pepper mill is a wimp. When the onion is beginning to brown, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes. Then add the mushrooms, cooking them long enough so that they release their water and then that water evaporates. This will take at least 5 minutes. When the pan is dry, add the wine and boil, stirring to pick up and bits stuck to the pan. Then add the tomatoes, peppers, and olives, bring to a boil again, and then reduce to a simmer. While the sauce simmers, pull all of the meat off of the chicken in large chunks and adding it to the sauce. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Lastly, stir in the chopped parsley and taste for salt. Pour the stew into a large casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and start the polenta.
For the Polenta:
4 C. chicken, mushroom, or vegetable broth (1 box)
1 C. polenta
Grated cheese of your choice (I recommend 1 C. shredded vintage white cheddar or 1/2 C. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Bring the broth to a boil in a large, high-sided pot (polenta tends to splatter). Pour in the polenta and whisk vigorously for about 30 seconds to prevent lumps. lower the heat and cover for one minute. Remove the lid and whisk vigorously again. Then add the cheese and stir to melt. Taste to see of it needs salt. I always think it needs a little, even with the broth and the salty cheese.
Lastly, scoop the polenta over the casserole, covering it entirely (I used a one cup measure). Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until vigorously bubbling. Remove the foil and crank the heat to 425 for about 10 minutes or until the cheesy polenta starts to brown slightly. Rejoice.