This column first appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 19 February 2006
One of the crazy food words that keeps popping into my head is Catch-a-Tory. Perhaps this is because we just had a federal election. When I was a kid, somebody’s mother made Chicken Catch-A-Tory and I thought it had something to do with the federal election of 1974. Funny what kids think! In 1974, the Liberal party under Pierre Trudeau won a majority government, catching a few seats from the Tories. So, it made obvious sense to me that this dish was named in anticipation of Tory defeat.
In the U.S., a Tory was someone who sided with the British in the American War of Independence, and youngsters there learn that Catch-a-Tory had something to do with catching the enemy. This is just a joke, of course, because it’s not really Chicken Catch-a-Tory. It’s Chicken Cacciatore, which I discovered years later means "hunter" in Italian. So, correctly translated, the dish is called Chicken Hunter-Style.
In Italy, a dish that is "hunter" style includes tomatoes, mushrooms and herbs. While it is most popular nowadays with chicken, it is also a great way to prepare rabbit, lamb and wild fowl. I can just imagine the burly Italian "cacciatore" out for a day of pheasant hunting, filling his pockets with lusty oregano and thyme from underfoot, and picking a handful of wild mushrooms on the walk home. Since hunting takes place in autumn, tomatoes would be ripening on the vine. Add a few cloves of garlic, and there you have the makings of a delicious supper. Best of all, this dish can be made entirely from foods grown in Saskatchewan.
Since last April, I have been focussing all my kitchen energy on local Saskatchewan foods. I am always looking for new and wonderful ways to prepare the great bounty this province has to offer. I spend endless pleasant hours poring over cookbooks from France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, the Middle East and even Japan, searching for new ways of preparing local ingredients. It’s proof that a Saskatchewan meal doesn’t have to be meat and potatoes. After all, if our farmers are growing food to feed the world, we might as well see what the world is doing with it.
Pasta is a great example. Canada is the biggest producer of durum wheat for pasta in the world, and 80 percent of that is grown in Saskatchewan. A good portion is exported to pasta makers in places like Italy and the United States. To ensure that I am eating Saskatchewan durum wheat, I buy only pasta that is made in Canada. My personal favourite is Primo pasta because it states clearly on the label that it is made with Canadian amber durum wheat. (Many packaged foods don’t say where it’s made or where the ingredients come from, in part because the manufacturers don’t want you to know. They don’t want you basing your food purchases on local preferences – unless, of course, they are local and proud of it.)
Chicken cacciatore is an old recipe with many variations. Here’s mine...
Cut a chicken into serving pieces. If you’re buying chicken pieces, choose those still on the bone. In a big cast iron frying pan, heat 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. Brown the meat on all sides in hot oil. Remove chicken from pan.
To the oil add 1 onion, 1 green pepper and 2 cloves of garlic, all chopped. Sauté until soft. Pour on 1/2 cup of dry red wine and simmer until it is almost evaporated, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Add a mix of herbs to your taste: basil, oregano, thyme and/or rosemary. Return chicken to pan.
Add 10 chopped tomatoes from the garden, fresh or thawed. (Or 1 can of tomatoes and their juice.) Lastly, toss in a handful of chopped mushrooms. (I use chanterelles picked last summer near La Ronge.) Cover and simmer on low for 2 hours. If it gets dry, add some water. Adjust salt and pepper as needed. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti or other long pasta. Serve the cacciatore sauce on the pasta with a piece of chicken on the side.