So, this spezzatino involves chicken and some other very basic ingredients. But, if you don't happen to have fresh basil, or the fresh basil at the store looked icky, dump in some chopped flat leaf parsley instead. Feel free to add other things, like ribbons of chard or black kale. Maybe a zucchini. Perhaps you have some sweet peppers languishing in the crisper. Or you saw some nice young leeks that were tempting - use those instead of the onion. Stew is forgiving, and this one, besides being so simple to put together, is something that can be a little different each time you make it.
Here's the recipe:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 - 3 celery stalks, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 - 3 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
1 (14/5 ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with their juices
1 (14 ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1.5 - 2 pounds chicken pieces (your choice - we like boneless breasts)
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans -or cannellini, if you prefer, drained and rinsed
Heat the oil in a 5.5 quart heavy dutch oven and warm it over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent. Add salt, pepper, tomatoes, broth, basil, tomato paste, bay leaf and thyme. Give it a stir. (If you are adding any other vegetable, such as chard or zucch, now is the time to dump it in.)
Add the chicken (and if it happens to be frozen, no worries - just let it simmer long enough to pry the pieces apart) and reduce the heat to medium low. And add the kidney beans. Simmer uncovered until the chicken is almost cooked through. This can be about 20 minutes, or you can get caught up in something and kind of forget about it for 30 minutes. It's stew, remember?
Pull out the chicken and the bay leaf. Cut up the chicken into bite-sized hunks and return it to the pot. Bring it back to a simmer and taste for seasoning. If it needs more salt and pepper, now's your big change to do that.
At this point, you may simmer it until it's done to your satisfaction. Some of us like it more stew-like and some of us prefer it a little more al dente, so to speak. You do it to suit yourself. (I like to dissolve a smidge of non-GMO cornstarch in some water and add it at the end to thicken the sauce.)
I put some Italian bread drizzled with olive oil under the broiler as a go with. A nice 2007 Farnese Montepulciano d'Abruzzi I'd had in the basement for maybe too long rounded out this supper. (It tasted fine to us, but the wine enthusiasts might disagree.)
The main thing to remember is that you can do what you like to spezzatino. It'll be fine and definitely will warm those cockles on a cold winter night!
Props to my all-time favorite children's book author and illustrator, Tomie DePaola. The picture above comes from "Watch for the Chicken Feet in Your Soup," which features Tomie and his pal Eugene going to Grandma's for....yep, chicken soup. That's Grandma up there, and Eugene loves Tomie's grandma!
I think spezzatino brings out the Italian grandma in all of us!