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Winner’s original recipe differs slightly

Wed., Sept. 22, 2010, midnight

Spokane cooking teacher Paula Mannino loved competing in the LG Electronics “Taste of Something Better” contest, but she was concerned about a few changes the company made to her recipe before sharing it with The Spokesman-Review for a story in last week’s Food section.

Mannino says the differences may seem small, but she fears that the texture of the dish suffers and she’s worried someone could choke on the pieces of a bay leaf if they follow the instructions in the edited recipe to crumble it before adding it to the polenta. Instead, she recommends simply breaking the bay leaf in half so the pieces are easy to find and remove before serving.

She also prefers to start with whole tomatoes and puree them, rather than use the diced tomatoes listed in last week’s story. And her original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of chicken broth to be added to the dish with the peppers and herbs after the pan is deglazed with wine.

Here is Mannino’s original recipe, the way she made it for the competition. She was among three finalists in the contest and competed in a cook-off earlier this month at the “Taste of Beverly Hills” food and wine festival. She was second runner-up in the competition.

Chicken Cacciatora with Polenta

From Paula Mannino of Spokane. “The literal translation of this country dish is hunter’s chicken. There are many variations on the theme as originally it would have been made with whatever ingredients were on hand once the hunter had returned with the fowl. The polenta makes this dish special,” Mannino writes.

3 to 4 pounds chicken legs, thighs, or breasts (cut in half), or any combination

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 slices lean bacon, cut into small pieces

1 cup yellow onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 (28-ounce) can good-quality, whole peeled tomatoes with juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup dry white wine

½ cup chicken broth (you can add more later, if needed)

2 roasted red peppers, purchased in jar, sliced into thin strips

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried thyme

For the soft polenta:

6 cups water

1 bay leaf, broken in half

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 3/4 cups coarse polenta (also known as cornmeal or corn grits)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic, minced

Dash freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pat the chicken dry and season on all sides with salt and pepper. In a 10-inch skillet, brown the bacon in the butter until almost crisp; add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until onions are softened and starting to color, about 5 minutes.

Puree the tomatoes, then add to the above mixture and cook over medium to medium-low heat for about 5 minutes to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.

Working in batches and using a large oven-safe skillet, sauté chicken pieces in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until well browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. You do not want to cook the chicken through; it will finish cooking in the oven. Remove chicken to a plate and pour off the fat.

Pour the wine into the skillet, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring to pick up any browned bits on the bottom. Add the broth, peppers, rosemary, oregano and thyme, then the bacon, onion, garlic and tomato mixture. Return the chicken to the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring mixture.

Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and cook until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. There should be enough liquid to almost cover the chicken. Add water if necessary.

To make the polenta, in a large, deep, heavy saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the bay leaf, salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Reduce heat to medium and very slowly start adding the polenta, using small handfuls at a time, taking several minutes to add the entire amount.

Simmer gently, stirring very frequently. Use a whisk to prevent lumps. (Pay attention to the edges of the pan as you stir; this is where it will stick and scorch first.) As it thickens, in about 20 minutes, you may want to change to a large, wide wooden spoon or paddle to make it easier to stir. Be careful not to burn yourself; the polenta has a tendency to act like an erupting volcano as it is cooking.

When the polenta is very thick and smooth, remove from heat and stir in butter, cheese, garlic and pepper.

Remove the bay leaf and pour the polenta out onto a large platter. Top with chicken pieces and spoon over sauce.

Yield: : 6-8 servings

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