Small, ripe, thin-skinned, very savory cherry tomatoes have become extremely popular and widely available in Italy in recent years. They are destined for the salad bowl, but one can certainly cook with them, if one is careful about choosing a preparation where they will show to best advantage. If you are making a sauce in which you need a lot of tomato, it would be more efficient and economical to use the plum or round varieties grown for the purpose. But when I had this particular chicken, I thought I saw in it a good opportunity for the miniature tomato.
In the original dish there was tomato of conventional size cooked the necessary 20 minutes or more, and the taste was close to the familiar one of chicken cacciatora. It seemed to me that I could capitalize on the brief cooking time cherry tomatoes require to achieve flavor that was fresh and sprightly. Thus you will see that the tomatoes are put into the pan when the chicken is already done, and they stay no longer than is necessary for their skin to begin to crack. The resulting sweet and juicy taste is just what I was hoping for.
With that taste, olives similar to the strong-flavored ones of Abruzzi no longer seemed to be the most congenial ones to use, so I chose taggiasche olives, the small, mellow ones of the Italian Riviera. If you cannot find them, you can substitute French niçoise olives, which are similar.
I rarely have an occasion to mention how attractive an Italian dish is because presentation doesn’t get much attention from this cuisine. This chicken, however, whose nut-brown color is a rich foil to the red of the nearly intact whole tomatoes and the black of the olives, appeals no less to the eye than it does to the palate.
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.