In the old country, it is the season for bruschetta (pronounced brus-ketta in Italian). It is in November and December that olives are taken to the local mill for pressing, and growers often take some bread with them. According to “The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink” by John Mariani, there is usually a small fireplace in the corner of the pressing room. When the oil is produced, a grower takes some toasted bread to sample the oil. Rubbing the toasted bread with garlic is even better. Adding onion, salt and pepper takes it up another notch. And there you have the origins of bruschetta, which reportedly dates back to at least the 15th century and now has many variations.

 And so we were off to Marco’s Ristorante Italiano in Lewiston, where co-owner and chef Duane Arnold showed us how to make bruschetta, along with one of the restaurant’s top-selling dishes, chicken cacciatore. Whatta combo!

The bruschetta — a fine start

Unwrapping the pre-cut and measured ingredients (see the recipe), Arnold explained that preparing ingredients ahead of time, whenever possible, is the best way to organize the time spent cooking. A neat cooking area certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Arnold mixed the chopped vegetables and herbs in a large bowl, and added a teaspoon each of black pepper, salt and fresh, chopped garlic. Red wine vinegar and grated Romano cheese were added last, and Arnold stirred a few times to coat well. He says most varieties of tomatoes work well in this appetizer, though he prefers the flavor of grape tomatoes.

Make the bruschetta topping a few hours before serving, as it allows the ingredients to blend together for maximum flavor, Arnold says. Serve on garlic bread or garlic bread with melted provolone cheese.

 The main event — cacciatore!

Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. Classic chicken cacciatore was a hunter’s stew, often using rabbit or chicken and adapted to the offerings of the hunters’ region and to outdoor cooking. Mushrooms and spices were common ingredients, with onions, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, wine and other flavorings becoming popular additions over time.

As Arnold cut mushrooms for his cacciatore, he said the dish should take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to make, depending on the cook’s skill and comfort during the chopping stage.

Arnold coated a large fry pan with oil over medium high heat and added the chicken. Small, thin chicken tenders work best for his variation; they cook quickly and thoroughly, saving time. Lightly seasoning the food as it cooks enhances the flavor more than just adding it at the end. After a few minutes, Arnold flips the chicken and adds onions and green and red peppers, reserving the mushrooms until about three-quarters of the way into the sauteing so they don’t overcook.

As the dish begins to brown, Arnold deglazes the pan with a quarter-cup of sweet vermouth. Anything that was beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan is mixed back into the dish enhancing the overall flavor.

The sweet flavor of this dish comes from the combination of tomato sauce, basil and the sweet vermouth, Arnold said. During the last few minutes of cooking, 18 ounces of tomato sauce, the remaining quarter-cup of sweet vermouth and one tablespoon of grated Romano cheese are added — reserving the rest of the cheese to top the dish once plated.

Another time-saver: Arnold suggested precooking the pasta and then, when it’s time to serve, submerge the pasta in hot water for a minute. Also, drain pasta well, he said; it’s crucial for avoiding a watery meal.

Arnold divided the spaghetti between two plates, topped each with the chicken cacciatore mixture and sprinkling Romano cheese over them. The aroma was incredible.

As for what to serve with certain dishes, Arnold said it’s all about personal preference. The bruschetta goes well with the chicken cacciatore, but a green salad would complement it as well.

“My best advice to people with cooking is to just experiment,” said Arnold. “Go online and research whatever it is.”

Marco’s Bruschetta

10 black olives, sliced
1/4 ounce chopped, fresh basil
1/4 green pepper, chopped
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, chopped
2 ounces red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese

In a bowl mix all ingredients and let sit for one to two hours. Serve with garlic bread or garlic bread topped with mozzarella cheese.

Chicken Cacciatore

(serves 4 to 6 people)

1 pound chicken, thinly sliced into tenders
1 small onion
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
1/8 ounce fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 ounce fresh basil, chopped
8 to 10 medium-size mushrooms of your choice, chopped
1/2 cup sweet vermouth
18 ounces tomato sauce
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese

Coat a preheated, large fry pan (12 inch) with oil and cook tenders over medium high heat, turning to cook both sides; salt and pepper. Add onion and peppers, sauteing a few minutes before adding oregano and basil. Add in the mushrooms at this time, but if you prefer them less soft, add them during the last cooking step. Add 1/4 cup of sweet vermouth to deglaze, simmer for a few minutes. Mix in 18 ounces of tomato sauce, the remaining 1/4 cup of sweet vermouth and one tablespoon of Romano cheese. Serve on cooked pasta, sprinkle with remaining Romano cheese to finish.

Quick tips from Duane Arnold

• Precook chicken to save time by baking it three-fourths of the way.

• Avoid ruining dinner; don’t leave food cooking on high temperatures unattended.

• Cook pasta ahead of time and resubmerge it in hot water just before serving.

• Want the ultimate time saver? Marco’s sells its cacciatore sauce, so you can prepare the chicken and add the sauce for a quick, delicious meal.

Duane Arnold, chef at co-owner of Marco’s, cooks chicken cacciatore.

Chicken cacciatore at Marco’s in Lewiston.

Duane Arnold serves one of the most popular dishes at Marco’s, chicken cacciatore.

Bruschetta at Marco’s in Lewiston.

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