Primitivo – An Italian Grape Worth Exploring With Chicken Cacciatore

| January 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

Chicken Cacciatore

Primitivo is an Italian grape variety worth exploring. Did you know that Primitivo is Italy’s version of Zinfandel. Both Primitivo and Zinfandel are clones of a Croatian grape called Crljenak.

Zinfandel covers more than 10% of all of California. Here the wine can be red and robust or white and semi-sweet. White Zinfandel is a rose wine made from this red grape variety.

In Italy, however, Primitivo is vinfied mostly in Puglia, a southerly and rapidly growing and advancing wine region. In fact, Puglia produces more wine than any other region of Italy and counts 25 DOC(Denominazione di origin controllata) wines. Primitivo is the king of this region. It is a dark skinned variety that generally produces robust, high alcohol and tannic wines.

The term ‘Primitivo’ first appeared in Italian government documentation as early as 1870. The name derives from the term ‘primativus’ and ‘primaticcio.’ It translates to mean ‘early one’ which reflects that the grape ripens early in the growing season.

There are many quality Primitivo, ranging in price.  I recently discovered an Italian quaffer fermented from this grape, one worth trying to pair with good ‘ol comfort foods.

Luccarelli Primitivo Puglia IGT, (CSPC 253856), $10.45, is an excellent wine buy. The wine is medium bodied, with flavours of black berry and spicy fruit with some acidity and decent tannin. It’s not the reflection of a high end Puglia-made Primitivo with the robust tannin and structure.  It’s a quaffer.  But this wine is highly drinkable with 13.5% alcohol and an inexpensive price tag.

This red can be partnered to some of Puglia’s more traditional dishes such as braciole al sugo (stuffed veal parcels in a fresh tomato sauce). The wine’s refreshing acidity partners well with the natural acidity in fresh tomatoes.

Bruschetta with tomatoes, oil, salami or prosciutto is also a good match.

Orecchiette is a small ear-shaped pasta and specialty of Puglia. It can be combined with a variety of ingredients to pair with this Primitivo. Try Orecchiette with kale and Breadcrumbs drizzled in Extra virgin olive oil and garlic. Kale is pleasantly bitter, complementing the soft, but present tannin found in the aftertaste of this wine.

This pasta can also be tossed with sausage in a red pepper sauce or with rabbit and fresh tomatoes in a basil-based sauce.

Harmonizing meat dishes include braised short ribs with red wine gravy or chicken cacciatore with stewed tomatoes and barley rather than pasta.

One of my closest friends, Cathy Ruggieri-Davidson, is originally from Puglia and is also a wine expert and amazing cook. Her barley-inspired chicken cacciatore recipe is the perfect dish to pair with this Primitivo. Here is the recipe. I’ve made this dish several times.

Be sure to change the amount of salt and garlic you add based on the kind of taster you are. If you are a super taster with plenty of taste buds, one clove will suffice. If you’re a non taster like me with fewer taste buds, then add 4 to 6 cloves. Keep this fact in mind whenever I add a recipe to this column. Remember one type of taster is not better than the other. It’s just our individualistic preferences.

To serve 6, preheat oven to 350 F. Dredge 8 chicken breasts in flour. In a large oven-proof skillet with high sides, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Brown chicken all over. Set aside. Drain most of the excess fat. In the same skillet, sauté 4 cloves garlic and 1 chopped onion and 1 teaspoon of chili flakes. Add 1 can of tomato puree and 1/2 (28 ounce) can of whole tomatoes roughly chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 1 heaping tablespoon of capers. Add 1 heaping tablespoon each of oregano and thyme. Over low heat simmer for about 10 minutes until flavours come together. Add chicken. Cover skillet. Place skillet in the oven. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until chicken is done.

Meanwhile, rinse 4 cups of dried barley. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add barley. Simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until tender. Drain barley. Keep covered and warm until needed.

Remove skillet from oven. Place slices of fresh mozzarella on each piece of chicken. Sprinkle 1 cup of Romano generously over whole dish. Place skillet back into the oven, uncovered. When cheese has melted, remove from the skillet from the oven. Fold parsley into barley. Serve barley separate from cacciatore, giving guests the amount of barley desired. Place slide of chicken with tomato sauce over barley.

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About the Author ()

Shari Darling is an award-winning and best-selling author and columnist, educator and speaker specializing in wine, food and the partnership between them.

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