A vegetarian version of cacciatore would probably strike most people as the height of oxymoron. (Cacciatore means "hunter" in Italian.) Replacing the animal protein with a plant-based one means that no actual hunting went into the making of the dish. On the other hand, the chickens and rabbits that go into the traditional version are certainly domesticated . . . hm. I didn't think of that before. Maybe one ate cacciatore after one's hunting was unsuccessful?
The point is that I love the rich flavor of cacciatore's sauce, but I don't particularly want chunks o' meat in there. So, what to do with that hankering?
I've made two versions in the past week, one with mushrooms and one with chickpeas, and both were delicious. I also want to try one with cannellini beans, but three inside of a week was undoubtedly too many, even for me.
I think the thing that distinguishes this sauce from "regular" red sauce is the red wine reduction.
2 T olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 medium carrots, diced small
6 or 8 oz mushrooms, quartered (optional)
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
splash of balsamic vinegar
2 cups cooked chickpeas or cannellini beans
Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the onions and a few pinches of salt. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions get soft and a bit browned. Add the carrots and continue sauteing. The goal is to get the carrots to caramelize a little bit, too. Add the mushrooms (if using) and let them get a bit brown, too. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the wine and stir well. Keep stirring until the liquid is basically gone. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and continue simmering for 20 minutes or so. Add the beans of choice and allow them to heat through.
Serve over pasta, polenta or garlic-rubbed toast.
Warming and delicious on a cold fall evening . . . and the leftovers rock.