Practically the entire world loves a big plate of meatballs and spaghetti in a rich, authentic, Italian tomato gravy. But here in New Orleans, the real Sicilian connoisseurs prefer chicken thighs, drumsticks, and wings smothered down in that traditional, mouth-watering, sopping-good red gravy. And here's how you do it!

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

12-16 chicken drumsticks, thighs, and wing section combination

4 teaspoons poultry seasoning

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

2 teaspoons coarse-ground black pepper

2 yellow onions, medium diced

3 ribs celery, finely diced

1 medium green bell pepper, roughly diced

1 can tomato sauce, 15 ounce size

1 can tomato paste, 6 ounce size

1 can Rotel Tomatoes with Green Chilies, 10 ounce size.

4 Rotel tomato cans full of chicken stock

1/2 cup port wine (optional but recommended)

2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

20 cloves garlic, peeled and fully pressed

2 chicken bouillon cubes, softened

1/4 cup freshly minced parsley

Dash red pepper flakes

24 ounce prepared gnocchi or rotini pasta, cooked al dente

2 cups Five Italian Cheeses, shredded

4 cups early June peas, buttered and seasoned

2 loaves cheesy garlic bread, buttered, toasted, and sliced

Start off by placing a large oval roaster or porcelain-lined Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat.

Then pour in the olive oil.

In the meantime, take the skinned and washed chicken (wing sections need not be skinned), pat them dry with paper towels, lay them out on a sheet of waxed paper, and season them liberally with the poultry seasoning and a generous sprinkling of salt and black pepper.

When the olive oil is just short of smoking, begin browning the chicken a few pieces at a time (it is important that you do not overcrowd the pot!)

As they become seared, remove them from the pot with long-handled tongs and set them aside.

Continue the process until all of the chicken is browned.

Now, without raising or lowering the heat, drop the onions, celery, and bell pepper into the Dutch oven and stir the mix vigorously, scraping up in the process the bits of browned chicken that stuck to the bottom of the pot while they were being seared.

Then when the veggies clear and soften, pour in the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, the Rotel tomatoes, the chicken stock, the port wine, the Worcestershire, and the pressed garlic and briskly whisk everything together until it becomes fully combined into a flavored braising liquid.

Now drop in the bouillon cubes, the parsley, and the red pepper flakes and once again stir everything thoroughly until the bouillon cubes fully dissolve.

At this point, cover the Dutch oven; then reduce the heat to 'low' and cook the 'gravy' for about 30 to 40 minutes until smooth and velvety.

Finally, after the allotted simmering time, remove the lid, drop in all of the chicken, nestle them into the gravy so that they're mostly covered, place the lid back on the pot, and cook the chicken at a simmer for about an hour and a half (or until the meat shows signs of falling off the bones).

Caution: Do not stir briskly from this point on, because as the chicken becomes more and more tender, stirring will knock the meat completely off the bones.

About 15 minutes before you're ready to eat, boil the pasta in lightly salted water until it becomes al dente (to the touch). Then drain it thoroughly in a colander, place it by servings into deep soup bowls, ladle the gravy and several pieces of chicken over the top, liberally garnish with the shredded Italian cheese, and serve each bowl with a generous piece of hot crusty garlic bread and a side of buttered green peas.

Oh, yeah. . .a nice chilled bottle of Italian red wine will crown this meal for you!


Chef's Notes:

I don't recommend using chicken white meat in this recipe, because even though the chicken is braised in liquid the texture always appears to turn out rather course and the palatability tends to be dry. Of course, that's a preference thing . . .so do your thing!

The garlic in this recipe is also a preference thing if you like smothered garlic you can add the lot of it to the gravy as it smothers.

If, on the other hand, you'd prefer just a little, add in as few as 4 cloves.

I also suggest you use an electric pole blender to chop up the coarse tomatoes.

It gives the final gravy a thicker texture and a smoother, more velvety taste.

Of course, if you like chunks of tomatoes in your gravies and sauces then go for it, bubba!!

A note about the cheeses you can go with Parmesan alone, or Romano alone, or a combination of the two. But I really like the flavor intensity I get from the prepackaged Italian Five Cheese Blend you'll find it in the dairy section of your supermarket).