This weekend in July has been unusual on two fronts. First, we’re home with almost nothing on our schedules. Second, the weather has turned unseasonably cool and crisp – jeans and sweaters weather, reminiscent of fall. This combination of factors put us into a cooking mood. As if meant to be, we turned on the radio to listen to a weekly food and cooking program to find the host interviewing a Rome-based food historian and journalist about where to find authentic dishes despite a changing Roman food culture.
Inspired, we began to page through our Italian cookbooks, particularly one called Cucina Romana by Sara Manuelli, pondering what to prepare for Sunday lunch. We flagged several recipes to make in the coming weeks and months: a pesto from Frascati made with potatoes, tomatoes, almonds and ricotta; oven-baked ricotta with zucchini flowers; ciambelle al vino to dip into a chilled glass of white wine; and pizza, prosciutto e fichi, if fresh ripe figs find their way to Minneapolis in late summer. We also came across a tried and true recipe – pollo alla romana, or Roman-style chicken, whereby pieces of free-range chicken are stewed in tomatoes and red bell peppers until the meat separates from the bone.
There was a chicken in our freezer waiting to be put to use. We didn’t have red peppers, but there were black olives in the refrigerator. A few online searches later we came across several recipes for pollo alle olive. Similar to pollo alla romana, the chicken is cooked slowly in a tomato sauce rendered tangy and flavorful by good black olives, white wine and and Italian herbs. It made for a succulent Sunday pranzo enjoyed outdoors on cool but sunny Sunday afternoon in July.
1 free-range chicken
Three cloves garlic
One 28 oz. (800 g) can of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Approximately 20-30 quality black olives, pitted
One tablespoon capers, rinsed
A dash of dry white wine
Prepare the chicken by removing the skin and cutting the breasts and thighs into small pieces. We had an extra package of drumsticks (legs), so we added them for good measure.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a large fry pan. Slice the garlic into halves or quarters and add it to the oil along with the capers and herbs. Gently brown the chicken in the oil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all sides cook. Salt the chicken to taste as it is browning, remembering that the olives will contribute to the saltiness of the dish, as well. Add the white wine and allow it to evaporate. Finally, add the tomatoes (ideally pressing them through a food mill to produce a smooth sauce), and then the olives.
Allow the chicken to simmer uncovered slowly for 45 minutes or more. It is ready when the sauce thickens and the meat pulls away from the bone. We served pollo alle olive in piatti fondi (pasta dishes) due to its sauciness.