Pollo alla romana (Roman-style chicken)

Pollo alla romanaToday’s post is for my friend and colleague Julius, who cooks for his lovely wife Alexis on Thursdays. I promised him more chicken recipes on Due Spaghetti, as he’s already cooked his way through pollo alla cacciatora, pollo alle olive and pollo alla griglia.  (What is it with guys and chicken, anyway?)

It’s also a tribute to men everywhere who cook, care for children, fold the laundry, and vacuum the rugs.  Many an Italian man lifts not even a finger at home, but I’m fortunate that Stefano is among the enlightened ones. I’m also lucky that he is masterful at preparing chicken, evoking the methods and flavors he recalls as a child, when his mother would butcher a pollo ruspante, or free-range chicken, and cook it on the stove top.  It was one of Stefano’s favorite dishes, and one he still he requests when he returns home to Rome.

The tomatoes, peppers, capers and oregano make this a classic, roman-style chicken dish.  As is so often the case with regional recipes, everyone has their variation.  This version has its origins in the cookbook Cucina Romana by Sara Manuelli.  We’ve adapted it over the years by adding more peppers and tomatoes, and cooking it slower and longer, until the meat comes off of the bone.

It’s not a glamorous dish, but more like soul food, comfort food – rich and hearty, but complex in its flavor also fairly healthy.  It’s a guy’s kind of recipe, but sophisticated enough to serve to his significant other.

1 free range chicken, with the breasts  3-4 cut into pieces.
Olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced.
A small handful of capers, quickly rinsed under running cold water.
2 cups dry white wine
1 large can (28 oz. or 1 kg) whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
3 red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers, cored, de-seeded and sliced.
Salt and pepper to taste

Cover the bottom of a large saucepan (big enough to hold the chicken tomatoes and peppers) with olive oil.  Add the garlic, capers, a few sprigs of oregano (or dashes if using dried oregano), and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat the oil, and gently fry the chicken pieces, turning them occasionally, until seared on all sides.  Pour in the wine and let it cook off, approximately 15 minutes.

Pollo alla romana

Toss in the peppers.  Add the canned tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first to produce a smooth purée.  If you don’t have a food mill, you can blend the tomatoes before adding them.  If you prefer, you can also leave the tomatoes whole.

Pollo alla romanaPollo alla romana

Cover partially to allow some vapor out, and cook over low heat for approximately an hour. Taste for salt after 30 minutes, and add more if you wish.  Stir from time to time to prevent sticking, and add white wine if more liquid is needed.  The chicken is done when or the meat comes off of the bone and the sauce has thickened.

Serve hot with a generous spoonful of sauce on top.

Pollo alla romana

Insalata di polpo (Octopus salad)

Insalata di polpo

When Stefano was a child, he used to fish for polpi (octopuses) in the summer months when his family left the heat of Rome for their little house near the town of Latina along the Tyrrhenian Sea, a subdivision of the Mediterranean.

300px-Tyrrhenian_Sea_mapIf the boys went with their fathers – Stefano’s padre Andrea and uncle Zio Carlo, they took the car.  If not, they rode the 3 kilometers to the sea on their bicycles.

Because octopuses creep and crawl better than they swim, they like to congregate near rocks.  Thus, Stefano and his cousins used to stand on the pier that stretched out over low cliffs and fish for the eight-tentacled creatures.  To catch an octopus, they used a special lure called a polpara, which had a little weighted body surrounded by fish hooks.  The polpara was attached to a line, which they bobbed up and down to catch the octopus’ attention.


When a curious octopus wrapped its tentacles around the lure, they boys pulled the line up to claim their catch.  Back home, Stefano’s mamma, Maria, or his aunt, Zia Elena, cooked the octopus and made a delicious antipasto of insalata di polpo.

Insalata di polpoInsalata di polpo

Here in the land-locked upper Midwest of the United States, we fish for our octopus at the local seafood market, and enjoy the squeals of awe from our friends and family who’ve never handled or eaten this delicious sea creature.

serves 4

Two octopuses, approximately 500 grams or around 1 pound each.
2 carrots, or a handful of baby carrots
2 stalks celery
A bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
Olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 clove garlic

Insalata di polpoDirections
Place the octopuses and a cork from a recently opened bottle of wine into a large pot of cold water.  If you don’t have a bottle open, this is a great excuse to uncork one!  No-one knows why, but southern Italians swear that a cork in the water renders the octopus more tender.  Bring the water to a boil, and then let boil gently for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat, and allow the octopus to cool to room temperature in the water it was cooked in.

Il polpo si cuoce nell’acqua sua. 

Insalata di polpoIn the meanwhile, dice the carrots and celery finely, and the garlic super-finely.  Chop about 2 tablespoons of flat leaf Italian parsley.  Place it all together into a medium bowl.

Insalata di polpoRemove the octopus from the water and pat it dry with paper towels.  Cut into small pieces, and add it to the bowl.  Cover with extra-virgin olive oil, stir in the juice of one lemon, and salt to taste.  Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes for the flavors to express themselves, then serve.

Insalata di polpoInsalata di polpo






Pollo alle olive

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.

Pollo alle olive

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.

pollo alle olive

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.

Pollo alle olive

1 free-range chicken
Olive oil
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

Pollo alle olive

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.

Pollo alle olive

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.

Pollo alle olive

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Easter food is so good that we’ve been celebrating all week long!

Costolette di abbaccio a scottaditto

The subject of tonight’s meal, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito, is a storied Roman dish that is savored on Pasqua or Pasquetta, and throughout the year. But before we tell that story let’s take time for an Italian lesson, because it will all make much more sense then.

Costolette is a culinary term that means “chops” as in pork chops, lamb chops, etc.  It comes from the noun costola (singular) and costole (plural) which mean ribs – an anatomical term to describe this human and animal body part.  The diminutive suffix -etta, which indicates smallness, in this case distinguishes costoletta (singular) or costolette (plural) as the cooked meat that we eat – i.e. chops.

Abbacchio means suckling lamb.  This is not a common concept in many nations, so bear with us.  Agnello is the Italian word for lamb, and in fact there are many recipes for agnello.  However, abbacchio is something special, especially in Rome.  An abbacchio is a young lamb that has only been nourished with its mother’s milk when it is butchered.  The young lamb usually weighs 4-6 kilos and is just over one month old.

The etymology of the word abbacchio is curious – some have traced it to the Latin expression ad baculum, which means “near the stick” which may represent the stick to which the mother lamb was tied, or which may represent the stick that in ancient times was used to butcher the lamb.  Even today, the slang term abbacchiato is present in Roman dialect, meaning “beaten down.”

Finally, scottadito is a descriptor made up of two Italian words: scotta, and ditoScotta means “hot,” or “scalding.” Dito means “finger.” So, put together, scottadito means “finger-scalding.”  These chops are to be eaten with your hands, while the protruding rib bones are still so hot that they burn your fingers.

So, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito.  Finger-scalding suckling lamb chops.  It sounds better in Italian, doesn’t it?

Whatever language you name it with, costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito is delicious – the gamey flavor of lamb is tempered by a rub of rosemary, sage and garlic.  It can be grilled, or pan-seared, as we prepared it.  To be truly traditional, serve them with oven-roasted potatoes.

One rack of lamb chops.  If you can find suckling lamb, this is ideal.  If not, lamb chops will work.
Olive oil
Fingerling or Yukon Gold potatoes
Crushed red pepper (optional)

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito


Carefully cut the rack of lamb into separate chops.  We also chose to trim the excess fat, but that is a matter of preference.  Mince the needles from a few sprigs of rosemary, the leaves from a small bunch of sage, and a few cloves of garlic.  Spread the chops onto a baking sheet, drizzle olive oil over both sides of them, rub the herbs onto the meat, and salt to taste.  Add crushed pepper if you like a little heat. Splash them with some dry red wine, and let rest.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottaditoCostolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

In the meanwhile, heat the oven to 350° F / 180° C.  Peel your potatoes and cut them into small pieces.  If you are using fingerling potatoes, simply scrub them and leave whole with the skin on.  Place the potatoes into a baking dish, drizzle them with olive oil, add the needles from one sprig of rosemary, and salt well.  Bake for 30-45 minutes, stirring them occasionally, until the potatoes are cooked inside and crispy on the outside.

Roasted Potatoes

While the potatoes are baking, return to the lamb chops.  Either grill the chops, or heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and sear them for a few minutes on each side.  If you use a skillet, be sure to preserve all of the oil, wine and herbs from the marinade.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottaditoCostolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Serve the costolette finger-burning hot, with the roasted potatoes on the side.

Costolette di abbacchio alla scottadito

Baccalà con patate

Here’s a bit of trivia for you – Italy is second among nations in the consumption of baccalà.  What is baccalà, you might ask?

Photo from http-www-academiabarilla-itricettelaziobaccala-alla-romana-aspx.jpg

Photo from http-www-academiabarilla-itricettelaziobaccala-alla-romana-aspx.jpg

Baccalà is merluzzo, or cod, which has been salt-dried, and is later rehydrated, cooked and consumed.  Baccalà is a relative to stoccafisso, or stockfish.  Legend has it that Norwegian Vikings used to air-dry cod and take it with them for nourishment on their overseas travels.  At the same time or shortly thereafter, whale hunters from Spain’s Basque Country devised a similar plan to support their nutrition needs on whale hunting trips.  Due to the higher temperatures in the Southern Mediterranean, though, the Basque people salt-dried their cod instead of air-drying it, to save themselves from an otherwise very fishy-smelling voyage.


Once considered a food of the people, baccalà is now a delicacy across all of Italy, and is prepared in a multitude of ways, in venues ranging from the household Italian kitchens to high end restaurants.  Recipes abound, their names often reflecting an Italian region or city: baccalà alla vicentina, baccalà alla livornese, baccalà alla romana, baccalà alla napoletana, baccalà alla calabrese.  

Photo from http://travelsofadam.com/hipster-rome-travel-tips/

Photo from http://travelsofadam.com/hipster-rome-travel-tips/

Baccalà is also essential to la Cucina Romana.  Filetti di baccalà are reliably found on the menù of all Roman pizzerie.  These batter-fried pieces of baccalà are the Eternal City’s preferred pre-pizza appetizer.  Moreover, entire baccalà stores, called baccalerie, supply any type of baccalà or stoccafisso you desire.  Alimentari Micheangeli, located in the working class Roman neighborhood of Centocelle, is one such baccaleria.

When Stefano was a bambino, his grandmother had a little neighborhood alimentari, where she sold salt-dried baccalà, and also had a large basin of cold water with rehydrated baccalà ready for shoppers to buy and cook.  Baccalà con patate, a favorite of Stefano’s father, Andrea, was a frequent meal in their household during his childhood.

Remember, you need to start soaking the baccalà the night before!

Ingredients for 4-6 servings
One filetto di baccalà (salt cod fillet)
Half of a medium onion
8-12 medium potatoes
1 28-oz. can (in Europe, a 1 kg. can) of plum tomatoes
1/3 olive oil

At least 24 hours prior, place the salt cod fillet to soak in cold water.  Change the water every 3-4 hours as possible (don’t worry about changing the water overnight).


Chop the onion and cut the potatoes into small, uniform pieces.  Place the potatoes and onion into a large pan with 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first.  If you don’t have a food mill, use crushed tomatoes, or run the whole tomatoes though a food processor or blender.

Baccalà con patate

Add a glass of water, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft, adding water and lowering the heat as needed to prevent it from burning.  You do not need to salt the mixture – your fish will provide enough salt once you add it.

Baccalà con patate

Remove the fish from the water, rinse it and pat it dry.  Cut the fish into portion-sized pieces, and add it to the potato, onion and tomatoes.  Cook covered for approximately another 20 minutes, time for the baccalà to become tender and release its flavors.  After 10 minutes, taste for salt and add a bit if needed.

Baccalà con patateBaccalà con patate

Serve hot with crusty bread and a chilled glass of crisp, earthy white wine that can stand up to the saltiness of baccalà, such as Verdicchio or Frascati.

Baccalà con patate

Fagiano con i funghi

We’re not hunters.  We don’t begrudge those who are.  We simply did not grow up hunting, and it really doesn’t fit into the urban lifestyle we live now.  Nonetheless, we’re quick to accept when a friend of acquaintance offers to share his hunt with us.

Stefano’s parents were among the many who left the countryside after WWII and came to the city, populating neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Rome and rebuilding lives in the big city.  Back in the small towns of Olevano Romano and Rocca Santo Stefano, though, life remained quite unchanged.  Stefano’s compare (a regional term that means ‘godfather’ and that loosely refers to close friends of one’s parents) and other friends and family members were regular hunters, and on occasion they would stop by with gifts of fowl and game.  Pheasant, fagiano in Italian, was an especially special treat.

Our pheasant came from Stefano’s boss, Guido, whose annual hunting trip to the plains of South Dakota yields 50 or 60 birds, a few of which he graciously gives to us.

This recipe was Stefano’s invention. He cut the pheasant into small pieces and cooked it over gas, allowing the juices of the mushrooms and cherry tomatoes give the lean meat both moisture and flavor.  It is a flavorful late fall dish, which we enjoyed with a glass of Valpolicella Ripasso from Villa Monteleone, a lovely winery we visited on our trip back to Italy this past summer.  This wine has enough body, heartiness and acidity to pair with this simple but flavorful dish.

3 pheasants, cleaned
3 packages of baby bella mushrooms (8 oz. or 225 grams per package).
2 containers of cherry tomatoes (1 pt. or approx. 350 grams per package)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 cloves of garlic
1 chicken bouillon cube
Olive oil
Dry red wine
Worchestershire sauce
Crushed red pepper

Chop the pheasant into small pieces, removing pieces of bone when you can.

Roughly chop the garlic and sauté it along with the crushed red pepper in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Add the pheasant to the pan and brown it on all sides.  Add the rosemary seeds, the bouillon cube about one glass of red wine, and a dash of Worchestershire sauce.  Salt to taste.  Let simmer uncovered until the wine cooks off.

In the meantime, chop the mushrooms, cutting the larger ones into quarters, the medium sized ones in half, and leaving small ones whole.  Halve about 2/3 of the cherry tomatoes, and leave the other 1/3 whole.

When the wine has evaporated, add the mushrooms and tomatoes to the pan, covering the pheasant.  Cover, and let it cook for 25-30 minutes until the juices from the mushrooms and tomatoes cook off.

Enjoy with a glass of full-bodied red wine, preferably with a fire in the hearth.

Sunday dinner: spaghetti alla chitarra con sugo d’agnello e costolette d’agnello alla griglia

Despite ourselves, the fast pace of American life has swept us into its whirlwind.  We have tried to shield ourselves from it, mainly by honoring mealtime and cooking the food we know and love.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult, though.  It’s not uncommon for one of us to work late or to have evening job-related commitments.    Sean usually eats something before and after his 6 p.m.-8 p.m. football practice, and to complicate matters, 8-year-old Luca has decided to become a vegetarian!  On a recent evening, the four of us sat around the kitchen counter, each of us with a slightly different meal on our plate.  At least we were eating together, though.

We recently made acquaintances with a Bolognese family who recently relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota.  Getting their kitchen set up and learning where to find the staple ingredients of Italian cooking has been a priority for them.  Annapaola, who cooked professionally in Italy, is already working on a pasta madre (a natural yeast used as a bread starter) in order to make homemade bread.  She said she’d share some when she finally gets it right!  Taking to Annapaola has renewed our commitment to not lose grasp of our culinary roots.  We are hopeful for and inspired by her passion, and grateful for a new friend to cook with.

We took a recent Sunday afternoon to cook the way it’s supposed to be done.  Our friend Riccardo and his daughter Veronica came over for a meal of spaghetti alla chitarra with a savory lamb sauce, and costolette d’agnello alla griglia, or grilled lamb chops.

Riccardo learned the art of making homemade pasta from his mom in a small town near Rome.  His specialty is spaghetti alla chitarra, square-shaped spaghetti originally from the Abruzzo region that obtained its name from the metal-stringed instrument traditionally used to make them.

We love lamb and have finally found a great place to buy it locally, so a logical accompaniment was a slow-cooked lamb sauce, and then thinly cut grilled lamb chops.    

In true Italian fashion, it was all done without a recipe.  Cara is usually charged with capturing the correct ingredient quantities and converting them from a metric system to U.S. customary units. However, on this Sunday the Italian men took over the kitchen, and no measurements were made.  Therefore, we’re sharing this recipe Italian style.  Quantities really don’t matter.  Do your best and follow your heart, and if you have any questions, post them up!

Spaghetti alla chitarra
Spaghetti alla chitarra is simply the shape of pasta we used.  It is a standard shape on any pasta maker, such as the Imperia pasta maker we use.  If you decide to try your hand at homemade pasta, here’s our recipe.  You can choose any shape you want if you use a pasta maker, or you can roll and cut them by hand, as we did in our homemade pasta recipe.  You can also just skip it all together and use any store-bought pasta you wish.

Sugo d’agnello
At least two 28-ounce (500 g) cans of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
One or two thin slices of onion
One or two cloves of garlic, sliced lengthwise into quarters
Approximately 1 lb (500 g) of lamb, with bone, chopped into pieces.
Olive oil
One dash of dry red wine
Salt to taste

Sauté  the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the lamb, and cook over medium heat for up to 5 minutes, just until it browns on the outside.  Add the tomatoes, preferably passing them through a food mill first.  Add a dash of dry red wine, salt to taste, and let simmer for an hour or more, until the lamb is tender.

When the sauce is done, cook the pasta al dente, strain the pasta, return it to the pot you cooked it in, and spoon in enough of the lamb sauce to coat all of the pasta.  Serve in pasta plates, and top with another ladle of sauce, ensuring that a few pieces of the succulent lamb find their way onto each plate.

Costolette d’agnello alla griglia
Approximately 2-3 lbs (1-1.5 kg) baby lamb chops.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
The needles of 1 sprig of rosemary
Red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper

Prepare a marinade with the olive oil, red wine, rosemary, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Place the chops on the grill, and brush the marinade on top of them.  Grill the chops, on both sides, adding marinade, salt and pepper to taste.  Serve them hot off the grill.

Fave e Pecorino

We’ve been nostalgic for Rome lately.  Perhaps its recent birthday has gotten us thinking about it.  Or, maybe it’s been on our minds because we’re planning a visit this July and are eager to see friends and family, and to return to some of our favorite places, like this one, or these.

When we miss Rome, we find ourselves returning to some of its best food.  Last week it was the classic Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe.  Today it was saltimbocca alla romana, which we will write about on Due Spaghetti as soon as we can find veal scallopini that make the grade.  (Who knew that good veal would be so hard to come by?)

With May 1st right around the corner, we couldn’t help venturing out in search of another Roman springtime classic, fresh fava beans, to eat alongside Pecorino Romano cheese on May 1st.

In Italy, like in much of the rest of the world, May 1st is a holiday – International Workers’ Day, or Labor Day as it is called Stateside and elsewhere.  In Rome, tradition calls for a May 1st scampagnata (a picnic in the countryside) with friends, and fave e pecorino romano, with a glass of good wine, are always part of the day.

In many towns just outside of Rome, they celebrate the Sagra delle Fave e Pecorino.  A sagra is a town festival, often dedicated to a food that is native to the region, so it is fitting that several towns near Rome hold a sagra for fava beans and Pecorino.

It is the simplest of meals – just fresh fava beans, authentic Pecorino Romano cheese, and a glass of your favorite wine.  Many traditionalists call for red wine, but in our family it’s always been white.  Pop open the pod by running your finger along the seam that runs lengthwise up the bean, or break the pod and scoop the bean out from inside.  There’s no need to peel the bean – just pop it in your mouth, follow with a bite of Pecorino, and conclude with a sip of wine.  Buon primo maggio!


Pesce spada al cartoccio

Some Due Spaghetti followers try each of our recipes diligently.  They email questions about ingredients, quantities, and procedures.  They tell us about memories they have of eating those same foods, and sometimes they share their family’s version of them with us.  Other readers just enjoy reading our posts, admiring the photos, learning about Italian food and culture and living vicariously through the blog, which is perfectly fine, too.

If you fall into the latter category, you might, just might, want to give this recipe a try.  It is truly exceptional.  Even if this is the one Due Spaghetti recipe that you ever make, it will be worth it.  It is elegant, pretty, creative, and absolutely delicious.  It can be prepared in advance and kept warm in the oven, making it ideal for a dinner party.  It’s both filling and nutritious.  It’s sure to be a hit with your guests.  What more can we say?  We’ll likely never post a better recipe.

We wish we could take credit for this dish, but we can’t.  We don’t have a story to to tell  about how Stefano grew up eating it, his grandma having taught his mom, who in turn taught us.  Until today, we had actually never even had it before, at least not exactly like this.  We simply came across the recipe in Il cucchiaio d’argento, or The Silver Spoon, Italy’s most authoritative cookbook.  There is a gorgeous full-page photo of it on p. 744 that caught our attention, and we flagged the recipe to try someday.

You see, we love seafood.  Touched by four seas (the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, Adriatic, Ionian), it’s not surprising that fish are an important part of Italian cuisine.  Pesce spada, or swordfish, is one of the most prestigious.  There are six different swordfish recipes in Il cucchiaio d’argento, but the recipe pesce spada al cartoccio, featuring swordfish steaks accompanied by fresh clams, mussels, shrimp and the colorful southern Italian mix of tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, red chili peppers, basil and flat leaf Italian parsley, steals the show.

This foto of three fishermen, Daniele, Gaetano and Andrea, can be found on the Italian fishing website http://www.biggame.it/story/year-2004/palamito-pesce-spada-01a.htm, along with the story of how they caught their pesce spada after an entire night of waiting.

The al cartoccio method of cooking fish is healthy and renders the fish incredibly flavorful.  Cartoccio means parcel or pouch in English.  There is not an English phrase to describe this cooking method; we’ve borrowed from the French en papillote.  It means  to wrap the fish in parchment paper or aluminum foil, or sometimes both, and bake it until cooked.  It requires little to no oil, and renders the fish moist, tender and bursting with flavor.

We used a little less oil than the original recipe called for, a little more garlic, and we added a little dry, white wine.  Otherwise, we followed the Cucchiaio d’argento recipe exactly.  Buy the freshest seafood you can find, and the most colorful herbs and vegetables.   It will turn out perfect.

Ingredients for 4
4 swordfish steaks
250 grams (9 ounces) mussels
250 grams (9 ounces) clams
150 grams (5 ounces) raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 medium tomatoes
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red chili pepper (alternatively, crushed red pepper)
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley
1 bunch basil
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 dash dry white wine
Salt to taste


Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C).  Typically, shellfish today comes already scrubbed clean.  However, if yours aren’t, scrub the clams and scrub and de-beard the mussels.  If any clams or mussels are open, shut them.  Discard any that do not shut, or that reopen after you’ve shut them.  Mince the garlic.  Chop the tomatoes coarsely.  Cut the pepper lengthwise into strips 2 or 3 cm. wide.  Chop the chili pepper finely.  Preserve as many of the seeds as you wish – the more seeds you use, the hotter it will be.

Cook the shellfish
Place the garlic and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a wide saucepan with a lid.  Sauté the garlic in the oil until it turns a golden color.  Pour in a dash of dry white wine, add the clams and the mussels, and cover.  Let the shellfish cook covered over medium until the clams and mussels open up, approximately 4 minutes.  Uncover, turn heat down and let simmer one more minute, and then remove from heat.  Discard any clams or mussels that did not open.  Separate the shellfish from the liquid, preserving both.  Set aside.

Cook the shrimp
Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a new pan.  You will eventually be adding the shellfish, their liquid and the vegetables, so choose a pan that can accommodate these.  Add the shrimp, and cook over medium heat until they turn pink, rotating them so that both side cook.  This will take just a few minutes.  Watch them carefully, turn them as soon as one side is pink, and avoid over-cooking so that they do not become tough.  Add the mussels, clams, yellow pepper, chili pepper, basil and parsley, and pour in the liquid from the shellfish.  Simmer covered for 5 minutes and uncovered for an additional 3 minutes, adding salt to taste.

Sear the swordfish
Add the final tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet and bring it to temperature over medium heat.  Add your swordfish steaks to the skillet, and sprinkle salt on top of them.  Cook for about 3-5 minutes, and then turn, salt the cooked side, and let the bottom side cook for another 3-5 minutes.  The outside will be cooked to a golden sear, but the inside will still be rare.

The final step – preparing the cartoccio
Tear four long, rectangular strips of aluminum paper, each long enough to contain a swordfish steak and the fish topping.  Position the foil lengthwise on a counter top.  Place a swordfish steak in the center of the foil, and top with 1/4 of the seafood.  Bring the long sides of the foil together at the top, and fold one side over the other, creating a seal.  Then, take one end of the foil, carefully fold it over and roll it towards the center of the parcel.  Do the same on the other end, creating a neat foil package.  Place each package onto a baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 10 minutes.

Serving the pesce spada al cartoccio
If helpful, the pesce spada al cartoccio can be left unopened in a warm oven for up to 30 minutes, or perhaps even longer, before serving. When you are ready to eat, place each parcel onto a serving plate, and carefully open the foil up, revealing the delicious seafood inside. Eat the fish right out of the foil, with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices. Don’t forget to place an extra dish or two on the table so that your guests can discard their clam and mussel shells.

Download a pdf of the recipe Pesce spada al cartoccio

Pollo alla cacciatora

Pollo alla cacciatora, a.k.a. chicken cacciatore, is perhaps one of the most commonly mistreated Italian dishes outside of Italy.

Once, while visiting the States when we still lived in Italy, Stefano saw “Chicken Cacciatore” on the menu of a restaurant.  Always wary of Italian food in other countries, he thought this would be a safe choice.  How surprised he was when the waiter brought him a heaping plate of fettuccine with pieces of chicken in a cream sauce!

There were a couple of problems with this.  First, generally speaking, Italians don’t put chicken in their pasta.  Second, food prepared – alla cacciatora refers to meats, typically chicken or rabbit but sometimes other fowl, wild boar or even lamb, seasoned with aromi (onion, carrots, celery and parsley) and stewed in tomatoes, possibly with some white wine.  There is no cream sauce involved, and it is definitely a protein-based second course, not a first course pasta dish.

Cacciatore means “hunter” and food prepared -alla cacciatora typically is translated to “hunter’s style.”  This likely refers more to the fact that the meats were hunted, and then prepared at home with foods and seasonings found in the garden.  Pollo alla cacciatore is a recipe of Tuscan origin that is prepared across Italy today.  As is so often the case, there are variations of the recipe, some which call for mushrooms or red bell peppers.

Our recipe below is quite traditional, except for the fact that we remove the skin.  Many recipes call for the skin to be left on.  We prefer the healthier skinless version below, and have found that the meat turns out tender and flavorful.

For another version of pollo alla cacciatora, see fellow Italian food blogger and Cannolo Award recipient Manu of Manu’s Menu, and for other examples of comical Italian food aberrations, see Paolo’s Quatro Fromaggio and Other Disgraces on the Menu.

1 whole chicken, 4-5 lbs (approx. 2 kilos), whole or in pieces, preferably all natural
Two 28 oz. (500 g.) cans whole tomatoes
1 medium onion
1 stalk celery
1  medium carrot
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter

Remove the skin from the chicken, using paper towel to help pull the slippery skin off, if necessary.  If your chicken is whole, chop it into 6-8 pieces.  Pat it dry and set aside.

Slice your onion into thin rings, and slice your carrot and celery lengthwise into 4 pieces.   In a large skillet, sauté the onion in olive oil and butter.  When the onion is translucent, add the celery, carrot, parsley and chicken.  Salt and pepper liberally.  Allow the chicken to brown, turning it occasionally so that it cooks evenly on all sides.  Add the wine, and let it cook for 5 minutes.  Then, add the canned tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first to produce a smooth sauce.

Once the sauce boils, turn the heat down and allow the chicken to simmer for an hour or more, until the meat separates easily from the bone.  Taste for salt and adjust.  Serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Download a pdf of the recipe Pollo alla cacciatora

Wine Pairing
We paired our pollo alla cacciatora with a classic Langhe Chardonnay by Giacomo Vico. It is a fresh, medium-full bodied wine that nicely balances the chicken and sauce of this dish.