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.

Ingredients
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.
Oregano
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

Directions
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

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

Ingredients
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
Sage
Thyme
Oregano
Salt

Pollo alle olive

Directions
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

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.

Ingredients
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
Salt
Pepper

Directions
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.