Alla Romana

I had no intention of staying in Rome, I’d spend a month at language school before taking myself and my newly acquired command of the Italian language back to Palermo to continue my demented not-very-grand-tour, eat more granita di mandorle and parley with the locals. However as the days got longer and warmer and as May drew to a close it became painfully clear that a month of intensive lessons was no match for my linguistic inaptitude and that never mind chinwagging with the locals, if I was to even scratch the surface of this beauteous but baffling language I was to be here all summer.

Alice on the other hand suffered no such linguistic ineptitude. A month at Centro linguistico Dante Alighieri in the class above me was more than enough to sharpen her vernacular, and off she went in search of work and lessons in the preparation of Puntarelle. Fortunately, even though we’d only talked briefly at school, affinity was felt and we’d exchanged numbers and promises of lunch. And Lunched we did! Sometimes at Volpetti but mostly at Da Augusto In Trastevere, with its cramped confusion of marble-topped tables, rustling paper table cloths, robust Saturnia crockery, offhand service and typically Roman fare.

I’d already begun my education in the distinct, deliciously robust, gutsy Roman cooking at the Trattoria Augustarello in Testaccio. This continued at Da Augusto with Alice. We quickly learned it was best to skip i primi (pasta and minestra) which were better elsewhere, in favour of i secondi (the second courses) which in true Roman style were mostly the more humble cuts of meat and offal cleverly and slowly stewed or braised.

So lunch was braised beef, pecorino dusted tripe, rabbit with rosemary, slow cooked lamb, pollo alla Romana or bollito. Imposing sounding lunches I know, but remember portions of secondi are (usually) small in Italy as they are intended to follow a pasta first course. Having eschewed the pasta we’d feel entitled crowd the table with small plates of contorni (vegetable side dishes) broccoli romanesco cooked until unfashionably soft, deliciously bitter cicoria wilted and tossed with oil, potatoes roasted with rosemary and if the season was right, our favourite, a dish of Puntarelle - the peppery dandelion-like greens dressed with anchovies. Half a litre of questionable white wine and a basket of bread not long out of the oven of the nearby bakery La Renella and we were replete

Ever since I started this blog and having eaten at Both Augustarello and Da Augusto when he visited, my Brother Ben has been telling – and more recently pestering – me to write about Roman food more, particularly the distinct, bold secondi. Finally, seven years after declaring I ‘d no intention of staying, a respectable number of good, bad and indifferent meals in boisterous trattorias, copious advice, numerous cooking lessons, the birth of a little Roman,and a fair bit of experimenting later, I’m taking his advice! Again. Lets begin with Pollo alla Romana.

Pollo alla Romana or Chicken Roman style, is best described as joints of chicken, fried until golden in olive oil (maybe with a little pancetta) and then simmered with wine, tomatoes and red peppers. It’s a marvelously simple dish which, if made with care and good ingredients, is absolutely delicious. There is a moment of cooking alchemy when the peppers, after a little encouragement and nudging around the pan, release their abundant juices creating a carmine bath in which the chicken can simmer until tender and richly flavored. Then, as the chicken simmers, the juices thicken. The rich complexity of the sweet, rounded, unfashionably oily, deep red sauce by the end of cooking is both a joy to behold and, more importantly, to sop up with bread.

Views, unsurprisingly, about how best to make this stout Roman dish, are passionately held and vary. This version, taught to me by Alice, who was taught by her Roman Boyfriend Leo who was in turn taught by his (formidable sounding) Nonna is, after a fair bit of experimenting, the one I like most. Reassuringly, it is almost identical to the recipe in the dependable tome, my reference book of choice, Le ricette regional Italiane.

It’s all very straightforward.  In a heavy pan you fry some diced pancetta in olive oil. Once the pancetta has rendered its fat and made your neighbour question his vegetarianism, you add the chicken pieces skin-side down to the pan and fry until the skin forms a golden crust. Next up salt, several grindings of black pepper the garlic if you so wish and an unruly slosh of wine. Once most of the wine has evaporated you add the roughly chopped tomatoes and the peppers to the pan. It will seem very full! Now put the lid on the pan. You need to keep an eagle eye on the pan for the first 10 minutes, lifting the lid and stirring every now and then to prevent sticking. But once the peppers have released their abundant juices your work is (nearly) done. Half cover the pan, make yourself a Campari and put your feet up while your supper bubbles over a modest flame for another 45 minutes (the odd stir wouldn’t go amiss) or until the tomatoes and peppers have collapsed and reduced into a dense, rich sauce and the chicken is tender.

Serve your pollo alla Romana warm but not hot.

A nice plump chicken is a good place to start. The pancetta is optional but a good addition. The garlic too is optional – keep an eye on it, as if it burns it will be bitter. The peppers can be red, yellow or orange but not green.  The wine should be white, dry and rough at the edges. One variation I will note is skinning the peppers before adding them. This means scorching your red lobes and peeling away the thin skin carefully. I don’t, but you might like to.

Pollo alla Romana  Chicken Roman Style

serves 4

  • A nice plump chicken weighing about 1.5 kg / 3 lb
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 50 g pancetta, diced (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • a plump clove of garlic (optional)
  • a glass of dry white wine
  • 300 g tomatoes or passata
  • 4 large red peppers

Clean the chicken and cut it into 8 eight pieces.

In a large heavy based fry the diced pancetta in the olive oil until it renders its fat. Add the chicken pieces skin side down and cook until the skin forms a golden crust, then turn them and fry the other side.

Add salt, several grindings of black pepper and the garlic and turn the pieces over three or four times. Add the wine and let it bubble away until most of it has evaporated.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and deseed the peppers and cut them into chunky pieces. Add the tomatoes and the peppers to the pan, stir, cover the pan and leave over a over a modest heat. Keep an eagle eye on the pan for the first 10 minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking. Once the peppers release their juices, half cover the pan and cook for another 45 minutes or until the tomatoes and peppers have collapsed into a dense, rich sauce and the chicken is tender.

Allow the pan to sit for about 15 minutes or better still a couple of hours or overnight (in which case you can just reheat it very very gently over a low flame until it is warm but not hot.) Serve with good bread and a glass of wine.

25 Comments

Filed under chicken, food, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, Roman food, tomatoes

25 responses to “Alla Romana

  1. Amazing! Such a short list of ingredients but it looks and sounds so delicious.

  2. Betta

    So glad you didn’t go back to Palermo, would have missed some of the best meals of my life and, most of all, a dear friend :)
    Rachel and Alice, you have both enriched Rome with your lovely presence… and food!
    X
    B

  3. Eha

    The chicken is appetizingly easy, the story around it so much fun to read!

  4. kate - littlehouse

    I was so engrossed in your narrative that my morning coffee boiled over but no matter – I love reading your words and now I know what to make tonight.

  5. Florence

    I, too, will be making this tonight! And if this is an example, I vote for more Roman food-

  6. Mmmm… I can’t wait to try this out, and I’m completely in favour of more secondi !

  7. My favorite kind of cooking- a few delicious ingredients stewed together and good bread.

  8. Ah, fabulous, as usual, Rachel. And now I want this chicken, and then maybe a granita di mandorle, but first a tiny bottle of CapariSoda with a glass of ice…

  9. victoria2nyc

    This sounds – and looks – delicious. Perhaps it’s a good dish to make on this dreary, rainy day.

    Your boy is beautiful!

  10. Delish. Once again, jealous of the produce you have at your fingertips. I can taste the sweetness of the red peppers and the subtle saltiness of the pancetta. Aaaand now my mouth is watering.

  11. You have me dreaming of Trastevere (I lived on Via Agostino Bertani) and eating secondi, with vegetables piled high nearby. This dish looks delicious, and wonderfully simple, and so perfectly rich and Roman. I cannot wait to try it! Wonderful post, and yes, please don’t hold back on the Roman food posts.

  12. we must thank brother Ben for pressing you to post about traditional Roman secondi. what a marvelous looking chicken—in its carmine bath.

  13. susan

    I love any food that can simmer in a big pot. Is Coda alla vaccinara (sp?) a roman dish? It’s a lovely braise of celery and oxtail and I’ve had it not often enough, so that when I see a gorgeous bunch of leafy celery I get a little misty eyed and wistful. If you’ve got a good recipe from the ‘neighborhood’ would you share?

  14. Cristina

    The little Roman is getting cuter and cuter!
    Listen to the brother. He gives good advice!
    This recipe is to be made at the weekend!
    And…it’s always a great pleasure to read your posts! :-)

  15. Rachael

    Oh Rachel. I cannot tell you how wide my smile is… I think I am going to really enjoy the Roman posts. Definitely going to make this dish… I am salivating just reading the recipe. And I give another thanks to brother Ben.

  16. Lizzie

    I love your blog Rachel. That’s all :)

  17. This Roman chicken sounds delicious – kind of a Italian variation on Basque chicken (that I posted a recipe for). I’m definitely going to try your version though…

  18. I made this for myself for dinner last night, and it was fantastic! I like bell peppers as much as the next girl, but I don’t love-love them when cooked. I don’t crave them. I was prepared to be mildly pleased but instead was amazed! You’re absolutely right that something magical happens in there when the peppers cook down. I used both the pancetta and garlic, which definitely worked out nicely, and I’m looking forward to leftovers tonight. Thank you for this, and thank you for this wonderful blog, which I’ve started reading a bit every day as part of my obsessive long-term project to move myself to Rome. I hope someday (sooner rather than later) I will be brave enough to take the plunge.

    • rachel

      This is the very best type of comment, so glad you made it and even gladder you liked it. I always think the leftovers are even better! Were they?
      When you move to Rome (which you will) promise me we can have a cafe together.
      Rx

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  21. Moira

    Rachel, We’ve just demolished this dish for lunch in a grey cold London. Thanks for brightening our day! The chicken was delicious! Already looking forward to the leftovers…
    Love, Moira

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