Otherwise known as “Roman-style chicken”. I can remember eating something called Pollo alla Romana many years ago when I was a student, but it was nothing much like this. It was pretty much just a breaded and deep-fried chicken breast fillet served with some plain white risotto and a tomato sauce spooned over the top, garnished with grated Parmesan. I think that there might have been a few black olives in the sauce. Of course, as an 18 or 19-year-old it seemed pretty good, especially served at a table covered in a red and white checked tablecloth, and with the obligatory candle stuffed into a straw-covered Chianti fiasco. I seem to remember that we drank Valpolicella, which was probably the only Italian wine that I’d ever drunk before at the time.
Anyway, like most Italian recipes, there are dozens, if not hundreds of slightly different versions of Pollo alla Romana, but the basic idea is pretty simple, which is never a bad thing to my way of thinking; it is pieces of chicken, skinned but on the bone, fried in olive oil and then stewed in a sauce of tomatoes, garlic, white wine and red peppers. Some versions include pancetta, which would be nice and others include such things as capers or black olives. Some versions cook the peppers from raw in the sauce and others add previously roasted and skinned peppers towards the end of the cooking time. To my way of looking at it, the latter is the better idea. You get a lot of sweet red pepper flavour but none of the skin, which doesn’t add anything to the dish at all.
So, here is my version, which I hope that someone’s nonna would approve of. It is a racing certainty that neither of my grandmothers would ever have cooked anything like this.
1 free-range chicken, jointed and skinned (or just skinned thighs and drumsticks)
3 finely-chopped cloves of garlic
1 or 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (depending on how much sauce you think you need)
1 large glass of dry white wine (I used Soave, but Frascati seems more authentically Roman)
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves stripped off and finely-chopped
2 large red peppers
salt and peppers
First, prepare your peppers. Heat the oven to 180C and roast the peppers on a roasting tray until the skins are blistered and blackened all over. Remove from the oven and put the hot peppers into a plastic bag. After about 15 minutes, the skins will peel away easily. You might need to use a knife on parts that are less roasted. Remove the stalks and seeds and cut the peppers into strips. Put in a bowl until later. There will be a lot of lovely juice that comes out. This will enhance the sauce even more.
Incidentally, peppers roasted and peeled like this make a lovely addition to an antipasti just dressed with a garlicky vinaigrette.
Take your chicken pieces and sauté them in olive oil. When they are lightly coloured, remove and set them aside and soften the garlic and rosemary in the same pan. Don;t let the garlic burn. Add in the wine and let it reduce slightly. Add the tomatoes and cook for about five minutes until everything comes together into a sauce. Season with salt and pepper and put the chicken back into the pan. Cover and simmer for around 30 minutes. Add the peppers, with their juices and cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
You can do all of this in advance and then just reheat it when required or you can serve it immediately.
The accompaniments are up to you. I cooked some fresh egg tagliatelle and kept it simple, but you could serve it with fried or mashed potatoes, gnocchi or even some risotto. You do need something to soak up all the lovely sauce, though, so if you aren’t putting any carbs on the plate, you will definitely need some bread. I think that a green salad would be nice afterwards, or maybe some green beans served with the chicken.
Whatever you do, don’t cover it in Parmesan cheese.
As to wine, a chilled dry white would be good, or maybe a rosé. Most reds will be too heavy, though, I think