A Rare Roman Chicken Recipe: Pollo con i Peperoni
Last month, I was on a press trip in Parma with a few U.S.-based food editors and writers. Naturally, many of our discussions were food-focused and really brought home the cultural differences between authentic Italian cuisine and “Italian” recipes that sometimes appear in American publications. One of my fellow journalists rather gleefully showed our Italian host a slideshow she had curated of pasta recipes with chicken, amused at his shocked and horrified reaction.
In Italy, chicken and pasta don’t go together. It’s just one of those unspoken rules, like not putting cheese on fish-based dishes. There’s probably an obscure exception to this rule, but generally speaking, it’s just not done. In Rome, in particular, chicken is rarely seen on restaurant menus. There is, however, one beloved Roman recipe for chicken and that is pollo con i peperoni (i.e. chicken with peppers).
Personally, I’m not a big meat eater in general and not a huge fan of chicken either, but I’ve grown to appreciate this dish, which my Roman husband Marco introduced me to. It’s a very simple recipe from Rome’s cucina povera (i.e. poor cuisine) tradition, involving just a few ingredients: chicken, bell peppers, and tomatoes. You need a bit of time and patience, as the peppers must slowly stew with the tomatoes over low-to-medium heat, but it’s incredibly easy to make. It’s a great dish for when you don’t want pasta. Just keep a bit of bread handy to soak up the sauce.
In Rome, everyone has their own version of this recipe. Some people add garlic, onion, and basil, while others don’t. It’s usually considered a summer recipe, but I think it’s good year-round. This particular version is by Angelo Preziosi and it comes from The Eternal City: Recipes and Stories from Rome by my dear friend Maria Pasquale. She writes, “Angelo’s recipe is quite precious, in being at least three generations old, with his nonna Rosa passing it down to his mother, Cristina, and then to him.”
Angelo’s version calls for chicken thighs and legs on the bone, but Marco and I use chicken breast and cut it into bite-size pieces. And we sometimes use fresh tomatoes instead of canned ones, but either will work. If using chicken breast, cook it separately from the peppers and then combine them at the end.
Pollo con i peperoni
100 ml (31/2 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) chicken thighs and legs, on the bone
2 yellow bell peppers (capsicum)
2 red bell peppers (capsicum)
125 ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine
400 g (14 oz) tin chopped tomatoes
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the chicken pieces, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook over high heat for 10–15 minutes, turning regularly to brown on all sides.
Meanwhile, remove the stems and seeds from the bell peppers, then cut the bell peppers into chunky strips measuring roughly 4 x 2 cm (11/4 x ¾ in).
Add the wine to the chicken and leave to simmer for a few minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Add the bell pepper strips and cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and 500 ml (2 cups) water.
Season with a little more salt and pepper, stir well and cook over medium–low heat for 45 minutes, or up to 1 hour. If the sauce begins to dry out too much during cooking, stir in a little more water.
The dish is ready to serve when the chicken is tender (the meat will easily come away from the bone) and the bell pepper is soft. Serve with some bread if you like, to mop up the sauces.
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These chicken pasta recipes were absolutely NOT created or approved by Italians.
Want to see how it’s done? Check out chef Max Mariola’s video recipe for pollo con i peperoni (in Italian with English subtitles).
You can see all the recipes in the New Roman Times’ archives here.