Pollo Alla Romana

Almost ten years ago when I moved from one house to another, I witnessed seeing more than 25 years of cooking magazines being thrown into the dumpster. Not because there wasn’t any room in the two super-sized moving trucks, but because the person who shall remain nameless said it was time for me to let go of a few things. At the time, it felt like I was having a limb removed without the benefit of any anesthesia. Needless to say I survived. My collection of more than two hundred cookbooks contained more recipes than I could possibly make in several lifetimes. Now ten years later, I have amassed a new collection of cooking magazines and probably another hundred cookbooks. Each time I go into one of the shrinking storage rooms in the basement or look at the sagging bookshelves, I began to wonder if I should get rid of some of these magazines. It’s always easier, yet not necessarily less painful, when you make this decision yourself. Even though I have long since given up remembering which of the magazines contained recipes I loved or wanted to make (there is only so much space in my memory bank for such things), I am (slowly) coming around to the realization that I don’t need to save every magazine I buy. And tearing out pages from them isn’t a sacrilegious act or heinous crime. So this past week I began the process of going through this new ten year cooking magazine collection. Deciding which ones to keep or which recipes to save. It’s a different kind of pain this time, but at least it’s not one requiring any medical intervention or the intake of massive quantities of painkillers. As long as no one asks me to get rid of any of my cookbooks, I think I will be just fine.
Pollo Alla Romana is an old, traditional summer dish originating from the Castelli Romani in Lazio, a collection of towns once inhabited by noble Roman families in the 14th century. ‘Alla Romana’ simply means ‘Roman Style’. This classic rustic dish was typically prepared for Ferragosto, the August 15th holiday, celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Prepared early in the morning and served later in the day may have been a way for Italian cooks to avoid having to cook a meal during the hottest time of the day. However, in actuality there is a greater benefit of the the cook early-serve later approach. The flavors further deepen as the dish rests. But for an even deeper flavor, making it the day before and reheating to ‘warm’ before serving is how it should be made. While it’s incredibly delicious served on the same day it’s made, the overnight mellowing of the flavors transforms the Polla Alla Romana into one causing you to never want to leave the dinner table. 
Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill is turning into one of my new favorite cookbooks. The recipe for this version of Pollo Alla Romana was inspired by theirs. Other than using chicken breasts and thighs (instead of a whole chicken cut up) and increasing the amount of diced tomatoes, I tried to stay true to all of the recommended ingredients.
Even though using bone-in chicken (versus deboned chicken) is known to add more flavor to any recipe, I decided to use a combination of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs. Although the next time (and there will be next time) I make it, it will be with using skin-on (but still boneless) chicken breasts and thighs. So the dish at least gets the benefit of the flavor from the skin’s fat.
Salting and refrigerating the chicken for at least six hours or overnight was one of the recommendations in the recipe. They should have made it a requirement. So instead I am.
The chicken and peppers/onions are initially cooked separately before ultimately being combined. This type of cooking process allows each of ingredients to absorb something from the other. The result is a savory rich dish having very distinctive flavors.
Some recipes for Polla Alla Romana call for the use of both red and green peppers. However, this version of the recipe recommended using red and yellow peppers. And not because yellow peppers have a sweeter flavor than the more bitter green peppers. Rather because the combination of yellow and red in this dish represents the colors of the city’s flag and AS Roma, one of Rome’s two professional soccer teams. Apparently the Roman’s show allegiance to their favorite soccer team has influenced the making of ancient Roman recipes.
Instead of cutting the seeded peppers into one inch strips, mine were cut into half-inch strips. Once the chicken has been browned on all sides and removed from the pan, the peppers, onions, and garlic were sautéed until tender. The addition of dry white wine helped to lift up the brown bits of chicken as well as added even more flavor. After the diced tomatoes and marjoram were added, the browned chicken was returned to the pan. Then the magic started to happen.
Adding just enough water (which really shouldn’t be very much) to ensure the chicken is at least halfway submerged, the chicken is cooked to a point of perfect tenderness while the sauce thickens and develops a deep red color. Cooking time may range from 30 to 45 minutes (or longer depending on the heat setting of your stove). Note: My cooking time was somewhere between 45 and 50 minutes.

Instead of serving the chicken on the same day it is made, I would strongly encourage you to shred the cooked chicken, return to the sauce, and refrigerate overnight. I am not sure I can put into words the taste difference between the same day and next day versions. So all I will say is I heard an almost window shattering ‘wow’ immediately after someone took a bite of the next day Pollo Alla Romana. 
Served with a salad, some great crusty bread and a great bottle (or two) of wine, the Pollo Alla Romana becomes an undeniably perfect summer and year round meal. If made the day before, it becomes one of those seemingly effortless meals. With peppers coming into the height of their season, there may be no better time to make this dish for the first time. It is perfect meal to serve at a casual or intimate gathering of family and/or friends. Everyone will feel as if they have been transported to Rome and maybe no one will leave the table until the last morsel has been eaten.

Pollo Alla Romana (slight adaptation to the Pollo Alla Romano recipe from Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill)

3 3-1/2 pounds of a combination of boneless/skin-on chicken breasts and thighs
Kosher salt
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large red peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2 strips
1 large yellow or orange pepper, seeded cut into 1/2 strips
2-3 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
2 yellow onions, cut into 1/4″ rings
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio)
1 Tablespoon freshly chopped marjoram
16-20 ounces canned diced tomatoes
Great crusty bread (for serving)

1. Season chicken with salt. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.
2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When oil begins to simmer, add chicken, skin side down and cook until browned on all sides (about 7-10 minutes). Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
3. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat until the onions and peppers have softened (about 10 minutes). 
4. Add wine, increase heat to high and scrape up any of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. After the alcohol aroma dissipates, add the tomatoes and marjoram. 
5. Return chicken to the pan and cook stirring occasionally for 30-45 minutes or until chicken is tender and sauce has a thick consistency and color is a deep red. Note: Add a small amount of water to pan to ensure chicken is partially submerged when cooking. If the sauce becomes dry while cooking add either some additional diced tomatoes or some water. 
6. Remove pan from stove and transfer to a large platter. Serve hot or at room temperature.
7. OR allow the chicken to come to room temperature. Remove chicken and shred. Return chicken to tomato/pepper sauce. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Reheat before serving. Note: Highly recommend waiting overnight before serving.

Notes: The original recipe called for the use of a whole chicken cut into 8 pieces. Instead of using deboned chicken breasts and thighs, could use bone-in chicken breasts and thighs.

Benches in the Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Illinois (2016)

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