Sep 6, 2009

Pollo ai Peperoni - chicken and peppers recipe

I went to visit Massimo, my pollarolo on Saturday at the farmer's market. A pollarolo is a poultry vendor, but Massimo sells many kinds of meat: chicken, turkey, hare, rabbit, spring lamb, game birds, a few pork cuts, and eggs. All his goods are free range and humanely butchered. I trust his methods and his meats, because I've seen the farm where he is partner and where his animals are reared, and I have witnessed a weekly slaying there once.

Mr. E, my 3 year-old son, has grown eating Massimo's birds. I was always confident that the white meats I fed him since I began weaning him onto solids never contained a single milligram of hormones or antibiotics. I myself have been raised on Massimo Il Pollarolo's goods. My mother has been a regular customer at his little market stall covered in A.S.Roma soccer posters ever since I can remember.

I used to go with her food shopping at the market on Saturdays too, and I guess that's where the seeds of my love for food, fresh garden ingredients and colorful marketplaces were planted. I recall watching Massimo's carving knives gliding though chicken breasts and opening them like booklets; his 4-lb mallet smashing down on thick pork ribs and his bloody hands carefully wrapping complimentary sprigs of rosemary along with the meat cuts in waxed paper for us to take home. Not even on the hottest days did I ever see flies buzzing around Massimo's spotless countertop. His parcels always came handed over with a smile and a recipe tip. "Don't drown it in white wine!" he would call after us as we strolled onto the next vendor to buy the eggplant and the tomatoes.

So Staurday I showed up at Massimo's stall as it was getting close to noon. I peered at the display case while Mr. E hypnotically stared at the burly giant behind the counter juggling his chopping implements. When the last customer in line before me left, I met Massimo's gaze and smiled in the direction of the tray of chicken halves. Bright yellow skin, buttery pink flesh, crimson veins and glowing china-white cartilage. Not the anemic, squallid-looking birds packed in plastic coffins that crowd the poultry section of your supermarket, no. These were actual chickens. They had been pecking away at grass only 2 days ago, Massimo assured me (these aren't fed corn or protein meals).

"How much do you want, and what are you making?" Massimo posed his usual question as he sharpened his tools. I pondered. I didn't have anything in mind at the moment, I was hoping on my usual spur of the moment stoveside inspiration. So I just said what my mom used to answer: "Dimmi tu." - You tell me.

Pollo ai Peperoni! Of course, chicken and bell peppers, what else? A typical Roman cucina casalinga (homestyle cookery) recipe made with simple ingredients, prepared with very little fat and an resulting in an incrrrredibly delicious meat+vegetable complete meal.

So that's what I made for lunch today, pollo ai peperoni. Here is the original Roman recipe handed down to my mother 25 years ago, by Massimo himself.

One 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) free-range chicken, washed and cut in 8 pieces (breasts, thighs, wings and drumsticks)
5 bell peppers (2 red, 2 yellow and 1 green), trimmed and cut in 1-inch squares
1 cluster of small Pachino-like tomatoes (6-7 egg-sized heirloom or cherry tomatoes), halved
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 bay leaf
2 fistfuls of unbleached flour
1 glass of dry, white wine
1 ladleful of meat stock
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Dredge the bird pieces lightly in flour seasoned with some salt and pepper.

Sear them with 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet for about 15 minutes, turning to brown evenly.

In another larger pan heat 3 more tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic and the bay leaf. As the garlic begins to tan, stir in the onion. Add the bell peppers and simmer gently for 15 minutes with the wine. Then stir in the halved tomatoes and check seasoning. Some (including myself) like to add a handful of Kalamata-type olives - locally called Gaeta - at this point. But the traditional Roman recipe is olive-less.

Fold in the browned chicken and simmer for 10 more minutes, or until the meat is tender and the sauce is reduced (you can add some broth or hot water if it looks too dry).

Garnish with some fresh basil or a few leaves of fresh marjoram, and enjoy at room temp.

As with many Roman recipes, this dish is best eaten warmed the next day.

The flavorful chicken juices playfully enhance the sweet tomato and savory bell pepper sauce, so keep some crusty bread handy for sloppy scarpetta.

Grazie, Massimo.


  1. I always had a problem when my children would see where the food actually came from, a live chicken or cow or lamb, they'd refuse to eat it!

    Maybe if I cooked as well as you... ☺ This looks delicious!

  2. I am like Lori's children. When I was little I saw my grandmother kill a chicken for dinner. I refused to eat it because it was dead. To this day I trouble with any meat that looks like a life form.

    The food world you expose E to is quite magnificent.

  3. e definitely gets to experience food culture. smiles. i remember going to the butcher as a boy and being amazed...even had my first slice of cows tongue...and i think it was my smells wonderful from here Lola.

  4. Thank you for the recipe- it looks lovely. Now I just need to find my own Massimo...

  5. I went to see Massimo today, to tell him many of my blogfriends are reading about him, and he blushed.

    When I asked him to say something to my readers all he could come up with was "Forza Roma."

  6. Sounds good! And I so love that option or just saying, you tell me, what do I want to cook tonight? I ask everyone and anyone I meet during my day...I get so bored cooking the same old things!

    Come play my contest on Amid the Olive Trees!

  7. One of my sons can't stomach meat that he has seen raw. A rare steak even on someone's plate will send him away from the table.
    My other son will try any food offered and loves almost anything. Same house, same upbringing but two completely different palates.
    I didn't have a name for this dish but often cook the same thing.

    Lola, my word verification is grevi. If that isn't an omen for me to come to Italy I don't know what is. I have often looked on the internet at places in Greve to stay.

  8. Hi Lola, thanks for your lovely comments over at mine.
    I can't get to the page with the raspberry tart, don't know why?

    Tried 2 (no less!)of your recipes yesterday- espresso with nutella, absolutely delicious, I'm addicted... and spinach with garlic and raisins, which was also delicious, even though I only used frozen spinach.
    I'm definitely a fan and follower of yours now!

  9. YUM!!! Lucky you to live where you can shop this way!

  10. I love pollo con i peperoni and scarpetta of course!

  11. Oh my Lola: What's wrong dear friend, how come you are not feeling yourself?

    I did not receive anything from you, but I remember you mentioning that at least a month or so ago. I forgot but am now once again looking forward to it, and of course I will let you know if I receive anything.

    But really, though, anything you say to me would never be misconstrued, as I know that you are pure of heart.

    I love you Lola and don't be sad.

    Love Renee xoxo

  12. I forgot to tell you I love the look of the blog.


  13. How do you manage to make everything look so totally, completely delicious ? I think you should open a restaurant... or maybe you have one already ?

  14. What a sexy meal! So vibrant... I must make this this week!

  15. Here we go, back from holidays and ready to cook with your help and inspiration! This looks delicious and I'd certainly do the scarpetta...slurp!

  16. What a good idea! Yes Lola, open up a restaurant, and all the blogworld will come pilgriming to you! You have not only a sense for the "good" ingredients but also an eye for their beauties.
    I hope you are feeling good again???

  17. It is too bad that we no longer know where our food comes from. I am trying to expose my grandchild to a more authentic life-style, where food is grown on local farms in small batches, where herbs and fruit can be grown in the kitchen garden. She thinks I'm a bit quirky. Her idea of preparing food is to make ice-cream.

    You are so smart to introduce little E to farmers' markets and poultry vendors/ranchers early in his life.

  18. The recipe would not be half as wonderful without the accompanying story. Massimo seems larger than if he will live forever, long enough to sell chickens to E. when he's grown.


  19. Yes Lola, So savory So good!! :)