I love steak. Until recently, I could eat it five times a week—pan roasted, basted with butter, cooked medium rare, served with a drizzle of olive oil. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Unfortunately, given my age and my doctor’s recommendations, my steak indulgence is now limited to once a week. I’m now dining more healthfully, albeit less rapturously, with at least one vegetarian and one fish meal a week, and eating more chicken than I want to admit.
One chicken recipe that’s become a weeknight favorite is Pollo all’arrabbiata from Louie Werle’s book on Italy’s cucina povera, Italian Country Cooking. As the recipe’s name implies, the chicken is cooked in a tomato sauce with hot chili peppers. Starting with a soffrito of garlic, fatty pancetta, and fresh rosemary makes this dish even more flavorful.
As was recommended in the recipe, I served the dish with polenta. Given my time constraints on a weekday night, however, I opted for an “instant” polenta, which I prepared with chicken broth, butter, and Parmigiano Reggiano.
I’ve always followed the recipe closely, but the next time I prepare it, I’ll probably cut the tomatoes into halves to extract more of their flavor.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, cut into 8 wedges
4 whole chicken legs (thighs and legs), about 3 pounds
1 garlic bulb, cloves peeled
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry red wine
2 hot red chilies, chopped (I substituted dried Calabrian chilies, crushed.)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 ounces fatty pancetta, cut into cubes (I used slightly more than 2 ounces.)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
To make the soffrito, combine the garlic, pancetta, and rosemary in a small food processor and pulse until fairly finely chopped.
Transfer the mixture to a heavy-based pot, add the oil and cook over moderate heat until the pancetta is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Turn the heat up to high, add the onion, chicken, and garlic cloves and brown the chicken well on both sides, about 8 minutes.
Stir in the wine and cook 1 minute. (I used this time to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.)
Then add chili and tomatoes, and season with salt.
Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook gently for 40 minutes. The chicken is cooked when the juices run clear when a skewer is inserted between the thigh and leg. Check seasoning. Serve on deep, heated plates with polenta.
Serves 4. (Like most braised dishes, this chicken is even better when re-heated a day or tow later.)
Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo