Any time you see Italian dishes described as alla contadina, alla paesana, alla campagnola………do we really know what is meant by these terms?
These all translate as of the peasantry – peasant style – and as those who live on the land would cook these dishes. They imply to be dishes that are healthy, nourishing, unsophisticated, hearty, country-style and as cooked at home. In these dishes you would also expect some common vegetables – onions, carrots, celery, some common herbs and wine (someone living on the land usually makes their own wine).
Carne – meat, or coniglio – rabbit, or pollo or gallina, seem to be cooked alla contadina, alla paesana, alla campagnola very frequently in home kitchens. The method of cooking is braised or stewed.
What is meant by pollo and gallina, and is there a difference?
Pollame are farmyard birds, therefore pollo is derived from this word.
Gallina is chicken and female. Gallo is the masculine, i.e. a rooster and would probably be not as tender as a gallina and would require more cooking.
Once a pollo would most likely have been considered a male, but in modern times there is no difference between the terminology or the gender and especially in Australia, UK and US, it is what we commonly refer to as chicken. Usually chicken is 6-12 months old when it is killed.
A gallina vecchia would be the description of a chicken used to make broth/ stock and would be older than 12 months.
Proverb: Una gallina vecchia fa buon brodo…. An old hen makes good broth
Cappone is a capon and is a castrated male – this is likely to be sold as a larger bird as it will be fattened intentionally; the implication is that it will be tasty. I doubt if I could purchase a capon in Australia.
Recipes for pollo or gallina (chicken) alla contadina etc. cooked with these simple ingredients and braised are found in every region of Italy; the only variations may be the addition of a few tomatoes or mushrooms or a pepper (capsicum) or two. The wine can be red or white.
In Sicilian recipes you may find the addition of olives. More common would be the green, olive schacciate (cracked olives) as they have no stone. (The photo below was taken in Palermo. I have so many photos of Sicily and do not necessarily add them in my posts – silly me.)
I always buy whole chicken for a braise. My mother and relatives always did and I guess I just do without question.
Although I always buy free range, there is always some fat and I remove as much as possible before I cook it. I also always skim fat from the top of the braise once it is cooked.
As you can see by the way I dissect the chicken into pieces, I am no butcher, but if it is peasant style after all so I get away with it being roughly cut. I usually cut rough the vegetables as well. And who needs exact measurements if the recipe is home style.
2-3 celery stalks
1 large onion
2-3 red tomatoes (peeled fresh or canned)
½ -1 glass of white or red wine
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
rosemary, parsley or sage
1 cup green olives (no stones)
Cut the chicken into pieces and remove the fat (unless you like fatty chicken).
Brown the chicken in a tiny amount of oil – one side and the other. Remove from the pan. I like to drain off any fat before I continue cooking the rest.
Use the same pan, add the olive oil. Sauté the onion.
Add celery and carrots and sauté some more.
Add the chicken, herbs, tomatoes, seasoning and pour in the wine. Do not use much salt as the olives are likely to be salty.
Add some water to almost cover the chicken, cover and braise the contents (on low heat) for 40-60 minutes, stirring now and again. Add the olives about 10 minutes prior to the finish.
If there is too much liquid and you wish to concentrate the flavours, remove the chicken, increase the heat and evaporate the liquid lid until it has thickened. At this stage I skim more fat from the top if it is necessary. Add the chicken, mix, cover and leave until ready to serve.
Remember, Italian food is not usually presented at the table piping hot; the flavours are left to mature for at least 30 minutes.Italians like to savour their food and not have scalded palates!