Tag Archives: Red tomatoes

POLLO OR GALLINA ALLA CONTADINA, ALLA PAESANA. Braised Chicken with Olives, Sicilian style.

IMG_2667Any 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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

1 chicken
2 carrots
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.

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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.

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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!

MINESTRA DI TENERUMI (Summer soup made with the tendrils of a Sicilian squash)

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When I was in Palermo last September there were bunches of tenerumi on sale at the markets – these are the stems, leaves and tendrils of those long, twisted green zucche (squashes) that grow in Sicily and Calabria. The long serpent like squashes are called zucche serpente and you can guess why.

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Those of you who have travelled to Sicily in summer may have seen these very unusual vegetables and perhaps not known what they were. Both the squash and the greens are eaten and are considered rinfrescanti (cooling and refreshing for the body). The zucca (singular) and the greens are a Sicilian summertime specialty and I have not seen this type of squash growing in Australia yet.

The greens are usually made into a wet pasta dish and, unfortunately, it is not a dish you will find in a Sicilian restaurant. It is a typical, home-cooked, soupy dish with the flavours of summer: red summer tomatoes, garlic, basil, thickened with broken spaghetti and enhanced with a drizzle of good, extra virgin olive oil.

I first ate this soup in Augusta and it was cooked by one of my cousins, Lidia. In her version, Lidia used both the zucca and the greens. My relatives in Ragusa do not cook minestra di tenerumi very often – it is considered to be a dish typical of the regions of Palermo and Catania. (My mother’s side of the family originally came from Catania).

I was very pleased to eat minestra di tenerumi again recently when I visited a friend’s home in Bosco Falconeria, close to Castellammare (on the north coast, west of Palermo). I appreciated this simple, flavoursome dish for many reasons. Firstly, it was all produce picked fresh from Mary’ Taylor Simeti’s own garden. This included the olives used to make the fragrant, extra virgin olive oil and the organic wine we drank made by her husband, Tonino. Photo above is  the soup and how  Mary presented.

Mary Taylor Simeti is one of my heroes – I think that sometimes it takes a “foreigner ‘ with a passion to rediscover and tease out the history behind the food ( not that she is a foreigner, she is part of Sicily, having dedicated so many years to  writing about it in numerous books and articles).

Secondly, I was very pleased to be presented with such a simple dish. In my normal diet I eat a lot of vegetables and when I travel and eat in restaurants and trattorie, I crave freshly cooked vegetables – I can’t wait to get back to friends and relatives. Besides, these are not the typical vegetables or cooking found in Sicilian eateries and Mary, our host, knew that some of us who had been invited to eat at her table would never have eaten this. We all loved it. Mary presented this simple dish with small cubes of caciocavallo – a special DOP Sicilian cheese (cascavaddu in Sicilian) produced mainly in the province of Ragusa.

I once used the very young shoots of the zucchini plants (complete with the flowers and young zucchini) to make this soup – different, but nevertheless, rinfrescante and a celebration of summer.

Although we may not be able to buy tenerumi in Australia at this stage, we may not have long to wait.

I was fascinated to see one of the episodes of Sean Connelly’s Family Feast on SBS. It featured the food of a family of Africans from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are living in the Western suburbs of Sydney and are growing African leaf vegetables; on the program the family were harvesting and eating tendrils very like tenerumi. These tendrils were the shoots from a different type of squash plant, but would probably taste very similar to the Sicilian variety.

As in all Sicilian food, there are local variations. Some substitute the garlic with finely chopped fresh onion, others add anchovies, but personally, if it is to be rinfrescante – refreshing, anchovies are not suitable. Here is a recipe which suits my tastes for making minestra di tenerumi (excuse me Mary if this is different to your recipe).

The wet pasta dish is cooked very quickly.

INGREDIENTS
tenerumi, equivalent to a large bunch, 500g
garlic cloves , 3-4 chopped finely
ripe tomatoes , 300g seeded and cut into dice (I think Mary used cherry tomatoes)
fresh basil leaves , torn, about 15
spaghetti , broken into small pieces, 200g
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
hot chilli (optional)
grated pecorino cheese (optional)

PROCESSES
Prepare the shoots and tendrils, discard the tough stems, separate into small bits.
Add the tenerumi to boiling, salted water and bring to the boil again (estimate 3 cups of water per person).
Add the pasta and cook.
While the pasta is cooking, toss the tomatoes into a hot frying pan with about 3 tablespoons of the oil, add garlic and chilli, salt and some of the basil and heat through for a few minutes.
When the pasta is cooked, check that you have the correct consistency – it should be like a very thick soup and you may need to drain some of the liquid.
Add the warm tomato mixture and more basil.
Drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Cheese is optional. I prefer it without and appreciate the fresh taste of the dish.