Page #8 – Peppers came later

Chicken cooked in pieces in a casserole, with various spices and condiments, is a dish that is widespread all over the world: Indian curry chicken, Moroccan chicken tagine, Tuscan chicken alla cacciatora.

Roman style chicken in a pan is extremely simple: a chicken stew in tomato sauce, cooked with white wine and flavoured with the simple addition of an aromatic herb such as rosemary or marjoram. Even the famous Roman poet Trilussa (1871/1950), in one of his satirical poems, refers to chicken cooked in a pan with tomato and defines it glorious:

Una Gallina disse a un Gatto nero:
– So’ tre giorni che cerco mi’ marito…
Chissà com’è finito!
Pe’ di’ la verità ce sto in pensiero…-
Er Gatto corse subbito in cucina,
e, ner sentì ch’er pollo era già stato
bello che cucinato,
ritornò addietro e disse a la Gallina:
– Vostro marito passerà a la Storia:
perché fece una morte proprio bella,
arabbiato in padella,
framezzo ar pomidoro de la gloria!

(Trilussa, La speculazzione delle parole)

A hen said to a black cat:
– I’ve been looking for my husband for three days…
Who knows how it ended!
To tell you the truth, I’m worried about him…
The Cat immediately run into the kitchen,
and, sensing that the chicken had already been cooked,
went back and said to the hen:
– Your husband will go down in history:
because he died in such a beautiful way,
“arabbiato” in the pan,
in the midst of the tomato of glory!

(Trilussa, The speculation of words)

Bell peppers were added only at the end of the 19th century and this tasty variant became extremely popular, even if peppers at that time were considered only a spice so that Artusi in his cooking manual didn’t include any recipe with peppers.

Red peppers

With the addition of peppers, two schools of thought were born around the recipe. In fact, there are those who prefer to cook peppers together with chicken (as I do), and those who cook chicken and peppers separately and combine them only at the end to keep the peppers more compact and the flavors clearer and less amalgamated.

The advocate of the separate cooking technique was a legend of traditional Roman cuisine, Sora Lella, sister of the famous Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi and an actress of great depth herself, even if she claimed that being an actress was just a hobby for her and instead considered herself to be a cook. In fact, hers was the historic Trattoria Sora Lella on the Tiber Island, today managed by her grandchildren, where you can still taste the recipes of the Roman tradition, even if updated with modern cooking methods that allow you to make them lighter while keeping intact the flavors.

Anyway, as we said, the peppers came later. And the funny thing is that even in Violetta’s life the peppers arrived only later, because she confessed that until the age of twenty-five she didn’t like them at all.

Once married, and struggling with daily cooking, Violetta began to prepare them for her husband, who instead did not like vegetables in general but was greedy for peppers. This way, she began to appreciate the structure, the smell, and finally the taste of the peppers. I think this shows that cooking is not just something to do in order to nourish yourself, but if done with love it is an exercise that broadens your horizons and allows you to overcome many limits. So if you don’t like something, try studying it, cooking it, creating new combinations using your instincts, and it is likely that you will discover the beauty of new flavors making your diet more varied and healthy.

– The Stove

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