It may come as a surprise to non-Italians, but if you ask the average Italian what they think of pasta and chicken, you’re likely to get a negative reaction. A very negative one in fact. That’s certainly the view among my Italian acquaintances. To them, a dish like Chicken Alfredo is an utter abomination, yet another example of foreigners butchering their beloved cuisine. And in all the years I lived in Italy, I didn’t come across the combination, not even once.
So I always assumed that Italian cookery simply didn’t have any pasta and chicken dishes. That assumption was borne out in Bugialli on Pasta, Giuiliano Bugialli’s extensive survey on Italian pasta dishes, where he says that in Italian cookery “there do not seem to be chicken sauces [for pasta] analogous to meat, duck or rabbit sauces”.
The exception that proves the rule…
So imagine my surprise when I saw this video from the fabulous Pasta Grannies YouTube channel. It features a pasta sauce from Le Marche made with—you guessed it—chicken. But not exactly in the way you might imagine: scraps from a chicken (feet, head, neck, etc.) are simmered in tomato and aromatic vegetables to lend their flavor, then discarded. In other words, the sauce is flavored with chicken but has no actual chicken in it. But nonetheless, it seemed to be the proverbial exception that proved the rule.
My curiosity piqued, I dug deeper. Searching through my cookbook collection and online Italian sourced recipes, I found that, though few and far between, Italian pasta and chicken dishes do exist.
For example, it turns out, pace Bugialli, that the marchigiani also make a traditional ragù di pollo, prepared much in the same way as a bolognese ragù but with minced chicken meat rather than the usual beef and pork. The cookbook of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina includes a recipe for a ragù from Emilia-Romagna that calls for minced chicken breast along with pork and veal (and no beef). Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, in her iconic work La cucina napoletana, includes a recipe from the monzù tradition combining pasta with boiled beef and chicken. Bugialli himself includes a dish from Basilicata in Bugialli on Pasta where chicken pieces are oven roasted and served with a pasta dressed with a bell pepper sauce.
And these days you’ll find a fair number of “creative” pasta and chicken recipes from Italian food bloggers and even some established websites. So perhaps the taboo around this combination is fading?
And then there’s the recipe I want to share with you today, lasagnette alla cacciatora col pollo, or Pasta Cacciatore, which I found in my trusty copy of Il Talismano della felicità by Ana Boni. Back in the day, the Talismano was a fixture in Italian households, playing a role similar to that once played by The Joy of Cooking in the US or Mrs Beeton in the UK. If one of the most iconic Italian cookbooks ever includes it, you know that, however unusual, this recipe is 100% Italian.
Here, a version of chicken alla cacciatora made with extra abundant sauce enhanced with some pancetta or guanciale is paired with lasagnette, an extra-wide ribbon shaped fresh egg pasta. The sauce is used to dress the pasta, then the chicken pieces are served on top of the pasta, making for a one-dish meal or piatto unico.
I should have known better about pasta and chicken. One thing I’ve learned over a lifetime of eating, cooking and studying Italian food is, you should never say never when when it comes to this cuisine. Italian cookery is simply so vast and varied that it’s a fool’s errand to try to make any sweeping generalizations about it. There’ll always be those exceptions like this Pasta Cacciatore out there, popping up at different times and places.
And anyway, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. And if you ask me, this recipe really works. That said, my Italian friends are right about one thing: Chicken Alfredo really is an abomination…
- 500g (1 lb) lasagnette (or similar fresh pasta—see Notes)
For the sauce:
- 1 chicken, preferably free-range, cut into serving pieces
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic, slightly crushed and peeled
- 100g (3-1/2 oz) pancetta or guanciale, cut into strips
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 1 large can of peeled tomatoes, run through a food mill
- White wine
- Butter and olive oil
- Salt and pepper
To finish the dish:
- Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
- 1-2 sprigs of fresh parsley, finely minced
- 1 sprig of fresh basil, finely minced (optional)
In a large sauté pan or braiser over gentle head, melt a good nob of butter in olive oil. Add the chopped onion and garlic, and let sauté gently until the onion is soft and translucent.
Now add the pancetta or guanciale, along with the chicken pieces. Raise the heat a bit and let the guanciale and chicken brown lightly on all sides, taking care to regulate the heat so the onion and garlic don’t burn. Season with salt and pepper as you go.
Remove the garlic and add a good splash of wine. Let it evaporate, turning the chicken in the wine so it is coated all over.
When the wine has evaporated, add the tomato. Cover (leaving the lid slightly ajar to allow for reduction) and let braise over moderate heat for about 30 minutes, turning the chicken from time to time, until the chicken is tender and tomato has thickened into a saucy consistency. Add water as needed if the sauce gets too thick.
Meanwhile, if you’re making your own lasagnette, prepare fresh egg pasta dough following the instructions in this post, roll the dough out into thin sheets, then cut the sheets into ribbons 3 cm (1 inch) wide. Otherwise, you can use a store-bought ribbon pasta. (See Notes below for details.)
Boil your pasta al dente and transfer it to a serving bowl. Mix with enough of the sauce to coat it well and sprinkle generously with grated parmgiano-reggiano. Place the chicken pieces on top and sprinkle with minced parsley (and basil if using).
Serve your Pasta Cacciatore together with more grated parmigiano-reggiano and any remaining sauce on the side.
I didn’t mention it in the intro, but this dish actually violates two “rules”. One is the “rule” or custom against pairing pasta with chicken, as explained above. The other concerns the structure of the Italian meal into separate pasta and meat (or fish) courses, known as the primo and the secondo, respectively. Although Boni’s recipe has you serve them together, if you wanted a more conventional Italian meal, you could serve the pasta, dressed with some of the sauce, as a primo and the chicken and remaining sauce as a secondo.
Choice of pasta
Lasagnette, as you might have guessed, means “little lasagna”. It’s a kind of extra wide ribbon pasta, sometimes with wavy edges and sometimes not. You can use lasagnette in baked pasta dishes like regular lasagna or, as here, enjoy them boiled and dressed with a sauce.
Although probably best known as a commercial dry pasta made with durum wheat flour, Boni’s recipe calls for making your own lasagnette with fresh egg pasta using 00 flour, cut into ribbons 3 cm (or about 1 inch) wide, which is far narrower than commercial lasagnette, which are usually about 7-10 cm wide.
I think it’s worth making your own, since there is nothing quite like it available commercially. See our post on making homemade fresh egg pasta for details. A lot of folks find the thought of making their own pasta intimidating. You shouldn’t be. It’s really not hard once you get the hang of it.
That said, if you don’t want to bother making your own pasta, you could prepare your Pasta Cacciatore with store-bought pappardelle, which is probably the closest thing to Boni’s lasagnette you can buy. Pappardelle are another wide ribbon pasta, albeit typically only about half as wide as Boni’s lasagnette. If you can’t source pappardelle, you could opt for more conventional (and even narrower) ribbon pastas such as tagliatelle or fettuccine. And although it’s obviously not “DOC“, I could even see using wide egg noodles of the German or American variety, about the right width but much shorter than lasagnette.
Most pasta and chicken recipes I’ve seen do call for fresh egg pasta. Although it’s hard to articulate exactly why, this makes complete intuitive sense to me.
Like any braise, you can make the chicken ahead and reheat it and its sauce whenever you’re ready to serve. The taste will only improve. You could also make the lasagnette ahead of time—but it should only be cooked at the last moment.
Lasagnette alla cacciatora col pollo (Pasta Cacciatore)
- 500g 1 lb lasagnette or similar fresh pasta
For the sauce
- 1 chicken preferably free-range, cut into serving pieces
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic slightly crushed and peeled
- 100g 3-1/2 oz pancetta or guanciale cut into strips
- 1 kilo 2 lbs fresh tomatoes peeled, seeded and chopped OR
- 1 large can peeled tomatoes run through a food mill
- White wine
- Butter and olive oil
- Salt and pepper
To finish the dish
- freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
- 1-2 sprigs fresh parsley finely minced
- 1 sprig basil optional
- In a large sauté pan or braiser over gentle head, melt a good nob of butter in olive oil. Add the chopped onion and garlic, and let sauté gently until the onion is soft and translucent.
- Now add the pancetta or guanciale, along with the chicken pieces. Raise the heat a bit and let the guanciale and chicken brown lightly on all sides, taking care to regulate the heat so the onion and garlic don't burn. Season with salt and pepper as you go.
- Remove the garlic and add a good splash of wine. Let it evaporate, turning the chicken in the wine so it is coated all over.
- When the wine has evaporated, add the tomato. Cover (leaving the lid slightly ajar to allow for reduction) and let braise over moderate heat for about 30 minutes, turning the chicken from time to time, until the chicken is tender and tomato has thickened into a saucy consistency. Add water as needed if the sauce gets too thick.
- Meanwhile, if you're making your own lasagnette, prepare fresh egg pasta dough, roll the dough out into thin sheets, then cut the sheets into ribbons 3 cm (1 inch) wide. Otherwise, you can use a store-bought ribbon pasta.
- Meanwhile, boil your pasta al dente and transfer it to a serving bowl. Mix with enough of the sauce to coat it well and sprinkle generously with grated parmgiano-reggiano. Place the chicken pieces on top and sprinkle with minced parsley (and basil if using).
- Serve your Pasta Cacciatore together with more grated parmigiano-reggiano and any remaining sauce on the side.
My favorite website of Italian cooking! so simple yet most delicious! thank you> may you continue be inspired!
Thanks so much for the kind words, Chit. I’m delighted to hear it. 🙂
What about the chicken skin? I assume the sauce will be greasy if you leave the skin on, but maybe it adds a lot to the flavor? Can you remove the skin before cooking?
Skin on. Like any tomato sauce, this one needs to simmer in a good amount of fat to develop proper taste and texture. If you find the fat excessive, it can be skimmed off once the sauce has reduced.
Another terrific and delicious dish, thanks to you, Counselor. Buon Natale!
Thanks so much, Alex!
Ohhh thanks for letting us know that, I never knew chicken on pasta was a no no but like you said that norm is quite fading already as I saw some pasta dishes served with Chicken in proper Italian restaurants that I tried. For me I am not fuzzy its just I am not used to chicken on tomato sauce over pasta, always with creamy or cheesy sauce, having said that your recipe sounds fantastic, definitely will give it a go
Since it’s such a common combination in other cuisines, it seems most people are aware of this “taboo”. I would, however, be wary of judging Italian food culture by what you might find in an Italian restaurant outside Italy. Even the excellent ones tend to alter Italian dishes and/or offer up Italian-American ones to cater to local tastes. At least that’s the case here in the US.
I confess: I like the combination of chicken and pasta. Guilty. But in my excuse that’s normally not Chicken Alfredo or other creamy sauces; more eclectic combinations like “chicken sage pine nuts” or “chicken sun-dried tomatoes basil prosciutto”. Kind of trying to mix classic Italian flavours with something less authentic like chicken.
Anx this recipe? So hearty and delicious!
I’d venture that most non-Italians do like the combination. It’s a common one in both Western and non-Western cuisines. Think of all the Asian chicken and noodle dishes, for example. No reason to feel “guilty” about liking it. It’s the Italians who are a little weird in this regard. But I thought it was interesting to mention it since it seems very few non-Italians are aware of this aspect of Italian food culture.
How interesting about pasta and chicken! As always, I loved your post, Frank. Such fascinating information, and such a delicious-looking recipe. I haven’t made pasta in years, but I’ve been kind of hankering to get back into it. Maybe this recipe will give me the impetus that I need.
Thanks, Jeff! If you do want to get back into pasta making, this might be a nice place to start…
I had to convince my Italian husband that chicken and pasta could even be a possibility :D. So you are absolutely right, it (generally) doesn’t exist here. The only exception I’ve seen so far has been “white ragu” made with ground chicken (and I think that might’ve been a bit of a “health” recipe). But pasta with chicken pieces? Yours is the first Italian recipe I’ve ever seen to do this :). In Finland, on the other hand, chicken pasta is very common (oven-baked curry chicken being a particular favourite). I think that is connected to the fact that we don’t have a separate primo and secondo. If there is pasta, it needs to be accompanied with a protein source. Before moving to Italy, I didn’t really understand why someone would eat lemon pasta or aglio e olio because in my view those could never be a complete meal… Then I learned about the primo and secondo and suddenly everything made sense haha.
Regarding Italian food snobs: I have grown so tired of this notion, even if partly rooted in reality (as demonstrated by Leonardo’s comments). But I think it has wastly been blown out of proportion, at least on social media. I keep seeing Youtube videos and comments where (non-Italian) people are anticipating the arrival of “angry Italians”. I feel it reduces Italians to a stereotype and makes them look more “angry” and “difficult” than they actually are. And I feel making Italians the butt of the joke really stops people from being genuinely curious about authentic Italian cuisine, its dishes and techniques. If an American creator publishes a video particularly about Italian pasta culture and then proceedes to serve the pasta with a dollop on sauce on top without mixing it, the multiple comments by Italians to finish the pasta in the sauce are not an insurgence of an angry mob… But genuine comments on a faulty technique, if the goal really was to display the Italian way of eating pasta. Sadly, the validity of those comments is easy to dismiss when you are stuck on the “here come the angry Italians” stereotype.
The pasta and chicken combination is very common here in the US,too, and some of those recipes are (falsely) put forward as “Italian”, and I’ve seen the same in other countries. So I thought it’d be interesting for my non-Italian readers to know that the combination is a rarity in Italy. Unless the person is familiar with Italian food culture, it usually comes as a surprise. And for those who do know Italian cuisine, whether in Italy or elsewhere, I thought they’d be interested to know that a few dishes with the combination, while quite rare, do exist. And judging from the comments, I think I did pique my readers’ curiosity… 😉
And yes, I totally agree about the whole “narrative” around supposed Italian food snobs. For the most part, I don’t think it’s a useful label. Italians have every right to call out poor technique, uninformed statements and downright misrepresentations of their cuisine for what they are. That doesn’t mean the person doing the calling out is a “snob”.
I am not sure Italians have a repulsion – I think it is more tradition. The chicken would be the secondo, thus not a primo. That certainly doesn’t explain any number of ragùs that have veal, beef, pork, etc… However, I would be reticent to serve our Italian friends a chicken and pasta dish… that is, until now. I, too, have Il Talismano plus her Italian Regional Cooking book – which I refer to all the time. I use Il Talismano on occasion, but my Italian is weak so I rely on her Regional Cooking. I will definitely try this, Frank – and would proudly serve it to our neighbors from Toscana.
If you do serve your Tuscan neighbors this or another pasta and chicken dish, I’d be fascinated to hear about their reactions. Sounds like they’re a bit more open minded than my acquaintances… 😉
Frank, we sure enjoy a good plate of cacciatore, usually chicken, unless I can find fresh rabbit. But, we serve it with polenta or crusty bread. But, serving it with fresh pasta would certainly work for me. I love making and eating pappardelle so I’m looking forward to trying this lasagnette.
Hope you like it, Ron! If you like pappardelle (like I do) this pasta will be right up your alley. And I love rabbit cacciatore, too, although my better half doesn’t so I rarely get to enjoy it. 🙁
Interessante! I had no idea that Italians view chicken and pasta in such a negative light. I mean it makes sense now that I think about it – I don’t recall seeing any recipes like this whenever we’ve traveled in Italy. However, this one you found sounds delicious, Frank! I could definitely go for a plate of this one tonight.
Indeed, I live in Italy for ten years and never came across the combination! Thanks for stopping by, David!
back in the days when we ate pasta, i used to make something similar. i have a feeling i added black olives to this dish.
Sounds nice, Sherry.
I love anything Italian! And I agree, making your own pasta is the way to go. I shall have to make some lasagnette the next time I do a chicken pasta sauce 🙂
Hope you enjoy it, Tandy. Thanks for stopping by!
It looks like a wonderful dish to me! Thanks for all the background information about authentic Italian dishes.
You’re welcome, Judee! And thanks for stopping by. 🙂
I really enjoyed this post. Pasta Grannies, love this series. You know they have a cookbook too? It’s has always been fascinating to me through immigration-dishes transform into sometimes unrecognized renditions of classic dishes. Immigrants use available ingredients, and through the generations dishes continue to change and transform.
Fantastic dish! I would gladly bring a bottle of wine and pull up a chair to your table.
Thanks for stopping by, Velva! Yes, I have the cookbook, too. Really interesting stuff!
The whole topic of immigrant cookery is a fascinating one. I have a blog post that mentions Italian diapora cookery here and as you may or may not know, I feature an Italian-American dish each year during Italian-American heritage month (October). Personally, as an Italian-American myself, I have very mixed feelings about Italian-American cookery. Some of it is great, but a lot of it is … not so great.
Saucy, flavourful and so good! Real Parmesan makes a huge difference.
It certainly does! Thanks for stopping by, Angie!
Thanks for this lesson in Italian cuisine! I had no idea that chicken was so rare in Italian cooking, but then I am probably one of those people that thinks a chicken alfredo is fine… Oops. This looks absolutely delicious!
Thanks, Simones! And if you happen to like Chicken Alfredo, that’s perfectly fine, of course. Just don’t tell any of your Italian friends… 😉
Reading this sipping my Sunday morning coffee I am amused to realize I too have never had chicken pasta – never thought of such somehow !!! Your recipe displays classic simplicity of ingredients and method . . . shall try next time I desire something just a tad different . . .
I’m not surprised. It’s such an unusual combination in Italian cookery. But that’s what makes this recipe so interesting! Definitely worth a try.
I think the quality of the dish is more the abomination than how it’s served (pasta with a side of chicken, as an example). This dish doesn’t seem strange to me given how it is even plated as there is no white pasta with a dollop of sauce, with chicken on the side. Lots of variations in Italian cuisine, that’s for sure! PS did you catch your taralli on the cookie post this morning? 🙂
I didn’t notice until you pointed it out. There so just so many recipes in your post I scrolled right past it without noticing. Thanks so much for the shout out!
Chicken Alfredo is nearly as bad as Chicken Pizza! By contrast, your Lasagnette alla cacciatora col pollo sounds quite delicious. I never fancied the idea of chicken meatballs much either, but was very pleasantly surprised by some albondigas in cuttlefish sauce, homemade at a tiny restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar. I thought they were pork!
I’d forgotten about Chicken Pizza. Did you have to remind me, lol?
Fabuloso. This sounds really good. Too many Italian food snobs. Like seafood with cheese really doesn’t exist…. So silly. This is a wonderful recipe! (And I’m a food snob, too.)
Thanks, Mimi! The seafood and cheese taboo is another topic I want to tackle at some point. Very interesting as well. I actually do agree with it, to a degree. (When it comes to Italian dishes that is. I have no plans to give up Lobster Thermidor or Oysters Rockefeller!) I do think grating cheese on linguini and clam sauce, which a friend of mine once did to my horror is just awful. But then again, anchovies and mozzarella are a marriage made in heaven!
As for Italian food snobs, see my response to Leonardo’s comment.
What a fabulous discovery! Chicken in a rich tomato sauce is one of my favourites but add a homemade egg pasta, you’ve just taken comfort food to the next level. Love the historical details you spin into the blogposts. Nicely done.
Thanks, Eva! It really is a lovely dish, no matter how “heretical” it might be. 😉
It is true that most Italiana find pasta with chicken is tabù. And you know how Italians are when they confront a recipe that it unfamiliar to them. (“They don’t make that in my village, therefore it’s NOT ITALIAN.”) I got practically lynched for posting this noble Monzù recipe: http://pensierimeridionali.blogspot.com/2017/08/spaghettoni-alla-campolattaro.html
Ha! I’m sorry you got so much flak. I got some similar flaming (also on FB) in reaction to my post on “spaghetti allo puveriello” (spaghetti with a egg fried sunny side up in lard) which one Italian commenter thought was me butchering carbonara. Never mind that it was an entirely different and perfectly Italian dish, just one they didn’t know existed.
Funny they would come after you for a dish from two legit Italian sources? Maybe that wasn’t as clear in the FB post as it was in the blog post? I find it’s also useful to mention specifically when a dish may be surprising or unusual so people know you’re not just another ignorant “foreigner” peddling fake Italian food.
Anyway, I do understand why Italian are defensive about their cuisine. There’s a lot of really bad/misrepresented faux Italian cooking out there, as we all know, which Italian perceive—rightly in my view—as disrespectful of their culture.
But it’s a mistake to fall into dogmatism. And just because you were born Italian or live(d) there doesn’t automatically mean you know everything there is to know about the cuisine. There’s always something new to learn—and this pasta and chicken thing is a good case in point.
Frank, I agree with every word you said. It would be interesting to know the historical basis for Italians’ repulsion towards combining pasta and chicken. (It’s certainly healthier than pasta and beef!) I think will never change those Italians of truly believe that the gastronomy of their village is the only “true Italian” cuisine. In Montefalcione (AV), my cousin made for me a delicious braciole di manzo nel sugo. EIGHT DAYS LATER, someone from Torino declared on Facebook that in Italy braciole are made ONLY from pork and are NEVER cooked in sauce. I replied, “In my village they don’t make Bagna càuda. That’s different from saying that it’s not made ANYWHERE IN ITALY.”
As I recall the Italians have a name for it, campanilismo… By the way, thanks for reminding me about that Francesconi recipe, which I’d forgotten about. Have added a mention of it in the post above.
As for why the taboo, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Paolo Rigiroli? He was discussing it recently on his blog or social media. Can’t remember which now or the details of the discussion, but Paolo definitely takes the usual Italian view that pasta and chicken is “unnatural”. To him the question was why anyone would actually like it!
Anyway, as you know, chicken in general just doesn’t play the outsized role in Italian cooking as as it does here in States. Here factory farming has made chicken one of cheapest sources of protein, while in most countries chicken is actually rather expensive so it tends to be an occasional treat, a “Sunday dinner” or holiday kind of thing. Back in the day, you’d use chickens for their eggs and by the time they were ready to be eaten, they were only fit for the soup or stewing pot. Perhaps that has something to do with it?
It’s not even 7 a.m. and I wish I had this in front of me! Growing up and even now cacciatore was always served with some sort of pasta. The sauce is just too delicious.
Ha! Thanks Georgeann! Actually, as you may know, that pairing of pasta with what would normally be a main course like chicken cacciatore is also a bit heretical among Italian, although you will see it occasionally, especially in the south.