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A Sultry Roman Stew For Long Summer Days

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Summer in Italy is long, and in cities like Florence and Rome, when things heat up, it's downright sweltering. While a lot of Italian summer eating involves fresh, simple fare that needs little "cooking"—think caprese salad with milky mozzarella, based-on-a-poem panzanella salad, or paper-thin slices of prosciutto draped over cantaloupe—it's a good idea to have a couple of main dishes up your sleeve that you can make ahead, something you don't mind something bubbling away on the stove as you go about your business, something you could eat the next day, without even having to heat it up.

In Florence, pappa al pomodoro fills this void: It's a summery bread and tomato "soup" (thick enough to eat with a fork) that you can make ahead and eat at room temperature the day after, with a drizzle of olive oil and plenty of black pepper. But my Roman friends have pollo alla Romana con peperoni—chicken with red peppers. (Peperoni is the Italian word for "peppers," not to be confused with pepperoni!)

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Give the flavors time to get to know each other.
Give the flavors time to get to know each other. Photo by Emiko Davies

Some good, crusty bread is obligatory to mop up all the juices, but you could also serve this with couscous or rice or something else starchy to soak up all that delicious sauce.

Roast peppers bring extra flavour to this dish
Roast peppers bring extra flavour to this dish Photo by Emiko Davies

I love Rachel Roddy's version from her cookbook, My Kitchen in Rome. The peppers are roasted separately, making them smoky and easy to peel. Then, they're torn into strips and thrown in with the chicken and tomatoes at the end. Rachel notes, "Since most Romans are convinced that they can't digest peppers after three o'clock, it's eaten for lunch, and usually warm rather than hot, so that the flavors are at their most sultry."

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Pollo e Peperoni (Chicken with Tomatoes and Red Peppers)

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Serves 4
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 thick slice of pancetta (about 50 grams), diced (optional)
  • 3 pounds (about 1.3 kg) chicken (either a whole one, jointed, marylands or thighs)
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) white wine
  • 20 ounces (550 grams) of tinned tomatoes with their juice
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
  • 4 large sweet red peppers
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
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Tags: Italian cooking, regional Italian food, Rome, Roman cuisine, chicken, red peppers