madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking

the chicken whisperer


view of my hometown Perugia from my parent's place (photo T. di Luca)

view of my hometown Perugia from my parents place (photo T. di Luca)


I spent my youth in a huge house overlooking my hometown Perugia. My parents where civil servants and in their free time took care of the large garden, the olive trees and the pets.

To be precise, my father took care of breeding the pets and my mother fought against the proliferation of pets. We had a dog and a cat and the occasional gold-fish of course. Even a guinea pig once.

That was fine with my mum.

The dog and the cat were actually treated to pasta al ragù just like us. Even with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top.

The problem was, my father had pet chickens. They were allowed to do anything they wanted. He talked to them.  They kept each other company. They – the chickens – ravaged the geraniums.

We never ate them. You don’t kill your pets do you? Occasionally he would deem one of the oldies suitable for a meal. They were so tough they were invariably only good for stock. For a roast or a stew like this one, she went to the market and bought a good freeranger from her favorite butcher.

And planted new geraniums.


  • 1/2 free-ranging chicken cut into serving pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers,
  • 4 tablespoon spoon good quality olives, not pitted
  • 1 sprig rosemary,
  • a handful sage leaves
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • zest of 1/4 lemon
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil

Using a large thick bottom or non stick pan, sear chicken pieces in one tablespoon olive oil until golden on all sides. Good quality chicken should not produce any fat, but if it does drain it and wipe clean the pan before proceeding.

Turn heat to low, return chicken to the pan, add onion and stir frequently until caramelized.  Add minced garlic cloves, capers, olives, rosemary and sage leaves.

Please don’t use the inexpensive, pizza style, bland black olives. They are generally unripe green olives that have been dyed with iron salts (ferrous gluconate) after artificial ripening.

Season with just a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

When everything is fragrant add one cup of wine, cover and simmer very slowly until the chicken is tender. This might take 45 min to 1 and 1/2 hours depending on size and quality of the bird. Add some water if the sauce gets too dry while simmering.

When ready to serve add the lemon juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. Taste and add more lemon if desired as it brings out the flavor of all other ingredients.

This dish is lovely with a side of steamed greens dressed with a fruity extra virgin and a splash of lemon juice if you like. If you need your starch, accompany it with homemade potato puree or polenta. Italians would never serve it on pasta or rice.

Serves 3-4 depending on initial size of chicken.


add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant


This recipe is submitted to the #TuscanyNowCookOff  competition

Author: madonnadelpiatto

Former scientist, I now run B&B and cooking school Alla Madonna del Piatto in Assisi, Umbria, central Italy, together with my husband Ruurd, daughter Tea and truffle dog Google. We love good food and wine, travel, beautiful handicrafts like textiles and pottery. We feel fortunate to be able to share our magical mountain with many friends from all over the world.

16 thoughts on “the chicken whisperer

  1. What a beautiful-looking dish. I’ll be making this for sure–and soon! Grazie mille. (That’s an amazing photo of Perugia, too.)


  2. Letizia, I loved the picture of your hometown….capturing the rainbow was perfect! And your photo of the chicken cacciatore looks so delicious!! I don’t know if I’ve seen a cacciatore recipe without tomatoes. I’ll have to try this one.


  3. Beautiful dish! I look forward to making it. I’ve just started to learn the Italian so I’ve been immersing myself in the cuisine as well. Mi piace molto! :-)


  4. This looks beautiful! I can’t wait to make this.


  5. I can’t wait to make this – it looks amazing! I can’t wait to taste all the flavors!


  6. Yummy, yummy, yummy – just the sort of thing my family likes. I have all the ingredients at home and fresh herbs always growing in the garden. It will be on the dinner table tonight. Thanks, Madonna – I love your recipes.


  7. Saw this recipe when one of my friends made it and posted it on FB. Just made it today, well almost made it as I was missing some ingredients. I shared your link on my site, and hope that others come follow your site as this dish was amazing! Thanks!


  8. Reminds me of a friend who won’t eat rabbit because he had a pet rabbit as a boy. I guess it’s normal. Anyway, this looks delicious to me! I’d love it with chicken or rabbit. Interesting to see a cacciatora dish without tomato.


  9. Does the lemon zest go in with the capers/olives, etc.? And do I set the chicken aside after searing, caramelize the onions, and then return it to the pan with all those other ingredients? I know it will be incredible no matter what, but …. just clarifying.


    • thank you Phyllis, I realize I did not explain it well. I return it the chicken the pan together with the onion so its flavor infuses the chicken. Then when it starts to take some color, I add all other ingredients and proceed with the rest of the recipe.


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