Umbrian style chicken alla cacciatora in bianco (no tomato)


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. 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 Parmigiano on top.

The problem was that 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 free-ranger from her favorite butcher.
And planted new geraniums.

garden of Italian villa in Umbria at Alla Madonna del Piatto Agriturismo
the garden of my own house, I also plant geraniums every year



  • 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


“In bianco” means with no tomato sauce. If you use  chicken of excellent quality, there is no need of a thick sauce to mask all flavors.
If you have time, buy the chicken one day in advance and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a few sprigs of rosemary, a garlic clove and keep refrigerated. Bring to room temperature  one hour before cooking.

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 juice  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 olive oil.

If you need your starch, accompany it with homemade potato puree or polenta. Italians would never serve thid on pasta or rice.

Serves 2-4 depending on initial size of chicken.
Umbrian style chicken
In 2016, this recipe has been published byJulia Moskin in The New York Times and was listed among the most popular chicken recipes of the year.


  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.

    • Thank you Joann! In Umbria the tomato version has a lot of rosemary, pepper and garlic and is called “arrabbiata”. The olive and lemon version is called cacciatora (hunter style).

  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. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

    • Hi Frank, in Umbria the chicken with tomato is called “all’arrabbiata” meaning “angry”. I have never figured why a chicken should be angry. May be because he ends up in the pan.

  7. 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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