Pasta with chicken? Mamma mia!
If you’re a fan of pages such as Italians Mad at Food, or if you google the ‘rules’ of Italian cooking, you will know that there’s only one thing worse than putting pineapple on pizza: eating pasta with chicken. That’s right. Any of you who have been cooking and eating pasta with chicken are risking the wrath of the people who brought you spaghetti and lasagne. You’d better stop it now.
The other day, I got to thinking about this prohibition. I have eaten pasta with chicken in the USA and must say that I didn’t enjoy it. But that’s probably because, like the rest of the Italian nation, I am programmed to dislike it, like cappuccino after 11am. For most Italian cooking rules there is a reason—the cappuccino rule is connected with your digestive health—so what is the chicken with pasta problem?
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An extensive Internet and book search yielded nothing. There was no reason apart from, ‘because you don’t’. The closest I came to a reason was, ‘because pasta is not a side dish’. This seemed to be based on the idea that the writer couldn’t even conceive of a sauce made with chicken, and so people eating pasta with chicken had to be using it as an accompaniment. This is something I remember being horrified to see when I lived in France.
I then decided to ask people directly. I spent a couple of weeks bringing it up with everybody I met: friends, acquaintances, even a group of lovely strangers I met in a street food restaurant in Rome.
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Unsurprisingly, the main answer I got was straight out of Italians Mad at Food. It consisted of, ‘because it’s disgusting’ expressed in every way the Italian language would permit. However, a few people did reason a little and came up with the following comments/explanations:
- Because, if you are using pasta all’uovo, it’s mixing chicken with egg. This doesn’t seem right.
- Because pasta is served with meat that you cook for a long time, like beef, lamb, and so on.
- I don’t know, but it seems strange when you think about it because in Tuscany we eat papparedelle all’anatra (with duck sauce).
- I don’t know but it seems strange because we have no problems going to a Chinese restaurant and eating chicken with noodles, so it can’t be because it’s really disgusting.
- Because the taste of egg pasta and chicken are very similar. So it’s almost like eating pasta with pasta. There’s no strong contrast of taste in, for example, chicken lasagne (You’re not going to write my name, right? If my nonna knows I’ve tried chicken lasagne she’s going to kill me.)
- Because it’s disgusting! (Oops!)
Just as I was about to put this article to bed, my friend, award-winning chef and food writer Amy Riolo sent me an email with a traditional recipe she’d found from Abruzzo. What was it, I hear you ask? Gnocchi con sugo di gallina. Yes, gnocchi with chicken sauce! It seems that the region of Abruzzo didn’t get the memo. I haven’t tried it yet. Something just won’t let me. But when I do, I’ll let you know. You might have a long wait though.
As with a lot of things, there is no reason why you shouldn’t eat chicken with pasta. Just as there is no reason why you shouldn’t eat pineapple on pizza if that’s what you really want. Italians (on the whole) just don’t. (You can also find several recipes for it in Italian if you google ‘pasta pollo’ so somebody’s eating eat even outside Abruzzo.) I’m not here to judge, I’ll leave that to the ‘inhabitants’ of Italians Mad at Food and their nonne.