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Jun 29, 2007 12:34 PM

Do Italians put chicken on pasta?

I haven't been to Italy for several years, so I can't remember -- in Italy, do you ever see those dishes that are so ubiquitous on Italian menus in America like chicken with penne, chicken alfredo, etc.?
I have a sense that this is really not an authentic thing, but would love input from actual Italians or those who have travelled widely there.

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  1. Honestly, I don't recall seeing this in almost 2 years there. However, this combo is not to my liking so I probably would have flown past it on any menu.

    1. Not to hijack this thread, but another "do Italians" question - do Italians break their spaghetti noodles in half before cooking? Someone told me that, but why would they make it that long in the first place if you're going to chop them in half?

      4 Replies
      1. re: janethepain

        If you break the noodles then you wouldn't really be able to twirl them on the fork as well.

        1. re: janethepain

          hi. i recently read that breaking the noodles up before cooking started a few decades ago, in america, at a time when proper table etiquette did not include slurping your spaghetti. cooks would break them, so they could be eaten without much of a mess. don't know if this is true. just what i read. it would make sense.

          1. re: jackie57

            More likely because the pot was too small.

          2. re: janethepain

            Breaking spaghetti also depends on what dish your making. In the old days if grandmom made the macaroni by hand she wasn't making tubettini, penne, etc...They made spaghetti, or gnocci. In my house when we make a white pasta e` fagioli (pasta Fazool) we use spaghetti and break it up to soup spoon size pices. you could use some other soup type pasta but it's just not the same taste to us, all a matter of personal preference/taste, family recipe or tradition. For example when we make it red we use small shells or tubetti. Meats and Pasta are usually seperate courses. Your meatball, sausage and brochiole maybe be on the same plate as your macaroni but it's not mixed together. This idea came from chain joints like Olive Garden who tout their recipe's as straight from Italy, then boast some chicken alfredo crap as authentic which just isn't the case. That's not to say that No one in Italy never, not once, ever mixed chicken with alfredo sauce and put it on top of pasta, catch my drift?

          3. No, they dont' break the noodles. Put them in the pot and as they cook they'll drop down into the water.

            I don't remember chicken on pasta in my two years there either but 1) I was up north near Bergamo(so maybe other regions do?) and 2) like chaddict it's not something I normally order so ten years later I might have forgotten seeing it on the menus.

            1. No. Pasta and chicken are different courses. This combination is an American creation. And yes, my grandmother broke her spaghetti in half, while some of her friends did not. It all depended on the diameter of the pot. A rondeaux shaped one (like a Dutch oven) boils faster and you didn' t need to break the noodles. From my observation, few women of that generation seemed to have the time or patience to start pushing the pasta down into a pot when it was soft enough to bend. They were too busy cooking five other courses for their families, so they broke it. When it was cooked, they carried the pot over to a sink and emptied said pasta into a colander. Tall pots with pasta inserts are also an American creation, but a good idea at that. You seldom have to break the noodles in one of those tall pots. But getting back to the topic -- chicken scallopine or on the bone is ALWAYS served as a separate course from the pasta, even if the sauce is identical. They can be served at the same time in some Italian American restaurants.

              3 Replies
              1. re: RGC1982

                That is my experience, too-pasta and meat (with some exceptions, ie bolognese sauce or carbonara sauce) are separate courses. I like that they are separate courses-they really just don't go together, IMO. If I ever see the two combined on an "Italian" restaurant menu here-something like pasta with chicken and vegetables-I take that as a red flag.

                1. re: RGC1982

                  tall pots with inserts are actually a restaurant invention, so that there is always boiling water for the next order.

                  chicken with pasta is an american creation. until recently chicken was never an inexpensive protein, but now thanks to industrial farming it's dirt cheap. this explains its absence in historical recipes.

                  traditional italian meals served pasta before the protein because the meat portions were always very small and had to be stretched to go a long way. the broth produced by cooking the meat was made into soup or sauce for the next day. it's not arbitrary. it's economics. much of what is now italy was very poor for a very long time.

                  1. re: RGC1982

                    Not just American. It is done all over the world. And yes it may not be authentic but can be pretty darned delightful! Slow-braised chicken ragu on paparedelle is pretty fine!

                  2. This might be an interesting question from an regional historical perspective, but really who cares what the italians put on their pasta, just do what tasts good to you.

                    33 Replies
                    1. re: malibumike

                      Malibumike, the foodie police are coming to your door for uttering such heresy.

                      But I agree 1000%. The other day my partner made a dish with penne, asparagus and chicken. It was heavenly. I'm Italian and I could not possibly care less what they do, or did, in Italy (in this regard, at least). And my dad stuffed me full of "pasta fazool" with macaroni, beans and bacon, when I was a kid. His folks were both Italian immigrants and some combo of meat with pasta was on the table every day. Okay, not chicken, but again, who cares? italian gastronomic "rules" are such nonsense anyway- no seafood and cheese? Huh? And no cappuccino after 10am? Wha? Why? Tradition? You gotta do better than that.

                      Foodies drive me up a freaking wall sometimes.

                      Edited because as people who know me know, I can be a stickler for "tradition" some times, but there has to be a point to it. I eat sushi with my fingers because it's easier, not because it's "more Japanese" than using chopsticks. I eat Thai food (rice-based) with a spoon because it's impossble to eat such food with chopsticks, not because of Thai standards. The spoon isn't arbitrary; it's the absolutely best way to get that delicious slurry of rice and curry into my cake hole. Itaian "rules" are silly, arbitrary, pointless. I won't pay attention to them.

                      1. re: John Manzo

                        What you say about Italy is so true..there are so many things you shouldn't do and not just related to food. I live here and it would drive me mad if I listened to everyone around me. Up to about 5 years ago you would never have ordered a pizza with chips. Now because the 14-year-olds won't eat anything else it's become the latest fashion and it's perfectly all right - they haven't got to the ham and pineapple toppings yet but I'm working on it. If I succeed I will have it christened as the Pizza alla Coombe.

                        1. re: John Manzo

                          John, you're right, as long as the person breaking the rules has some taste. However, there is a danger to that philosophy when word of it gets out. That's why we have Starbucks' disastrous version of the cappuccino, for example.

                          To speak to the topic, I don't know tradition on this, but I've never cared for chicken on pasta. It just doesn't work for me. Whenever I get it in restaurants, it seems like the juices always seep into the pasta and the chicken ends up dry and bland tasting. Maybe someone out there is doing a better job of it though(?).

                          1. re: John Manzo

                            Italians combine meat and pasta, but they don't put big slabs of chicken (or other meats) on top of pasta. Traditional pasta dishes do contain chopped up pieces of chicken, vegetables, chicken livers, shrimp, beans or anything else. Those are all complements and blend with the pasta. They don't usually have pasta as the primary dish in a meal, but rather have a much smaller serving than is typical in the US as a first course.

                            I think the chicken slab on top of the pasta was invented to satisfy American's love of pasta and feeling that they have to have some meat to eat. Stick the two together, you've got a main course. Sell them as two courses and Americans won't buy them.

                            Italians are constantly coming up with new combinations, and their tastes are changing also. Not as much time for 3-4 course meals any more. Still pasta with chicken slabs aren't traditional.

                            1. re: John Manzo

                              Who said these things are "rules"? They're just the way things are. It's not a "rule" that Italians don't drink cappuccino after breakfast time, it's just that cappuccino is a breakfast drink there. Sort of like how Americans don't ordinarily eat oatmeal with lunch, don't eat blueberry pancakes with chopsticks, and we don't put meatloaf on breakfast menus.

                              Nobody's standing at a blackboard in Italy expounding to schoolchildren about how putting slices of grilled chicken breast in pasta dishes is some sort of insult to their nationhood. It's just not something Italian cooks find themselves with an urge to do.

                              I like to imagine there's some country out there -- let's call it Bizarrostan -- where American-style southern fried chicken is eaten with tomato sauce and hot fudge, and on some food discussion website, Bizarrostani hounds are agitatedly debating the American "rule" that says you don't put tomato sauce and hot fudge on your southern fried chicken.

                              What rule? We just don't do it, and would find it a sort of odd to hear people do it in Bizarrostan. Nu?

                              1. re: hatless

                                so, eat your KFC christmas cake and enjoy it! ;-)

                                1. re: hatless

                                  No, not "Nu" it's "Ni"... say it again, Ni!

                                  Are you saying "Ni" to that old italian woman?

                                  1. re: hatless

                                    I wouldn't be so sure that we don't do it. We deep-fry oreos and candy bars in this country. If someone told me that fried chicken with hot fudge and tomato sauce was a local specialty somewhere, I'd believe it in a flash.

                                2. re: malibumike

                                  Well, as a parttime restaurant reviewer, I need to know how to assess a menu when looking at it -- whether the dishes are traditional, American interpretations, just bad ideas, etc.
                                  I always figured chicken on pasta seemed like a bad idea but I wanted to make sure it wasn't some important Italian dish I was overlooking.
                                  Aside from bolognese and carbonara (which fall into the diced or ground meat categories), I can think of a few other instances where protein works well on pasta:
                                  pasta with shrimp, clams, etc.
                                  I've had a dish with a diced lamb ragu that was yummy, and the lamb was a fairly large dice.
                                  In Milan I had a wonderful fettucine with salmon -- can't remember if it was smoked salmon or just cooked, but it was in a silky, creamy sauce
                                  And sausage can work even if it's not crumbled, but in larger chunks.
                                  I've seen duck ragu on menus but I think the duck is very finely shredded and incorporated into a flavorful ragu. Maybe that's the answer to a decent chicken pasta.
                                  But I really hate those large chunks of chicken breast that Americans seem to put on pasta so often.

                                  1. re: Chowpatty

                                    I think Americans put chicken on pasta to mitigate the dryness of the chicken meat ... and also to jack up the prices.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      I combined chicken with capellini yesterday in order to clear some items from my fridge (leftover roast chicken and some parsley pesto). Added chopped green onion on top. I won't call it Italian but I will call it tasty.

                                        1. re: coombe

                                          Yep, and dead easy to make. Capellini of course takes but a few minutes to cook (chicken breast diced and green onion chopped while it's doing so). Toss the pasta with the pesto, add chicken and toss again, plate and top with as much of the onion as you like. Salad on the side, and Roberto's your uncle.

                                    2. re: Chowpatty

                                      Don't forget yummy boar on pasta!

                                      And John Manzo, when I served tortelloni with pesto the first month I was there, my Italian friend looked at me as if I had grown 3 heads! "What? It tastes good!" I said. I was then given a sound lesson on exactly what SHAPES of pasta go with what SAUCES. Now, there was a lot of sense to most of what he said but some of it was like c'mon!

                                      As for the no fish w/ cheese rule, I have to say I'll stick to it. I think cheese over powers the delicate taste of fish.

                                      1. re: chaddict

                                        I agree with you about cheese on seafood, it's too much and doesn't work. I saw an episode of Emeril -(not a fan at all) I was surfing and saw that Mario Batali was on so I watched. Emeril plated up a huge platter of lobster over pasta- I watched Mario cringe as he proceded to put freshly grated parm all over the top- ICK!

                                        1. re: foodsnob14

                                          I saw that episode. I think Mario had to use a LOT of restraint.

                                          1. re: don giovanni

                                            Oh boy, cheese on seafood is a cardinal sin according to Mario. I did see him grate a little ricotta salata on shrimp once. Of course he pointed out that ricotta isn't considered real cheese. I have also seen him saute chicken livers and toss with pasta.

                                            1. re: Cpt Wafer

                                              But if you like fish or seafood with cheese and pasta or whatever else, why shouldn't you eat it? Just because somebody else says so?

                                              1. re: coombe

                                                Some traditions are there for a reason. I think if the vast majority of people who know something about food don't like something, it should generally be considered not good to serve. Now if someone wants to put cheese on their fish for themselves, being one of the few who like it, thats fine; but they shouldn't serve it to others -- they should recognize they're slightly weird for liking it that way.

                                                1. re: coombe

                                                  Jacque Pepin likes cheese on his seafood pasta. As much as his cooking, I really appreciate his little sidebars and anecdotes. He readily recognizes that cheese on seafood is a big Italian no-no, but like he says, it's his preference and there's nothing wrong with that. I remember him telling a story about requesting cheese for a seafood pasta at an Italian restaurant and when the chef came out to see who's the culinary idiot, he just went back to the kitchen after recognizing Pepin.

                                                  1. re: coombe

                                                    Personally I don't think it tastes good- period.

                                                    1. re: coombe

                                                      but there are dishes with fish and cheese. A fisherman's pie - cod in a cheese sauce with mashed potatoes on top baked in the oven and Sole Florentine, grilled sole, mornay sauce on a bed of spinach.

                                                2. re: foodsnob14

                                                  A friend of mine who comes from Andalucia often starts the meal off with an aperitif and little toasts topped with prawns and melted cheese .... and I can't say the seafood and cheese combination does not work.

                                                  1. re: foodsnob14

                                                    I agree (for the most part) with not serving cheese with fish. However, I do like certain cheeses with certain shellfish - not drowned in cheese, but with the cheese as a flavor enhancer.

                                                    1. re: foodsnob14

                                                      cheese and fish - it's an american institution - has no one here ever had the ever so delicious fish sandwich at mickey d's - : )

                                                      1. re: foodsnob14

                                                        Seafood and cheese is just gross. I produces a rancid, sour flavor.

                                                        You will never find chicken slabs on pasta in Italy. I've had it here in the U.S. a few times and the whole thing ends up tasting like chicken. Ragus (ground beef, duck, lamb, boar) are a different story. Because it stews with other ingredients in the sauce, the meat doesn't overwhelm the dish.

                                                        The Italians know what their doing with all their rules. It's no coincidence that they are considered culinary masters.

                                                    2. re: Chowpatty

                                                      "But I really hate those large chunks of chicken breast that Americans seem to put on pasta so often."

                                                      Me too!

                                                      But I don't like large chunks of meat in my pasta, period, be they chicken, rabbit, boar, sausage, etc.

                                                      However, if the meat has been ground or shredded, it's a different matter - in that case the meat becomes a part of the sauce that is dressing the pasta, not a separate entity that's sitting on top of the pasta and not incorporated.

                                                      1. re: Chowpatty

                                                        I think the key thing in Italy when combing a protein with pasta is that it works its way into the pasta. For example, the meat is either shredded or ground (ragu or bolognese), chopped into tiny bits (amatriciana, carbonara, etc.) or is seafood (mashed anchovies, tuna, shrimp, crab, lobster, etc.) which are all relatively smaller in size or if a fish broken into smaller pieces. I think Americans like to see the meat, therefore a large slab on top or thick slices is the preference. I've had this non-traditional way of combining meat and pasta and while it's not my favorite (because I tend to prefer the more traditional pastas) it has been very good and if there's an issue with authenticity just acknowledge the fact that you aren't trying to create an traditional dish.

                                                      2. re: malibumike

                                                        I'd agree with the sentiment of "do what you like" but perhaps a cultural difference is there for a reason; there's no need to dismiss it out of hand. I like the Italian meal because its a long, slow affair - most nice sit down dinners include a starter (appetizer), first (pasta), second (main course/meat), and then there's some variation from there. That seems like a lot of food, but its actually a nice way to eat if you make reasonably sized portions. Nothing wrong with trying something different; you may find you like it!

                                                        1. re: malibumike

                                                          Damn straight. My wife makes chicken pasta(thin spaghetti, marinara sauce with onions, mushrooms, and peppers; skinless thigh meat). It's one of the best meals I've ever had!

                                                          1. re: malibumike

                                                            I care. I always care about understanding cuisine. One can educate oneself on a given nation's foodways without subscribing to its traditions wholesale.

                                                            Edit: oops, old thread.

                                                            1. re: tatamagouche

                                                              That's OK ... I wouldn't have come across this thread myself if folks like you hadn't revived it. Heh.

                                                              I think discussions about Italian-American (or American-Italian)( ) versus Italian versus taste versus "authenticity" [that word again!] is interesting - in a similar way to the disputes between Chinese-American vs Chinese cuisine [in all its regional variations].

                                                              I myself dislike a honking big chicken breast on a plate sitting on a pile of pasta, or even besides it. I don't mind a chicken entree (say, chicken cacciatore or rosemary dark meat chicken) on a separate dish with some pasta in some sort of innocuous sauce as a side on a separate plate, especially if they are flavorful enough and don't clash violently with each other. :-)

                                                              1. re: huiray

                                                                Absolutely, which is why a fellow writer-friend of mine has come to prefer the term "traditional" to "authentic."

                                                                Never really thought about it until now, but in all my trips to Italy (8), I don't remember ever ordering chicken. I did love a Sicilian pal's pollo in bianco, but other than that...