Tales from an Italian kitchen
Fettuccine with chicken liver
Some of my best cooking starts from leftovers. Last week it was the end of the garlicky greens – hardly more than a big mouthful, mixed with eggs for a frittata – and a teacup of stewed apple baked into a dense cake. There was also the leftover boiled potato and anchovy patties, and a revived sausage and broccoli pasta. Yesterday’s heroes were the last bit of savoury mince sitting mournfully in a green bowl under clingfilm, and two shallots I had peeled for something, then never used. The chicken livers were waiting to be made into Rosie Sykes’ devilled chicken livers on toast, but got diverted into a collision of Marcella Hazan’s chicken liver sauce and the Roman dish of fettuccine con le rigaglie di pollo.
Rigaglie are giblets, so that’s all the chicken offal – gizzards, heart, liver, neck, comb and, when in Rome, testicles. A good butcher will still bundle them up in paper for you to take home if you ask.
Despite the teasing and dry retching of a school friend when we ate it at school, I have always loved liver in any way, shape or form. One bite of fried liver with floppy onions and puffs of apple, and I am at the table with its waxed red cloth, in a green school uniform.
In Rome, rigaglie and chicken livers are cooked like a ragù: simmered with minced beef and a good amount of tomato. The Italian oracle of all things pasta, Oretta Zanini De Vita, has a recipe for ragà
di rigaglie that includes beef, veal, porcini and milk. It is delicious, if a bit gilded. An alternative for both giblets or just chicken livers, is Marcella Hazan’s way – cooked with shallot, beef and two great and necessary allies – musty and camphoric sage and tempering vermouth (or any other grapey, slightly sweet alcohol – marsala, muscat, sherry for example). The ideal pasta for this liver lover’s sauce is fresh or dried egg fettuccine, or its 2mm thinner brother, tagliatelle.
This is one of those well-timed pasta recipes where the sauce takes more or less the same time to prepare as a pan of water takes to come to a boil and the tagliatelle or fettuccine to cook. First clean 250g chicken livers by pulling away any fatty sinew or discoloured bits, washing and patting them dry, then chop into small pieces. Now fry a couple of finely diced shallots in half butter/half olive oil until soft, then add a minced clove of garlic, 50g diced pancetta, six sage leaves, 100g minced beef, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Once the beef has lost all its pink, add the livers and stir until they, too, have lost their pink. Then pour over 150ml vermouth, into which you have dissolved a teaspoon of tomato concentrate, and simmer for about five minutes. By the end of cooking, the liver should be tender as a suede glove with just a little thick sauce.
Meanwhile, having timed things perfectly, the pasta is ready at the same moment as the sauce (if it isn’t, just pull the sauce from the heat and put a lid on it). Toss the two together, along with a handful of grated parmesan. Add a bit of pasta cooking water, too, if you think the sauce needs loosening, then divide between bowls, passing round more cheese for those who want it.