Chicken in wine and torta figassa: Rachel Roddy's recipes for an Italian winter meal

A chicken braised with wine, porcini and herbs and a polenta cake baked with grappa-infused figs

Rachel Roddy’s pollo alla Toscana
Rachel Roddy’s pollo alla Toscana. Photograph: Laura Edwards/The Guardian. Food styling: Kitty Coles. Prop styling: Louie Waller. food assistant: Clare Cole.

January, from the Latin Januarius, is named after Janus, the Roman god who presided over doors, beginnings and transitions. It’s also a cold month, though, so take precautions with this simple and gentle Tuscan-style chicken stew, with wine, and polenta cake, with grappa.

Pollo alla Toscana – Tuscan-style chicken

Another variation on the chicken braised with herbs and wine theme; this one is from Tuscany, and a recipe in the wonderful Le Ricette Regionali Italiane with porcini and sage. Cooking times vary depending on the chicken, so keep an eye on it and squeeze — it is done when the flesh is tender rather than bouncy, and starting to come away from the bone. Again, the final reduction will depend on the chicken; you may find you have very few juices at the end of cooking, in which case, do not reduce. If, on the other hand, juices are abundant and thin, bubble gently until they thicken.

Prep 20 min
Soak 15 min
Cook 1 hr 10 min
Serves 4 - 6

1 free-range chicken (about 1.6kg), cut into 8 pieces
Salt and pepper
20g dried porcini
20g butter
4 tbsp olive oil
250ml dry white wine
12 sage leaves,
half chopped, half whole
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Soak the dried porcini in 200ml warm water for 15 minutes, then drain, reserving the liquid.

Heat the butter and oil in a casserole or deep frying pan with a lid, then fry the chicken, first on one side, then the other, until a deep golden brown.

Pour over the wine and leave to sizzle for a few minutes, then add the sage, garlic, porcini and soaking liquid. See that everything bubbles gently, then cover the pan and leave simmering for 35-50 minutes, depending on your chicken – it should feel tender and be coming away from the bone.

Lift the lid and allow to bubble more vigorously, so that the juices reduce to a dense sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve with bread, mash or soft polenta.


Torta figassa

Rachel Roddy’s torta figassa
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Rachel Roddy’s torta figassa. Photograph: Laura Edwards/The Guardian

Grappa is a liquor distilled from pomace (the solid remains of grapes) left over from winemaking. For this cake, grappa is used to soak dried figs, which are then baked into a dense polenta cake. It is not traditional, but it would be a missed opportunity not to serve this with custard or a spoonful of warm zabaione.

Prep 20 min
Soak 2 hr
Cook 25 min
Serves 8-12

150g dried figs, cut in quarters
200ml grappa
200g butter,
at room temperature
200g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
200g 00 flour
200g fine polenta
Icing sugar,
to dust

Soak the figs in the grappa for at least two hours. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, but don’t squeeze.

In large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar, add the egg yolks and figs, and stir again. Fold in both flours then scrape into a lined 20-22cm cake tin.

Bake at 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 for 25 minutes, until firm and golden.

Leave to cool before inverting from the tin on to a plate, and dusting with icing sugar.