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Mum’s spaghetti with braised chicken thigh, tomato & rosemary sauce

Recipe from Nino Zoccali's cookbook Pasta Artigiana

Serves 6

This is a Zoccali family classic that is particularly popular with my nephews, Nathan and Anton, and my niece, Stella. The dish does, however, cause some debate in the family as opinions vary with respect to the ideal size of spaghetti that goes best with this sauce. I think this is a personal preference, but my favourite is very thin spaghetti (spaghettini).

Traditionally, my mother would braise the chicken thighs in the sauce and then remove them to be served as a main course after a pasta entrée. The sauce would be stirred through the pasta and served with lots of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. This recipe, however, calls for the chicken to be pulled apart and returned to the sauce before serving with the pasta. This is a good way to eat the dish if it is a quick meal. On the other hand, if you are making it for Sunday lunch and you have more time, then serving the meat as a second course with a lovely salad is a great way to eat it. The sauce will be flavoursome enough to carry the pasta if you plan to do it that way. Fresh chili is a very Calabrian addition and an optional extra for the dish.

75 ml (2¼ fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
400 g (14 oz) organic chicken thigh fillets
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
400 ml (14 fl oz) good-quality tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
1 rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
chicken broth (see below) or water,
if needed for topping up braise
600 g (1 lb, 5 oz) good-quality dried spaghettini
freshly grated Farmigiano Reggiano cheese, to serve

To make the sauce, heat half of the extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan over low-medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook gently until they become translucent. In a separate saucepan, heat the remaining extra virgin olive oil over medium heat and add the chicken thighs. Season with sea salt and black pepper.

Brown the thighs turning them as you go, taking care not to burn the meat. Add the browned chicken thighs and the oil from cooking to the onion and garlic, then add the tomato passata, rosemary and bay leaf Raise the heat and slowly simmer for approximately 1 hour or until the meat begins to fall apart.
Top up with chicken broth or water, if necessary. Set aside to cool. Once cool, take out the chicken pieces and pull them apart into bite-sized pieces before putting them back into the sauce. This sauce is great made a day or two in advance.

For the pasta, simply cook the spaghettini in abundant salted boiling water until at dente. At the same time, reheat the chicken and tomato sauce. When cooked, strain the pasta and return to the pot. Add the sauce and toss. Season with more sea salt and black pepper, if required, and serve immediately with lots of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Chicken broth

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 2-3 hours chilling
Cooking time: 2½-3 hours
(Makes approximately 2.5 litres (87 fl oz/10 cups))

1-1.2 kg (2lb, 4 oz - 2lb, 10 oz) free-range chicken or boiling hen
1 kg (2lb, 4 oz) fresh chicken bones, thoroughly washed
100g (3½ oz) carrot, roughly chopped
100g (3½ oz) celery stalks, roughly chopped
100g (3½ oz) leek, roughly chopped
100g (3½ oz) onion, roughly chopped
100g (3½ oz) Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind
3 flat-leaf (Italian) parsley sprigs
4 litres (140 fl oz/16 cups) water
fine sea salt, to taste


Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer without a lid for 2½ to 3 hours. Skim away the excess fat and other particles that come to the surface of the liquid throughout the cooking process.

Remove the chicken, shred the meat from the bones (discard the skin and bones), strain the liquid through a fine strainer and refrigerate. If there is excess fat, it will solidify at the top of the refrigerated broth. Remove this with a spoon before using the broth. The cooked chicken can be used in other recipes. Chicken broth can be made in advance and frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

Note: the shredded chicken meat can be used in soups or pie fillings.