A fair question, actually being Italian myself if I had to answer out of the blue I would answer no, we Italians do not eat chicken with pasta, or maybe we do…
Indeed this question on the issue of “pasta and chicken together in italy” often arouses debates and clashing opinions just because the answer depends on certain factors.
I will explain everything and try to cover every aspect of the historical matter, but first I want to give you a quick answer:
In Italy, we do not eat pasta with chicken, at least not in a narrow sense. Indeed, there are no recipes that call for pasta in the same dish with a piece of chicken next to it. There are, however, recipes for cold pasta, served as a pasta salad that contains shreds of chicken.
Then there are chicken ragu sauces, which are tomato sauces that can be cooked and flavored with chicken and finally used to season pasta, and still, we have several pasta dishes cooked with meat sauces where the meat is feathered game birds, such as pigeons or pheasants, quite similar to chickens.
In short, as you can understand to answer this question properly we must first contextualize what do we mean by chicken and pasta together?
To further clarify, let’s start with the easiest case, the one in which it is absolutely not Italian to put chicken and pasta side by side.
Do Italians eat pasta with chicken breast?
Although I just told you that there are exceptions and in some particular recipes you can actually find chicken together with pasta even here in Italy, this is just not the case.
If you are wondering if Italians eat pasta and a chicken breast (or even a thigh or any other piece) in the same dish, the answer is: absolutely not.
I have seen that in some Italian restaurants in America, or even here in Europe if you move to France or Spain, sometimes pasta is served together with the chicken breast, as one dish.
We in Italy do not do that, in which case it is not a matter of taste, but a matter of meal structure.
That’s right, the Italian meal is rigidly structured into the first course, which is often pasta, soups, or stews, and the second course, which is often meat (such as chicken breasts) or fish with vegetables.
A basic rule is never to combine the first and second course in one dish, especially if you are talking about pasta with a meat main course.
So, if in Italy you sit down at a restaurant and you want to eat a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce as a first course, and then as a second course you want a chicken breast with vegetables, you can definitely do that, but you will always be served in different dishes and at different times, first the pasta and then the chicken.
What happens abroad, on the other hand, is often different, especially in countries that don’t have a rigid meal structure like we Italians do, they might serve you a single dish with pasta and chicken breast.
But what if, on the other hand, the chicken in the pasta dish is not simply a piece of chicken side by side, but a real ingredient inside our pasta?
Well, this is another issue quite different from the one just described.
Do Italians eat pasta sauces or condiments that contain chicken?
In this case, we are not talking about a piece of chicken side by side with a steaming plate of spaghetti topped with tomato sauce, but rather about chicken bites or strips directly mixed with the pasta, in the sauce itself.
Well yes, there are instances when we Italians eat pasta with chicken, in these dishes:
Cold pasta salads with chicken
Not only are there recipes for pasta with chicken served hot, but there are also many cold pasta recipes that are often paired with chicken. Cold pasta we also often name “pasta salad”.
Okay, these are not traditional Italian recipes (and I will explain why later) but they are still dishes you can eat in Italy and some restaurants might serve them.
Don’t believe it, here is a recipe for cold pasta with chicken directly from a well-known Italian food blog.
Pasta with chicken and other ingredients
As I mentioned you might also find hot pasta dishes that combine the sauce or condiment with chicken. These are not precisely traditional Italian dishes, but Italian cuisine is also getting updated and these dishes are a testament to that.
Here is a recipe for pasta with chicken and zucchini and here is another for pasta with chicken livers.
Pasta with chicken ragout
Chicken ragout is a lighter, but equally tasty, version of the classic meat sauce. It is prepared using ground chicken meat that is first browned with herbs and aromatic herbs, then slowly cooked with tomato sauce. The end result is a simple sauce that is perfect for seasoning a good dish of spaghetti; it may not be the traditional ragout sauce with beef, but it is still a meat sauce.
Stuffed pasta loaded with ground meat (chicken)
Many stuffed kinds of pasta are often stuffed with ground meat and other spices, among the meats pork is often chosen, sometimes beef, but also chicken. Tortellini or ravioli are some of this stuffed pasta, which in some variations, without too much respect for tradition, can also be filled with chicken.
As you might have guessed from this small list, yes there are recipes in which chicken is combined with pasta, but these are not exactly part of the Italian tradition, let’s say they are not dishes you expect to find in a classic Italian restaurant, below I explain why.
Why are there no traditional pasta recipes with chicken as a topping?
You may have noticed the total absence of pasta dishes with chicken in the Italian tradition, and you may be wondering if this is so because of a matter of taste?
Perhaps we Italians don’t like the taste of chicken with pasta?
Not exactly, beyond our tastes, there is a specific reason why you will not find chicken dishes in traditional pasta recipes.
In fact, modern Italian cuisine is the child of post-war Italian cuisine, at that time families who could afford to own chickens or buy them used them in two ways.
- Hens were kept and raised for eggs, these lived and were exploited until they were able to lay eggs. Once old these chickens were killed, but their meat was quite tough and so was often used for broths. Killing a young and tender chicken to eat its meat meant giving up eggs, not very far-sighted in times of famine and poverty.
- Chickens were bought to be cooked and eaten roasted. These chickens called “Sunday chickens,” were so called precisely because one could not afford to eat meat every day, only on Sundays did some lucky people could.
As you can easily understand, at that time the use of chicken was mainly for 1. eggs and 2. sunday roast chicken.
Any use of chicken meat other than those above would have been a waste of money or an odd use.
In fact, pasta was often accompanied by sauces made with very poor foods, such as tomatoes for example, or other vegetables such as eggplant, broccoli but certainly not with meat which at that time was expensive and used for other purposes.
Then when prosperity and wealth took hold in Italy and people returned to using meat as a condiment for pasta, the primary choice for fillings and ragùs fell on beef and pork, two types of meat that were much more flavorful and fatty than chicken and that more satisfied the palates of the average Italian who no longer felt like eating chicken meat.
That is why in current Italian cuisine there are no traditional dishes with chicken and pasta together, but only a few modern dishes that involve the use of chicken as lean, easy-to-use meat, such as the pasta salads I mentioned earlier.