Home 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 – the bundle that you used to more commonly find wrapped in plastic and tucked back in the cavity of the chicken. 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 (or leftover stewed mince) 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.
Fettuccine with chicken livers and sage
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. By the end of cooking, the liver should be tender as a suede glove with just a little thick sauce.
Prep 5 min
Cook 20 min
250g chicken livers,
3 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely diced
50g pancetta, diced
6 whole sage leaves
100g ground beef (optional)
Salt and black pepper
1 heaped tsp tomato concentrate dissolved in 150ml vermouth or marsala
600g fresh fettuccine or tagliatelle or 500g dried
100g pecorino or parmesan, grated
Bring a pan of water to a boil for the pasta. Trim the chicken liver of any sinew or discolouration. Wash and pat them dry, then cut each liver into four.
In a heavy based frying pan, over a medium-low flame, warm the olive oil and butter and fry the shallot until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, pancetta and sage and cook, stirring for a few minutes.
Crumble in the ground beef, add a pinch of salt and grind of pepper and cook, stirring, until the beef has lost all signs of red.
Turn up the heat, add the chicken livers and fry, stirring, until the livers have lost any red colour. Add the tomato dissolved in vermouth/wine and reduce to a simmer for a few minutes – long enough for the liver to gather flavours, but not too long as to get rubbery.
Meanwhile, salt the boiling water, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, keeping back some pasta cooking water.
Tip the pasta into the chicken livers, sprinkle over some cheese and toss, adding a little pasta cooking water if it seems stiff. Divide between bowls, passing round more cheese for those who want it.