08 January 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Oh, Those Wild Padovana Chicks

CHIAVARI, Italy – You’ll have to forgive me for posting an article about chickens as the first Auntie Pasta post of 2015. The only reason I wrote this is because I am fascinated by these chickens of Padova, Italy. Actually I don’t like chickens, I don’t like anything about them. I think my intense dislike of chickens came from the days when my Aunt Adele, who is two years older than I am, and I had to help my Uncle Vitold by rounding up the chickens he was taking to sell at the Farmer’s Market in Syracuse, New York.
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My job at the market was to take the chickens that he sold to the place where they were butchered. Easy to say, difficult to do when you are five years old. The problem was those pesky chickens did not like being carried upside down and bounced around and so they did their best to peck my little hand, the hand that was securely wrapped around their ankles  - if you can call that part of their bony chicken legs right above their bony feet, ankles. The problem was, every time they reached up to peck my hand I would give them a shake, making them even more angry.

To make a long story short, I can still remember very clearly walking as fast as I could with my right arm straight out in front of me and a very angry chicken dangling from my hand. But these chickens are different, and so here’s the rest of today’s chicken story, the story of the chickens of Padova.
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The Padovana is an ancient breed of small crested and bearded chickens from the city and surrounding province of Padova, in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy. These chickens, which look like someone plugged them into an electrical socket, have a somewhat mysterious past. Local lore says that they were brought to Padova from Poland in the 14th century by the Marquis Giovanni Dondi dall’Orologio.

He may have gotten the dall’Orologio tacked onto his name because orologio in Italian means clock maker and Giovanni Dondi was a clockmaker, as was his father before him.  Or, orologio became the Italian word for clock because of his and his father’s work in clock design and construction.  In addition to designing clocks, his father, Jacopo Dondi dall’Osrologio, was a doctor and astronomer and in 1344, he designed a large astronomical clock for the tower of the Palazzo Capetanato in Padua. Son Giovanni Dondi was also a medical doctor.
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I’m not sure how his name became connected with Poland or the galline Padovane as no one has ever been able to find documents to prove or disapprove that legend, but somehow it did which makes me think there is more to this story than even Google knows.

There is evidence that crested chickens existed in Europe during the days of the Roman Empire. There seems to be no doubt about this as there used to be two marble statuettes of crested chickens in the Sala degli Animali of the Vatican Museum, which are dated back to that period.  I don’t know if they are still on display, actually I doubt it as museums have a habit of moving things around and changing exhibits, and the last time they were seen was almost 90 years ago.
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Then, during an archeological dig in Gloucestershire England turned up a chicken skull that dates from the 4th century. It shows the typical markings of the crested breeds, which is a strong indication that there were Padovane types of crazy hair chickens in England that long ago.

Even though they are easy to raise, lay a lot of eggs and are good to eat, there aren’t very many around. The total breeding stock is only 1200, and out of that number only 300 are males. These specialized birds are raised free range and fed a diet of grain, which as they get older is fortified with milk and honey. Ahhh, that sweet Italian life extends even to chickens.
 Gallina Imbriaga
You can roast the gallina just as you would any other type of poultry, or you can try the recipe for “gallina imbriaga” an easy dish that is popular with housewives in Padova and the nearby areas.

For “imbriaga” the bird is cut up and marinated overnight in red wine. Imbriaga is a variation of the Italian word umbriaco, which means drunk. That makes sense that the recipe would have that name. After sitting in an entire bottle of Merlot wine all night, it is possible the galline is a little “drunk”. But even though it is cooked in wine, there is no problem serving it to children as the alcohol in the wine evaporates during the cooking process. This recipe would also work well with guina hen or an older hen as the wine marinade makes the bird more tender. This recipe serves 4.


1 young gallina cut into 8 pieces
  1 liter or 1 bottle of Merlot wine
2 tablespoons of oil
  2 medium size onions cut into pieces
  3 bay leaves
  1 carrot cut into disks
2 potatoes cut into pieces
  1 stalk of celery diced
  salt and pepper

 Put the gallina in a large bowl. Cover with the red wine, and all of the cut up vegetables, oil and the bay leaves, and let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator. 

The next day put the gallina and the marinade into a large pot. Bring the liquid to a boil and let it cook over a low flame for 1.5 hours, letting the liquid evaporate.

Once cooked, take the pieces of chicken out of the pot. Make a sauce by putting the cooking liquid and vegetables (cooled) into a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. If needed add vegetable broth or additional Merlot wine. Remove the bones from the gallina and serve with the sauce.

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