Cooking Family-Style Italian~

Welcome to Nonna’s!

[Subscribers, please click HERE to view the cooking video from your e-mail.]

In this cooking segment on WSFA-12’s “Alabama Live!,” I show host Judd Davis how to prepare 2 quick & easy Italian recipes: “Chicken with Tomato & Olives” and “Roasted Potatoes with Fennel Seed”—yes, “surprise, surprise,” not all Italian food is centered around pasta!

The chicken recipe is really the signature recipe from my book. It has been featured by almost all of the publications writing about “Beyond the Pasta” and it is the recipe from the book that most people cook first. It is quick, simple and very successful—according to the feedback I have received. And I couldn’t agree with them more, which is why I put it in the book! I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know.

When Nonna first prepared “Chicken  w/Tomatoes & Olives,” it reminded me of being in Tuscany. This is a real family-style recipe—nothing fancy, just good, basic cooking. It is also a recipe that would work well for a dinner party. It is casual for family and dressy enough for company. A recipe that is a great “go to” when you want to change things up, without having to commit yourself to something complicated. 

The potato recipe is mentioned in my book, but it is also one of the “new” recipes added to the “Beyond the Pasta” app on iTunes. These potatoes, flavored with freshly ground fennel seed, rosemary and garlic, go well with any meat and really have a rustic Tuscan flavor about them. Plus, roasting them in the oven is a healthier way to do “fries” without breaking out the deep fat fryer—and the extra calories! I prepare these “fries” a lot over the summer when I want to pair something with hamburgers, grilled chicken, pork tenderloin or whatever you’re grilling. Cut as spears, these are closer to “steak fries” than “French fries.” 

These are truly Italian recipes and I hope they show you how quick, easy and delicious the Italian cuisine is—without having to serve pasta!

Buon Appetito~


Chicken with Tomato & Olives

1 (4 pound) chicken, cut into 8 or 10 pieces (cut into 10 by dividing the breast into quarters)  [6 to 8 chicken thighs may be substituted]

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to season the chicken.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup white wine

2 large cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup strained tomatoes, such as Pomi brand (tomato puree may be substituted)

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) whole green olives, pitted

1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

Dry the chicken pieces with paper towels to remove any excess moisture and liberally season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat, and when the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down and fry until nicely browned, turning to brown both sides, 3 to 5 minutes on each side.

When the chicken has browned, transfer to a plate and set aside.  [Note: if using all chicken thighs, pour off half of the drippings from the pan.] Add the white wine and garlic to the pan, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. After the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes, add the strained tomatoes, olives, salt and pepper. Stir until combined. Return the chicken to the skillet with its juices. Cover, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook another 10 minutes, until the chicken is done and the sauce has thickened slightly.

Remove the chicken to a warmed platter. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce with salt and pepper, and pour the sauce and olives over the chicken. Serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8.

Roasted Potatoes with Fennel Seed

1 teaspoon whole fennel seed

6 medium potatoes (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the fennel seed in a spice grinder, or using a mortar and pestle, crush to a medium-fine grind. Set aside.

Peel the potatoes and cut lengthwise in half. Cut each half lengthwise in half again, and cut the quarters on angle into halves again (you are creating spears by cutting each potato into eighths). Place the spears into a large bowl and add the oil, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary and ground fennel seed. Stir until well combined and the potatoes are well coated.

Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until well browned. Halfway through the cooking process use a spatula to turn the potatoes so they roast evenly.

Makes 6 servings.

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.