Nancy Hawley still remembers the first time she made pollo alla Bolognese, an Italian chicken entrée capped with a slice of salty prosciutto and rich, creamy, oven-roasted cheese.
“I thought the fontina smelled,” she said.
It was 1975, and Hawley, then a young wife and mother, had prepared the dish for one of the earliest meetings of People Interested in Good Supper, or PIGS, an informal supper club that had organized that October.
The six Spokane couples were all longtime friends, newly married and just starting to raise their families. Their monthly meals were often themed, and Hawley brought her now-signature dish to the first Italian dinner. She had found the recipe in a cookbook – she thinks it was TimeLife’s “The Cooking of Italy” from its 1968 “Foods of the World” series – and found it “especially good.”
The fontina, Hawley said, “turned out to be very mild and tasty when it melted.”
Thirty-nine years later, the PIGS don’t gather as often as they used to, but the group is still together. And pollo alla Bolognese has become Hawley’s specialty. She still makes the entrée several times a year, particularly for birthdays or when company’s coming for dinner.
Throughout the last four decades, Hawley has made the recipe her own, tweaking it “to make it really fast.” The original called for pounding the chicken “and yadda yadda.”
Hawley didn’t have time to bother with extra steps, particularly while she was raising three children. For their benefit, she called the dish Chicken-Ham-Cheese.
“They wouldn’t eat it if it was called something else,” she said.
The retired fourth-grade teacher – she worked at Freeman Elementary from 1990 to 2012 – has only been to Italy once. It was 1965, and Hawley was 19, part of a college tour group that traveled aboard the Queen Mary II to visit Florence, Venice, Rome, Genoa and Pompeii.
“It was fabulous,” she said.
Now 68, Hawley dreams of someday returning to Italy.
Maybe, she said, next year – for the 40th anniversary of her first pollo alla Bolognese and initial dinner for PIGS.
“We have enjoyed getting together, having celebrations and watching our children grow into fine adults,” she said.
While travel plans remain up in the air, Hawley and her husband, Bill, a retired banker, also 68, live in the same house as they did when PIGS first gathered for monthly meals. Her husband’s father built the place. According to family lore, it was going to be the cabana for the pool that never materialized. The Hawleys have lived here since 1971, remodeling and expanding as they raised their family.
Pollo alla Bolognese, aka Chicken-Ham-Cheese, reminds Hilary Hawley of all of her mother’s cooking in general: “My sister and I, we learned from her to innovate and make recipes your own. I think she taught us to play with our recipes.”
Now 40 and living in Seattle – she’s an adjunct professor in the English Department at Seattle University – Hilary Hawley sums up the favorite family dish this way: “Salty goodness.
“Pretty much anything with browned cheese is delicious,” she said.
Her mother has made the dish in serving sizes that range from five just for the immediate family to a dozen or more for members of PIGS and their kids to more than 20 as an auction item.
“I guess what makes it special is it goes together so fast and people seem to really like it,” Nancy Hawley said. “It can be a little rich, so I try to do less rich things on the side.”
She usually serves it with blanched asparagus and her “lazy” Caprese salad or rice spiked with pieces of dried fruit.
Her husband would eat it once a week – if only she would make it that frequently.
“It’s good,” he said simply. “It tastes good.”
Pollo alla Bolognese
From Nancy Hawley of Spokane
Her “go-to” dish when company’s coming, pollo alla Bolognese features the creaminess of fontina, or Italian cow’s milk cheese, and the saltiness of thinly sliced prosciutto. Sometime since she started making the dish in 1975 for her long-running supper club, it became known in her family simply as Chicken-Ham-Cheese. Nearly 40 years later, the dish continues to delight family and dinner guests alike.
“It is also easy to make for others because it can be baked right away or frozen successfully for later,” Hawley said. “It is even delicious reheated.”
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 slices prosciutto
4 slices fontina
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. The dish should be large enough to accommodate the chicken breasts without overlapping.
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, add butter and olive oil. Dredge each chicken breast in flour mixed with salt and pepper.
Quickly sauté breasts in pan, only about 2 to 3 minutes per side until they are no longer pink. They should not be cooked through. Transfer to prepared baking pan being careful not to overlap. Top each with a piece of prosciutto followed by a slice of fontina. Drizzle chicken broth over top of all, then top with Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes and until cheese is melted. Uncover and continue to bake 5 to 10 minutes until very lightly browned and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Notes: The dish can be prepared ahead, refrigerated or frozen, and baked later. Let prepared dish come to room temperature before baking, or increase baking time. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator covered. This can be very rich, so chicken breasts need not be big.
From Nancy Hawley of Spokane
1 pound asparagus
Rinse asparagus spears. Snap off tough ends where the spear naturally “gives.” Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a sauté pan with a lid. Drop in asparagus, cover, and cook for up to 2 minutes until just tender. Drain and immediately place into an ice water bath covering all spears. When completely cool, drain and serve.
Lazy Caprese Salad
From Nancy Hawley of Spokane
Fresh basil leaves, about 5 per serving
Grape or cherry tomatoes, about 5 per serving
Small, fresh mozzarella balls, or bocconcini, about 5 per serving
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
Arrange basil leaves on salad plate. Top with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Note: If fresh mozzarella comes in herbed oil mixture, spoon some of it onto plates along with the fresh mozzarella and skip drizzling additional olive oil.
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