The first time I cooked this meal was for when some friends visited us about a year or so after we moved to Italy. I needed to make something easy, child friendly and likely to appeal to a demi – vegetarian and a fish hating, confirmed carnivore. Not much of an ask then. Above all I wanted the meal to have an Italian feel and the same time feel familiar. Kids can be fussy and I hadn’t seen one of them since he was a toddler. Meanwhile, I had to be the hostess with the most- ess whilst coping with very little sleep. Youngest son did not develop the habit of sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time, or on his own, until he was four. For some unknown reason his older brother wasn’t too keen on having this noisy, projectile vomit producing wee darling sharing
their his room! Being two months premature and living in a country where there were no health visitors to hold our hands we knew it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride.
Something involving some kind of fowl seemed to be the answer, probably chicken, was my thought. I didn’t know how well partridge, pheasant or poussin would be received. The ‘ubiquitous chick seemed an obvious choice. My Italian being rather ropey when it came to reading Italian recipe books, not that there were many available at the time. The cult of celeb. cookery books didn’t exist in Italy; I had to find something from the couple I’d ordered from a mail order company, the almighty Amazon had yet to become popular. I had a copy of Carluccio’s ‘Italian Feast’ or one of Anna del Conte’s books to choose from. So the winning combination was Pollo Arossto and patate al forno. In plain language that’s roast chicken, which by the way doesn’t see the inside of an oven, and oven baked vegetables and potatoes.
At least we had the weather on our side and the largest ‘paddling’ pool that we could safely fit in our sloping garden. Everything, well almost anything, seems better in the sunshine looking out over the heat haze towards Monta Rosa. With parents happy sitting on the covered patio sipping something cool and refreshing taking it in turns to sit with a three year old, a four year old and an active almost walking baby in the pool. I don’t think anyone would really have noticed what meals we had; the weather was glorious, the wine plentiful, the company good and the children were content, most of the time. Or maybe my sunglasses were as rose tinted as the mountain that greeted us every morning when we opened the shutters.
I digress! That is how this meal has become one of our favourites. It has been a regular all through our sons’ lives. It has been the choice for birthday meals. It was what my husband chose to have on the last day of the Easter holidays. Another bonus is that the chicken only needs one glass of wine; which means I feel less guilty at opening a bottle of decent wine, as we get to have a glass with our meal.
The recipes for this meal aren’t really recipes at all.
For the chicken
2 tbsp butter
Some herbs- a sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves
2 or 3 cloves garlic
1 chicken about 1.5 kg
1 lemon, unwaxed halved
Olive oil, a couple of tablespoons
A glass of white wine.
Place the herbs, 1tbsp butter and garlic into the cavity of the bird, rub the chicken all over with the lemon halves, place one piece of lemon in the bird, grind some pepper over it and sprinkle with salt.
Heat the oil and remaining butter in a large flame proof casserole and brown the chicken all over. I often miss this out as once the chicken is carved you don’t notice its peelie – wallie exterior.
Pour over the wine, bring it up to the boil, place the lid on and simmer gently for between 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Test by pricking the thigh, the juices that run out should be clear. If the wine has evaporated, add a little water.
Place the chicken on a caving board and squeeze the juice from the other half of the lemon over it and cover with tin foil. Leave for a few minutes and then carve.
Serve with the cooking juices.
Patate all Forno
This really can’t be called a recipe.
Use as many vegetables as you want, this is what I often use for four adults.
Preheat oven 200°c /180°c fan
2 large onions, cut into wedges
2 peppers cut into large chunks
600g tomatoes either cherry tomatoes left whole or larger ones cut into wedges
600 – 800g potatoes cut onto thick slices
A few cloves of garlic, unpeeled
100ml olive oil
Good bunch woody herbs, rosemary, thyme, sage..
Divide the vegetables, garlic and herbs between two large shallow roasting tins, pour the olive oil over them and, with your hands, give everything a good mix up to make sure everything is coated with oil. Place in the oven and cook until the edges of the onions are beginning to caramelise and the potatoes are soft. In my oven this usually takes one hour. Check after 45 mins.
This still remains one of our meals and it is one that seems as though a lot more effort has been put into it than it has. Serve with some good crusty, HOME MADE bread.
If you want to turn this into a full scale Italian meal serve a small portion of risotto or pasta with a sauce as a first course (the primo). Serve a salad after the chicken, potatoes and veggies (the second) and a simple desert (dolci) such as fresh fruit.
I’m now going to finish the leftovers, cold, with a salad for my lunch.