Oh, man. Is there anything (anything?) finer in this world than a chicken, roasted to crisp, golden, salty perfection? Amazingly enough, even the children seem to agree, so I’m taking it to the next level by introducing an accompaniment that makes the most of the marriage made in heaven that is chicken + leek + pasta. Wait a minute, that’s bigamy. Ha ha.
For this dish, a plump, farm-fresh, free-range chicken is roasted atop a mound of snowy white, aromatic leeks. When it’s done the bird is removed to reveal the cooked leeks (some tantalizingly crisp, some melting and soft) resting in a pool of intensely flavoured chicken juices. A heap of cooked wide papardelle pasta – I’m afraid I’m talking non-PC, refined white pasta that will absorb all those lovely juices – is mixed in. The ribbons of leek get lost and melt into the pasta, making the kind of slippery, flavourful mouthful that will have you picking at the dish until lo-o-o-ng after you’re full.
That’s the theory, anyway. But will the kids go for it? Here’s the recipe.
Roast chicken with leek and pasta
3 leeks, sliced lengthways and cleaned of any grit, soil or wildlife
a whole chicken without giblets, around 1.5kg in weight
salt, pepper, olive oil
Heat the oven to 230C and place the sliced leeks in a roasting dish. Put the chicken on top (loosened from its moorings, if it had any, and opened out a bit. Sometimes I remove the ends of the drumsticks - the shins, I guess - and often I’ll remove that large flap of fat that often rests in the cavity – there should be sufficient elsewhere to keep it moist. Gosh this is sounding appetizing already).
Season with salt and pepper and drizzle on a little olive oil then place in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 180C and leave to cook for a further hour (this roughly equates to ‘official’ – read: Delia – guidelines on cooking chicken which is to “roast for 20 minutes per lb (450 g) plus 10-20 minutes extra.”) You can baste it a couple of times during cooking if it makes you feel better, though I must admit I seldom do (because, to me, one of the huge virtues of this is that you just stick it in the oven and walk away) and it’s none the worse for that.
When you take it out of the oven, tent the roasting dish with foil while you cook the pasta, and as the pasta is nearing being ready, remove the chicken to a chopping board. Carefully cut into the taut skin over the legs because there will be a lot of juice here. Tip this, along with the juices from the cavity, onto the leeks, and roughly joint the chicken into portion-sized pieces. Drain the pasta and toss it with the leeks. If you’re feeling fancy, put the pasta and leeks into a warmed dish and pose the chicken artfully on top with possibly just a dash of parsley. Or just serve it up from the dishes and go to it!
Family friendliness rating: Well, now, here’s the thing. The leeks just didn’t go down well. I didn’t push it, in the interests of having a harmonious family mealtime, and I definitely feel better about that - and all my mealtime angst - since reading this and its attendant comments! But next time I will chop the leeks smaller after they’re cooked and before I toss them into the pasta... they definitely appreciated the flavourful pasta, though, and LOVED eating the chicken off the bones (which led to a certain amount of pusillanimous discussion about how this was fine in the confines of our own home but wasn’t something you should do when eating with people you don’t, you know, who don’t, well, share our… or who you don’t, just, really know well…) in fact GB loses interest in the chicken the moment it falls off the bone, which leads to whole new discussions. And they both LOVE the skin. I walk into the kitchen at one point to observe that, between them, they’ve picked the skin off the remainder of the chicken. Good on ‘em.
Cleanup rating: Not bad. It’s one roasting dish, plus a pan for the pasta. If you want to serve it with some broccoli or green beans, you can always steam them in a colander over the pasta, as it cooks.
Can I freeze it? No, but by all means make chicken stock from the leftover bones and freeze that. I stash bones in the freezer until I have a couple of carcasses worth; enough to make a really rich, flavourful stock.