Back in the ’70s, when I was in graduate school, for about a year, on Friday nights, I sometimes served as a shabbos goy at the home of a Jewish friend’s grandmother. Before sunset, we would walk to her apartment on Riverside Drive to join her for dinner, where my duties were simple: turn on the oven and extinguish the candles. Although our conversations would cover a wide array of subjects, ranging from the art criticism of Meyer Schapiro to the politics of Golda Meir, the menu always remained the same: a gefilte-fish appetizer, a Meal Mart roast chicken, and a parve dessert. There was also always a bottle of Kedem, a popular Kosher wine, on the table, which we served in cordial glasses, and I made sure to keep grandma’s glass full, which made our conversations even more lively.
What brought back these fond memories was a roast chicken I prepared the other night based on a recipe from Ina Garten. Somehow, whenever I want simple comfort food that’s not Italian, I turn to one of her books for a recipe, confident that I will get the sought after contentment.
A 5 to 6 pound chicken is seasoned inside and out with salt and pepper and stuffed with a large bunch of thyme, lemon halves, and a sliced head of garlic. Although the recipe calls for brushing the chicken with butter, I prefer to use extra-virgin olive oil.
The legs of the chicken are then tied together with kitchen string, another step which I skip, as I think the bird cooks, although less aesthetically, more evenly. The chicken is them placed atop a bed of thickly sliced fennel, carrots, and onion, when are tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme.
All are roasted for about an hour and a half in a 425°F oven.
If you choose to make this recipe, you may want to continue the roast the vegetables, after the chicken is done and while it is resting covered, for another 10 minutes or until roasted to your liking.
Wine Pairing: A Cru Beaujolais, Syrah