Author Notes: This dish is based on a recipe that was handed down from my Italian great-grandmother. Even today when I smell the aroma of this dish cooking and taste the sweet, roasted, caramelized vegetables, juxtaposed against tender bites of chicken encased in a garlicky, breadcrumb crust, I am immediately transported back to my childhood.
Like most of the women in my family, my great-grandmother was an amazing cook and would make dishes like this for dinner after Sunday mass, serving her big, extended family hearty but simple fare. She was used to feeding lots of people with big appetites, but she and my great-grandfather were immigrants and had to work hard to make ends meet. She had to make her food budget stretch and needed to be clever and imaginative with her techniques and ingredients.
While this is my great-grandmother’s recipe, I have played around with the recipe and made it my own. My great-grandmother used dry herbs; I prefer fresh and use whatever's in season and what’s growing in my garden. In the summer, a handful of basil and a few sprigs of oregano are heavenly. Also, different vegetables can be substituted (at the peak of summer, I am partial to zucchini and eggplant). For this contest, I used inexpensive root vegetables that are sublime roasted—potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions—but splurged for the fennel and red pepper. They are not exactly in season in the winter, but they are my favorite vegetables to roast. My great-grandmother’s recipe does not contain any acid, but I like the bright flavor that lemon zest and juice bring to the bread crumb crust and to the pan sauce. The roasting technique, which is adapted from Judy Rogers's Zuni Cookbook, uses slow moist heat to gently cook the chicken and vegetables in a covered pan. The addition of a little wine with the olive oil deepens the sweet, mellow flavors.
When I think of a feast, this is the kind of meal that I like to cook and serve and share with loved ones, no matter how many people are at my table. (Amounts can be doubled or tripled—just bake chicken and vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet instead of a sauté pan.) I find this kind of slow-food meal immensely pleasurable to prepare. So often I am rushing during the week to get dinner on the table, but this is the sort of recipe that I enjoy making on the weekend when I can take my time browning the chicken, chopping the herbs and cutting the vegetables just so. Then the whole thing roasts in the oven for an hour, leaving the cook free to sip a glass of wine, make a salad or chat with loved ones. And when it’s finally served, this is a dinner that doesn’t put on airs or stand on ceremony. This is simply food that makes you feel good. - cookinginvictoria
Serves 4-6 people and can easily be doubled
- 5 slices of day-old bread
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ¾ cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated with a box grater
- ¾ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, stemmed and finely chopped
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 6-7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken legs with thighs attached
- 1 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, split (for diners like my husband, who prefer white meat)
- 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable or grapeseed oil
- 1 purple onion, cut into six wedges
- 1/2 large bulb of fennel, cut into six wedges (keep some of the core attached so that the fennel retains a wedge shape)
- 4 small Yukon Gold potatoes (or other thin skinned potatoes) cut into 2-inch pieces (roughly 5 ounces)
- 1 sweet potato, pared, and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, sliced into 2 inch pieces
- 6-7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon dry white wine or vermouth
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- First, make the breadcrumbs. Tear bread into large pieces and add to food processor. Whir for about 30 seconds or until bread is consistency of thick cornmeal. It’s okay if some of the pieces are not completely uniform in size. Remove from food processor and add to medium size bowl. Add garlic, cheese, parsley, rosemary, and lemon zest. Add two three finger pinches of salt (about ¼ teaspoon) and stir (I use my hands) until combined. Drizzle in 2 tablespoons olive oil and continue stirring until mixture feels slightly moistened but not wet. Add more olive oil if needed. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large, heavy casserole (I like cast iron) or a rimmed baking pan, add vegetables (onion, fennel, red pepper, potato and sweet potato) in one layer. It’s okay if vegetables are slightly crowded, but you don’t want them on top of each other. Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over vegetables and 1 tablespoon white wine. Add about ½ teaspoon of salt (or to taste) to vegetables and some freshly ground pepper. Mix with your hands until combined. Cover casserole (use foil if you don’t have a lid that will fit) and place casserole or baking pan in oven and let roast for 25 minutes uninterrupted.
- While vegetables are roasting, start cooking the chicken. Heat large sauté pan over medium heat and add vegetable oil. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, add chicken pieces to pan. Do not crowd the pan. You may need to sauté the chicken in batches. Let chicken cook for at least 8-10 minutes per side. When the underside is a lovely golden brown, turn chicken and cook on the other side. After chicken has browned and is crisp looking, put on a platter. Remove pan from heat, and add wine to pan. Put pan back on the heat and turn heat to low. Scrape up all the lovely brown bits from the pan and let liquid simmer for about a minute.
- Remove roasted vegetables from the oven and give everything a good stir with a spoon. Nestle chicken pieces in between vegetables. Pour any juices that have accumulated from the chicken over the vegetables. Drizzle the wine and fond from the sauté pan over the vegetables. Add breadcrumb mixture in a generous and even layer over vegetables and chicken, making sure to tuck bread crumb mixture into any crevices between vegetables and chicken. You may not use all of the bread crumbs. Cover casserole again and put back into the oven. Roast for about 40 minutes. Your kitchen will start to smell delicious.
- Remove casserole from oven and take off lid. Turn up heat on the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle lemon juice and a tablespoon or so of olive oil over chicken and vegetables. Put pan back into oven uncovered for about 10-15 minutes or until breadcrumbs are a beautiful burnished golden color and chicken is completely cooked.
- Lift casserole out of oven. When plating this dish, give each diner a piece of chicken and a nice array of vegetables. Drizzle some of the pan juices over the vegetables and chicken and serve. This dish is delicious with a dry white wine, some crusty Ciabatta bread and a salad with an acidic dressing. I like mixing orange or tangerine supremes, meaty black olives, arugula and razor thin slices of fennel with a red wine vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette.