“Snow Bird” . . . A Great Roast Chicken!

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March is still roaring like a lion as we found ourselves housebound, looking out the windows, facing 6 to 10 inches of falling snow.


What to do? Roast a chicken of course!

It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that most of you reading this post have either roasted a chicken, or at least enjoyed one at some point. The culinary landscape is filled with recipes claiming to be the best roasted chicken ever, or the only roasted chicken recipe you will ever need. Perhaps they are all right, as every professional chef or home cook has their favorite approach.

Brine or not, simple salt and pepper seasoning or complex spice rub, oven roast or rotisserie, stuffed or not, crispiest skin or juiciest falling off-the-bone meat, there are many paths to follow and many end results.

I was looking for an approach that did not require brining or basting, produced a very moist bird with a crisp skin, cooked in under two hours with little to no attending, resulting in a flavorful, fall-off-the-bone finish, and provided a base in the roasting pan from which I could prepare either an underlay on the plate, or to fashion a pan sauce of some kind.

Since I was still working with winter ingredients, part of my cooking approach included using a mix of winter root vegetables. The other piece of the puzzle was solved by the cooking vessel I chose—my trusty old Dutch oven—kind of an oven-in- an-oven so to speak.

With the combination of the winter roots and the Dutch oven I was able to achieve all my objectives, producing one of the most succulent and flavorful roasted chickens I have ever cooked.

The story gets better but first a word or two about the chicken. It’s always important to try and work with the freshest and best product you can find. Generally, I purchase the chicken I cook from a local farm market with an in-house butcher. They raise their own cattle and partner with local farms for their pork and chicken, so I’m confident of the quality of the product I am sourcing. However, I needed to get to the market and back home before the nor’easter we were facing shifted into high gear. Stopping instead at the local market I discovered a chicken product I had not seen in their cases before. It was marked with a brown kraft label titled “Farmer Focus Whole Young Chicken with Giblets.” “USDA organic, certified humane raised and handled, farmer owned chicken, non-GMO, all vegetable diet, no animal byproducts or antibiotics ever, free range, hand cut, hatched, raised and harvested in USA.” Wow, this was either superbird or a clever marketing approach, but either way it was worth a try. Believe it or not, I was not disappointed with the product or the end result.

Having secured the main ingredient, my approach was to roast the chicken on a bed of finely minced root vegetables, cut the finished bird into serving pieces and use the roasted root vegetable base for a sauce similar to a salsa verde and accompany the entrée with a side of garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes. The vegetables I had on hand and used as the base were; carrot, celery root, fennel, garlic, leek, parsnip, red onion, and scallion. Other additions could have been butternut squash, rutabaga, and turnip, mixing and matching the vegetable base depending on what’s on hand or available in the market.

The following recipe is how my Dutch oven-roasted chicken was put together.


“Snow Bird” . . . A Great Roast Chicken!

Ingredients (serves 2 to 4)
3 to 4 pound whole chicken with giblets
A mix of winter root vegetables as described, 1 or more of each depending upon size
1 to 2 sprigs of thyme and sage
¼ cup each white wine and either vegetable stock or chicken stock
Olive oil
Roasted garlic puree (optional)
Salt and pepper

Remove the giblets from the cavity of the bird and wash both the inside and out with cool water. Using paper towel, dry the bird, both inside the cavity and outside.

All of the giblets can be used to flavor the vegetables during the roasting, however since we were all hunkered down in the house while the snowstorm carried on outside, I thought it only fair that our dogs, Allie and Marcus, shared in a small piece of the meal, so I cooked most of the giblets for them, using the chicken neck to add some additional flavor to the vegetable base.

Marcus + Allie

Mince the onion and set aside. Cut all the remaining vegetables into small pieces and using a food processor, mince them together, working in batches as needed and set aside.

Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper and stuff with the sprigs of thyme and sage. Tie the end of the legs together to secure the cavity and keep the chicken together for when it comes time to turn it over during the roasting.

If using, rub the outside of the bird with a generous teaspoon of the roasted garlic puree and a little olive oil, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-high temperature and heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil until it is hot but not smoking. Add the onions to begin the sauté and sprinkle with salt and pepper, stirring until the onions begin to soften.

Add the remaining mix of minced vegetables, again stirring to combine with the onions and coat with the olive oil. Season again with salt and pepper.

Vegetable base

Once the vegetables begin to soften, place the chicken, breast side down, nestled on top of the root vegetable sauté. Pour the wine and stock around and cover the Dutch oven, placing it in the preheated oven to roast undisturbed for 1 hour.

Ready to roast, breast side down

At the end of an hour, take the pot out of the oven, uncover it, and carefully turn the bird over to breast side up. The meat is very tender at this time and well-basted from cooking inside a covered Dutch oven, so turn it over carefully so as not to break it apart. I used rubber gloves to insulate my hands (the best kitchen tools), from the heat of the bird. If the vegetable base seems a little dry, add another ¼ cup of stock, wine, or both.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees, placing the Dutch oven back in uncovered for 30 minutes to allow the chicken to finish cooking and the skin covering the breast meat to brown and crisp.

Once the bird is done, remove it from the Dutch oven to a platter and tent it for 15 minutes before carving it into serving pieces.

Roasted and resting

Place the Dutch oven back on the stovetop to begin to prepare the accompaniment using the vegetable base roasted with the chicken.

Unfortunately, this is where my story takes a detour, hence the title “Snow Bird.”

As I was about to begin my preparation of the vegetables to finish the meal, our power went off! No lights, no stove, no heat, and no indication as to when we might be back on line. What to do?

The first step after setting out candles and gathering what flashlights we had on hand, was to open a bottle of wine. Now you are going to have to use your imagination here because there are no photos of the finished dish.

What I had planned to do was serve the chicken cut into convenient serving pieces, legs, wings, thighs, and the whole breast cut across horizontally, draped in a thick mixed roasted vegetable salsa, similar to a salsa verde, just more colorful, accompanied by garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes. Needless to say that wasn’t happening.

The minced roasted vegetables could have just been served directly from the Dutch oven as they were or a more gravy-like topping could have been prepared by deglazing the Dutch oven over high heat with some additional wine and stock, mashing the cooked vegetables until a thick sauce was achieved. Either way the salsa or the gravy would have been a flavorful conclusion to the roasted chicken.

In the end, we dined by candlelight with my wife opting for a chicken sandwich, juicy, thinly sliced white meat on a semolina bastone (not toasted unfortunately), while I, Fred Flintstone-like, impersonated a cave man, eating the chicken wings, legs and thighs using my hands!

Not the best presentation, but one of the most tender and juicy roast chickens I have ever cooked and eaten in quite some time. Score one for the Dutch oven. Perhaps the next time I’ll share photos of the finished dish. Meanwhile, check the weather before you roast your next chicken.

Be well. Eat well.


Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, rather than endure.
Drink wine, be happy!











Pasta of the Day: Cauliflower

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When considering what sauce to pair with your next pasta meal, cauliflower is probably not one of the ingredients at the top of the list.

Cauliflower, known as cavolfiore and/or sometimes actually called broccoli in some southern Italian provinces, is a staple vegetable throughout Italy, most notably in the south. Seemingly underappreciated here, it is one vegetable I often include in my cooking during the fall and winter months, and often within a pasta dish.

The recipe I was taught and most often prepare when pairing cauliflower and pasta is Cavolfiore alla Siciliana, which at its core includes the classic ingredients found in many Sicilian dishes: onions, garlic, raisins, anchovies, pine nuts, and saffron.

Having prepared this dish countless times over the years, it has evolved like my cooking, into how I like to serve it today. The recipe I am sharing is economical and easy to prepare. It allows the main ingredient to shine within the multilayers of flavor, makes full use of the entire cauliflower (which I will explain later), and is essentially a one-dish meal that could be solely vegetarian or not.

As with many of the dishes I prepare, there are no strict rules locking you into one approach or another, and with this dish the traditional ingredients are also flexible. For example, the onions can be either red or white, included in the initial sauté or not; the anchovies can be left out for those who want an all-vegetarian dish; if pine nuts are not handy, almonds or pistachio nuts are fine substitutes as I have used both with equally tasty results; the saffron, although a nice flavor punctuation, could just as easily be left out; and you are not limited to simply using the most common all white cauliflower because there are several varieties to choose from when available in the market. For example, in the past I have used pale green, yellow, and purple cauliflower with equally good results.

Some recipes call for the use of grated cheese to finish the dish, although my preference is to take the more rustic approach and sprinkle toasted bread crumbs, minced parsley, and red chili flakes over the dish once it is plated.

Other recipes suggest substituting currants in place of the raisins. They add a similar flavor component as the raisins, however I feel they are too small and less visually appealing on the plate.

Still other recipes call for the addition of a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, which is not my preference because I believe the sauce should be white. Which leads to the point I made earlier about using the entire vegetable. In my effort to add another layer of flavor and texture to the finished sauce, I have been making a pesto using the thick center stalk from the cauliflower once the florets have been trimmed, along with any of the base leaves if they are left on the vegetable and in good condition, as well as any trim from the florets. Just before plating the dish, I will add 2 or 3 generous tablespoons of this pesto along with some of the pasta cooking water, folding them into the pasta for a smooth silky finish to the sauce.

This step is, of course, optional, although I often like to do it because it makes for a richer sauce and there is minimal to no waste of the cauliflower.

With that, here are two recipes for you to try out with your next pasta meal, a pesto and a vegetable-based sauce.


Cauliflower Pesto

This will be enough to yield 12 oz of pesto, well more than is needed for this dish. Any remaining pesto, topped with a film of olive oil freezes well for use with another dish, such as sautéed green beans or roasted cauliflower.

1 large central stalk, leaves from around the cauliflower base, and any trim from the florets, all taken from a 1½- to 2-pound cauliflower.
1 medium raw garlic clove or 1 tablespoon of roasted garlic puree
1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon finely minced parsley
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, and red chili flakes to taste

Set a large stockpot of salted water over medium-high heat and bring to a gentle boil. This will be the same pot of water the cauliflower florets will later be blanched in, and eventually the pasta cooked in as you initially build the flavor layers starting with the pot of water.

Trim the stalk of any dried or damaged areas, as well as any of the bottom leaves being used. Cut the stalk into several pieces, placing them along with the bottom leaves and trim from the florets into the stockpot and poach until very soft when tested with the point of a pairing knife.

Using a slotted spoon or a wire strainer, remove the poached cauliflower pieces and set aside to drain and cool.

Lightly toast the pine nuts, and mince both the raw garlic if using, along with the parsley.

Once all the ingredients are ready, place them into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to begin to mince and combine them. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl, add the seasoning, and run the processor on high speed while slowly pouring olive oil down the feed tube until a thick, smooth emulsion begins to form.

Scrape down the sides once more, check and correct the seasoning, and run the processor once more adding more oil as needed to reach a smooth pesto of cauliflower. Set the pesto aside to later be used as part of the sauce to finish the pasta.


Cauliflower Pasta and Sauce

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter)

¼ pound of pasta per person; my preference is to use a short pasta and chose fusilli for this recipe, although there are many other shape options to consider.

Whole cauliflower florets trimmed from a 1½- to 2-pound white cauliflower
1 medium red or sweet white onion
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons yellow raisins
1 to 2 anchovy filets (optional)
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Generous pinch saffron threads (optional)
4 tablespoons bread crumbs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Salt, pepper, red chili flakes

In the large stockpot of salted water already heated, return to a gentle boil and blanch the cauliflower florets until just tender when tested with the point of a pairing knife. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, remove the florets to a colander to drain and cool. Leave the stockpot on the heat to be used to cook the pasta.

Finely chop the onion; thinly slice the garlic; finely mince the anchovy filets; in a dry sauté pan lightly toast the pine nuts; in the same pan, lightly toast the bread crumbs; mince the parsley; and along with the saffron threads, set all the prepared ingredients aside.

Keep any small cauliflower florets whole, cut any medium florets in half through the stem, and any large florets into thirds or quarters, setting aside.

In a large 12- to 14-inch sauté pan over medium-high temperature, heat ¼ cup of olive oil until hot but not smoking.

Add the onion, salt, and pepper, then sauté, occasionally stirring until it begins to soften and lightly color.

Add the garlic and anchovy, stirring continuously to melt the anchovy into the sauté and infuse the oil with the garlic that should begin to lightly color.

Raise the heat slightly and add the prepared cauliflower, continuously stirring to coat it with the flavored oil. The objective is to get a light char on the cauliflower without burning it and for the florets to soften and become tender but not mushy.

Add the raisins, saffron, and pine nuts, mixing to combine.


While the cauliflower mixture is cooking, bring the stockpot to a boil and add the pasta. Cook the pasta to the package instructions, tasting for doneness one minute before the required time. When the texture of the pasta is to your liking, use a strainer to turn the cooked pasta out into the sauté pan over the cauliflower mixture.

Ready for pasta and pesto

Add 2 to 3 generous tablespoons of the prepared pesto and several tablespoons of the pasta water. Mix and fold all the ingredients together in the pan until the pasta and cauliflower are thoroughly combined and evenly coated with the sauce. If the sauce seems to thick, add some extra pasta water to thin it further.

Once ready, plate the pasta, then sprinkle with the toasted bread crumbs, minced parsley, and some chili flakes to finish.


That’s all it takes to transform a few simple ingredients and a head of cauliflower into an unctuous one-dish mid-week pasta meal perfect for a cold March evening.

If you are able to find one or more of the cauliflower in the other colors, mix some together with the white cauliflower to make a festive looking dish. Why don’t you see what you can come up with? Enjoy.

Be well. Eat well.


We observe, we copy, we interpret. Happily tethered to tradition, but always looking forward. . . .”Nothing can be new without some connection to the past  . . .” L/F