Once upon a time there lived a girl who went on and on about food and cooking all day long. Her friends had long since stopped listening and merely smiled sweetly, nodding along trying to look interested while privately slinking away in their minds to somewhere a little less monotonous. The girl was perfectly content boring her friends with her favourite subject until one day one very clever friend piped up and said, “why don’t you start a food blog?” The girl went home and started one that very night! That girl was of course me!
In order to thank Lottie for her inspirational idea (although now I just bore my friends with my blog as well as food and cooking) I wanted to invite her around to feast it up. To complete the party we also invited her boyfriend Chris and our other friend Ruth (all of whom I work with!). Now, as I’ve admitted before I am a complete Italiaphile and having recently bought, what is to me, the ultimate Italian cookbook, The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, I decided I would prepare an Italian banquet (well perhaps not a banquet, but a good old feed at least).
For the primi piatti I cooked a very simple penne arrabbiata, which although good was hotter than the sun. Note to self 4 dried chillies for 5 people is definitely too much. This was not the start I was looking for! However, once you looked past the chilli (which most of us couldn’t because our eyes were watering so much) the combination of dried chilli, garlic, tomatoes and basil was a lovely rustic beginning to the meal. I think in the future I might reduce the chilli count to two (or three at a push) so that you can feel the heat and get the intense flavour of the chilli, but you don’t find yourself panting and sweating through the dish. If you want the (brilliantly simple) recipe for penne arrabbiata then it should be directly below this post.
For the secondi piatti I had decided to do roast chicken stuffed with olives and tomatoes. However, being the considerate and thoughtful hostess I am I emailed round my guests beforehand just to check their likes and dislikes. Chris immediately responded to say that he hated olives, really hated olives. Bugger, this was really going to scupper my well-laid plans. Being the day of, and not having time to re-shop for the dinner, a quick consultation with Lottie settled the matter: he could eat around the olives, and perhaps he would actually like them, because she was convinced that he hadn’t tried them in years (aren’t they are an acquired taste, afterall?). So I pressed on with the chicken. For shame! But don’t worry, Sven duly admonished me later!
Anyway, it really was good and Chris really could eat around the olives. It’s not like they were mashed up and rubbed all over the meat for goodness sake. The chicken is stuffed with whole olives, chopped up beef tomatoes, lemon and parsley and then roasted with the same ingredients scattered around it. The result is a chicken that is soaked in all the flavours of Italy. I served it with these amazing potatoes that are sliced thinly and layered with herbs (sage and rosemary), garlic, red onion (finely sliced), fennel seeds and baked with white wine and olive oil.
The other accompaniment was courgette (zucchini to you Yanks) that I fried simply in extra virgin olive oil and then crumbled dried chilli and sprinkled finely chopped garlic and a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar over (and seasoned well with salt and pepper). These are delicious served hot or cold, but I served them cold.
(Interlude: please excuse these rather crappy photos. I was a little bit tipsy when we got around to eating and photography was not high on the agenda!)
I let the side down on the “dolce” and served dulce latte ice-cream with amaretti biscuits, neither of which I had made myself. I’m letting myself off the hook here though because I only had 1 and 1/2 hours from when I got home from work until everyone arrived to make pasta, roast chicken, potatoes, and the zucchini and have a shower and get myself ready and tidy up the flat a bit. I think I was wise to cop-out of dessert otherwise my head might have exploded (and everything might have been a complete and utter disaster).
As we had all (apart from Sven) had the presence of mind to take the next morning off work, it was rather late when we called it a night. Poor old Sven with no holiday to spare went to bed at 2am and got up at 7am. What a trooper. I woke up to the biggest pile of washing up (having left every single glass, pan and plate the night before). Ugh! However, I’m sure Sven would agree that it was all worth it. The feast was a success… Lottie was well rewarded for her magnificent idea and we all lived happily ever after.
Ingredients for chicken stuffed with olives and tomatoes
- 1 large free-range chicken (around 2kg)
- 2 lemons
- 150g pitted kalamata olives, in brine
- 2 large beef tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
- A handful of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped (retain some of the stalks)
- 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
Bring the chicken to room temperature and rinse the bird inside and out. Pat dry (including inside the cavity) with some kitchen towel. Season the cavity well with salt and pepper and squeeze in the juice from one lemon half. Preheat the oven to 210°C.
Wash the brine off the olives and put most of the olives and half of the tomato pieces into a bowl, season with pepper (no salt) and drizzle well with extra virgin olive oil. Squeeze in the juice of 1 whole lemon, keeping back 1 tablespoon. Add the parsley and half the garlic to the olives and tomatoes. Mix well.
Spoon the majority of the mixture into the cavity of your chicken and then stuff in the parsley stalks and the remaining lemon half (cut side first). Rub the reserved teaspoon of lemon juice all over the skin of the chicken and then season.
Put the chicken into a medium-sized roasting tray (so the chicken fits quite snugly) breast down. Scatter the remaining olive and tomato mixture as well as the rest of the olives, tomatoes, and garlic around the chicken and drizzle well with olive oil. Place in the oven to roast for 25 minutes, then reduce the oven to 180°C. Turn the chicken over, giving the olives and tomatoes a quick stir, then continue to roast for a further 40-60 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. I find the best way to check is to stick a skewer into the deepest part of the chicken (between the breast and the thigh) and see if the juices that run out are clear (not bloody). I usually do this in a couple of different place to make sure!
Rest the chicken for 10 minutes or so (under foil) before you start carving to allow the meat to relax. Carve the chicken onto plates and spoon over the olives, tomatoes and juices from the pan. Serve with potatoes of some kind to soak up all the yummy juices.