Spring has well and truly arrived in Melbourne. Farmers markets have a bounty of broad beans, golden beets, asparagus and baby artichokes, and tomato seedlings are ready for planting, hinting that summer is not too far away.
Spring also means farewell to winter greats – oranges and fennel – which have brightened many colder winter days, and go so well together. I am sad to say farewell to oranges in particular (though I know we can buy imported ones all year round). I just love pairing these two ingredients together – fennel and orange salad has been a staple through winter, though I seldom cook fennel. A couple of weeks ago I paired them in a roast chicken dish. I love cooking whole chickens – they feel like a celebration of spring. I was inspired by Alastair Little’s “Pollo alla Orvietana” – which has 40 cloves of garlic and 40 olives per chicken. I did not have the requisite chicken livers that were to be cooked with tiny cubes of potatoes for the stuffing. So I decided to substitute them for fennel and orange – to great success. The sweetness of the oranges pairs beautifully with the salty olives and the fennel. The garlic cloves are tossed in half way through cooking and roast in the juices at the base of the roasting pan, which has orange juice added, making them sweet as well as soft and creamy from roasting. The chicken remains very moist and is full of flavour. It is lovely served with a fresh green salad on the side and makes a festive Sunday lunch.
Roast chicken with fennel and orange
1 x 1.6 kilo (3lbs 10oz) free-range chicken [approx weight]
4tbsp-plus, good olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1cm (2/5 inch) dice
1⁄2 fennel bulb, chopped into 1 cm (2/5 inch) dice
1 bunch fennel herb, coarsely chopped
40 kalamata olives, stoned
40 large, firm garlic cloves in their skins
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
1 cup good quality chicken stock
Make the stuffing in advance – as it takes about an hour to prepare. Fry the chopped fennel and potatoes in the olive oil and gently cook until tender – you may need more oil here. Add the fennel fronds, half the olives, 1⁄2 of an orange (peeled, pith and pips removed and cut into small pieces), the juice of the other half of the orange, season well and set aside to completely cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C (390F) . Spoon as much of the stuffing as will fit into the cavity of the chicken without overfilling; place the rest – lubricated with a little olive oil – in an oven-proof dish. Rub the chicken all over with a little more olive oil and generously season. Place in a deepish casserole dish, on its side, and put in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. Turn onto its other side and continue roasting for a further 20 minutes. Finally, turn the right way up and throw in the garlic cloves. Turn the oven down a notch (to 180C/350F), put in the dish of extra stuffing and continue cooking for a further 40-50 minutes, adding the remaining olives for the last 10 minutes (or until the internal temperature of the chicken with a meat thermometer reaches 78C/172F).
Remove the chicken to a chopping board, allow it to rest and switch off the oven. Put the garlic and olives in a dish and keep warm in the oven. Using the juices in the pan as a base, add the wine. Bring to boil and reduce until almost evaporated. Pour in the chicken stock and the juice of half an orange and reduce the lot by half. Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and arrange on a serving dish surrounded by the extra stuffing. Scatter with the olives and garlic and strew with more chopped fennel fronds. Garnish with thin slices of orange if you like.