When the late, great Marcella Hazan passed away a few weeks ago, many people recalled with fondness her recipe for roast chicken with two lemons, and so did I. It was one of the first recipes I ever learned. I loved it at every time of year, but never more than in fall. Did it even count as cooking? It was nothing more than a small chicken, seasoned and roasted with two pierced lemons in the cavity, but it had a way of warming people from the inside out. The juices deceived the senses, suggesting hours of care and attention. The pleasure, though, was undeniably real.
There's something to love about every roast, but over the years I've come to realize that my favorite roasts usually feature some kind of fruit. I suppose it's because the heat of the oven gives fruit's sweetness a kind of syrupy concentration that glints and glimmers against the deep, warm salty and savory flavors you develop in a roast. And then there's those juices, which help keep the roast from drying out and contribute their tart character to the roasting pan sauce in complex, interesting ways.
What kind of fruits go into a roast? Many, but not all. Fruits in season in cold climates, like apples and pears, offer softness and sweetness. Citruses and pomegranates, in season in warm climates, provide sharp commentary and acid wit. And dried, the fruits of summer — plums turned to prunes and grapes turned to raisins — pour their sugars and sunlight into the mix before melting into pure pulpy texture. Some fruits, on the other hand, seem to just have their own agenda. Could you roast your chicken with a banana? A kiwi? A cantaloupe? Nothing's stopping you, I suppose. But I'm not sure I'd recommend it.
Perhaps the perfect roast to receive fruit's heady gift is pork, which develops its own complementary, caramel tones as it roasts. Pork holds its own alongside even intense, uncompromising fruit statements like pineapple, the same way it stands up to molasses and maple and brown sugar. Chicken acts more like a vehicle, its mild flavor just what you're looking for when you're sponging up the pan and the plate; its crisp crackling skin ready for the jeweled lacquering of fruit juices.
There are those who enjoy beef roasted with Thanksgiving-like fruits — apples and cranberries — though I am not among them. But roast vegetables (and does anyone eat vegetables any other way these days?) can be divine with fruit. Crisp-crusted roast potatoes have an affinity for soft, yielding prunes; bright pomegranate seeds nestle harmoniously in the crevices of nutty cauliflower.
If you're the sort of daring soul who bites into a crisped, golden rind of pure fat with relish rather than dread, fruit can turn an indulgence into an unforgettably sensual experience. You can grind dried limes (a Middle Eastern specialty worth hunting down) and make a sauce that draws out the long, decadent finish of roasted lamb. You can serve apple sauce with crisp, gleaming slabs of pork belly, or glaze them with berry juice or orange. These are primal, fireside joys, and they make the hammock and beach days of summers past seem inconsequential after all.
So as the days grow short and you start warily eyeing your scarf collection, don't be downhearted because you have to turn on the lights when you walk in the door. While you're at it, turn the oven on. Set it to 375 degrees. Pour yourself a glass of wine. With a minimum of effort (and in some cases, maybe just a little forethought) you could be surrendering to the seductive arguments of a roast — its gilded, crackling, steaming, fragrant powers of persuasion — in just over an hour.
Roast Chicken With Lemons
T. Susan Chang for NPR
T. Susan Chang for NPR
This is the famous recipe published in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking (Knopf, 1992) and in Hazan's early work in the 1970s. If you get it just right, sometimes, the skin puffs up with lemon-scented steam, but most of the time it doesn't. You can oil the pan if you want to improve your chances of a spectacular balloon effect, but it'll taste great even if you don't.
A 3- to 4-pound chicken
2 rather small lemons
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash the chicken thoroughly in cold water, both inside and out. Remove all the bits of fat hanging loose. Let the bird sit for about 10 minutes on a slightly tilted plate to let all the water drain out of it. Pat it thoroughly dry all over with cloth or paper towels.
Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and black pepper on the chicken, rubbing it with your fingers over all its body and into its cavity.
Wash the lemons in cold water and dry them with a towel. Soften each lemon by placing it on a counter and rolling it back and forth as you put firm downward pressure on it with the palm of your hand. Puncture the lemons in at least 20 places each, using a sturdy round toothpick, a trussing needle, a sharp-pointed fork, or similar implement.
Place both lemons in the bird's cavity. Close up the opening with toothpicks or with trussing needle and string. Close it well, but don't make an absolutely airtight job of it because the chicken may burst. Run kitchen string from one leg to the other, tying it at both knuckle ends. Leave the legs in their natural position without pulling them tight. If the skin is unbroken, the chicken will puff up as it cooks, and the string serves only to keep the thighs from spreading apart and splitting the skin.
Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast facing down. (You can oil the pan if you wish, to help release the skin). Place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken over to have the breast face up. When turning it, try not to puncture the skin. If kept intact, the chicken will swell like a balloon, which makes for an arresting presentation at the table later. Do not worry too much about it, however, because even if it fails to swell, the flavor will not be affected.
Cook for another 30 to 35 minutes, then turn the oven up to 400 F, and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Calculate between 20 and 25 minutes' total cooking time for each pound. There is no need to turn the chicken again.
Whether your bird has puffed up or not, bring it to the table whole and leave the lemons inside until it is carved and opened. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious. Be sure to spoon them over the chicken slices. The lemons will have shriveled up, but they still contain some juice. Do not squeeze them; they may squirt.
Pork Loin Roasted With Oranges And Tomatoes
This recipe, from Ana Patuleia Ortins' Portuguese Homestyle Cooking (Interlink, 2001), is one I have enjoyed for years. Depending on the size of the roast, it can finish in under an hour. Use a meat thermometer and be careful not to overcook it, as it's a fairly lean cut.
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with the salt and pepper, forming a paste. Wipe excess moisture from the meat. Rub the paste all over the roast, pushing into any crevices and coating all sides.
Place the pork in a roasting pan and pour the citrus juices over it. Add the wine, tomatoes, and vinegar to the pan. Marinate for 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator, turning occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and dot the roast with the butter, distributing the pieces evenly over the top. Roast, basting occasionally with the pan juices, until the meat thermometer indicates an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Let the roast rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving. Slice and arrange pork on a serving platter and garnish with the orange and lemon wedges.
T. Susan Chang for NPR
T. Susan Chang for NPR
Roasted Potatoes With Caramel And Prunes
The caramel in this recipe from last year's wonderful Jerusalem (10 Speed Press, 2013) is over-the-top, yet not to be missed. If you don't have goose fat or duck fat or lard, you can achieve reasonable results with olive oil. But go for the animal fat if you have the access and temperament for it.
2 1/4 pounds russet potatoes
1/2 cup goose fat or duck fat or lard
18 soft prunes, pitted
1/2 cup white sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons iced water
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Peel the potatoes, and cut into about 1- 1/2 to 2-inch chunks. Rinse under cold water, then place the potatoes in a large pan with plenty of fresh cold water. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the potatoes well, then shake the colander to roughen their edges.
Place the goose fat in a roasting pan and heat in the oven until smoking, about 8 minutes. Carefully take the pan out of the oven and add the boiled potatoes to the hot fat with metal tongs, rolling them around in the fat as you do so. Gently place the pan on the highest rack of the oven and cook for 50 to 65 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden and crunchy on the outside. Turn them over from time to time while they are cooking.
Once the potatoes are almost ready, take the tray out of the oven and tip it over a heatproof bowl to remove most of the fat. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the prunes and stir gently. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes.
During this time, make the caramel. Put the sugar in a clean, heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over low heat. Without stirring, watch the sugar turn a rich caramel color. Make sure to keep your eyes on the sugar at all times. As soon as you reach this color, remove the pan from the heat. Holding the pan at a safe distance from your face, quickly pour the iced water into the caramel to stop it from cooking. Return to the heat and stir to remove any sugar lumps.
Before serving, stir the caramel into the potatoes and prunes. Transfer to a serving bowl and eat at once.
T. Susan Chang for NPR
T. Susan Chang for NPR
Triple-Pomegranate Roast Chicken Wings
You can have these ready in under an hour — easy — if you roast the garlic ahead of time and don't muck about.
Serves 2 – 3
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon sumac
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 to 2 1/2 pounds chicken wings, cut into joints
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish
Toasted pine nuts, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set the head of garlic on a sheet of heavy foil. Use scissors to cut off the top of the head, exposing some of the clove tips beneath, and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap in the foil and roast till completely softened, 35-45 minutes depending on the size. Let cool.
While the garlic's cooling, increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Combine the sumac, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, with generous salt and pepper to taste. Dump the chicken wings into a large bowl and rub the sumac mixture into the wings as thoroughly as you can.
When the garlic is cool enough to handle, scissors open the skin around the top of the cloves a bit to ease their passage, and squeeze the softened cloves into a small bowl. Add the melted butter and mash together with a fork; then add the pomegranate molasses and mix. Scrape the mixture onto the wings and slather on as best you can. Spread the wings out on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Pop the wings in the oven, reduce the heat to 400, and roast for 30-35 minutes. While they're roasting, heat the pomegranate juice in a small saucepan and simmer till reduced to about a third of its original volume. After the wings have roasted about 20 minutes, drizzle this glaze over them — it will be messy and liquidy — and roast for a final 10-15 minutes. Serve hot, scattered with pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts.