If I had to choose my favorite one dish dinner, this may just be the one. I was introduced to this recipe and to the pleasure of fennel many years ago in a cooking class I took with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, who until last year was co-host of the popular Splendid Table radio show. As a young enthusiastic cook I had the opportunity to spend six weeks with Lynne studying the basics of cooking and I credit her for giving me a strong foundation in the culinary arts.
The original recipe for this dish calls for rabbit and although I have eaten it various times in Italy, I’ve yet to prepare it myself. I’m a big fan of chicken thighs and the long roasting results in a meat that is falling off the bone.
I have made many a convert to fennel with this dish. If you’ve tasted raw fennel you know that it has a very distinct licorice-like taste. It is crisp and so flavorful and I love it dipped in a little coarse salt. When roasted with olive oil it becomes meltingly tender and its flavor mellows out and it hardly resembles its original form. Along with roasted onions and garlic, the fennel is a wonderful counterpoint to the roasted meat. Each bite is better than the next and I’ve yet to serve this dish to anyone who wasn’t thrilled by it. If you happen to have fennel pollen in your pantry go ahead and sprinkle some over the chicken and the vegetables.
Pollo Al Forno Con Finnochio
(Chicken Roasted With Sweet Fennel)
8 bone in chicken thighs
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 branch fresh rosemary (about 1 inch), chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 bulbs fresh fennel (I like to use more), cored and cut into wedges
1 large onion, cut into wedges
3 ounces pancetta, minced
3 cloves garlic, split
1 teaspoon fennel seed, coarsely ground
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh fennel leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup stock
Make a paste of 1 clove garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper and rub over chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least a few hours, but better if you do it the night before.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the meat in a roasting pan (large enough to hold meat and vegetables in a single layer). Scatter the vegetables and garlic around the meat, and add fennel seed, pancetta and fennel tops. Sprinkle with olive oil. Roast 1/2 hour, basting often with juices. Pour in the wine and roast for about an hour, basting often and turning pieces. Add a little water if the juices are drying up. Lynne’s recipe calls for turning the oven to 450 for 15 minutes but I’ve never felt the need to do that. My chicken always seems to have a nice brown color and I think more time would dry it out a little. Maybe with rabbit, the extra time would be better.
Remove meat and vegetables from pan. Quickly make a sauce by setting roasting pan over burners and adding wine and stock. Scrape up the brown bits from the pan, boil liquid down to about half, pour into a small pitcher and serve with meat. Many times I forgo the sauce and just scrape everything form the pan onto the meat when serving!