Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Venetian Tagliatelle with Roasted Chicken, Fennel & Pine Nuts
This is rainy day food. Bitterly damp, cold day food. What after all could provoke the desire to hunker, batten, and huddle more than the off-season in Venice, when the best days find the whole city shrouded in chill and mist? When you can circle, lost for hours in some remote corner of one of the comunes you hadn’t known existed before, knowing that at any turn, you might find yourself adrift in fog, or ankle-deep in water, or, rarest of all, at the edge of some tiny piazza lightly dusted with snow.
And this tagliatelle dish is classically Venetian, known as “frisinsal de tagiadele” in the local dialect and traditionally served on Friday nights for the Sabbath in the Jewish ghetto there. Though there are versions from Jewish communities all over Italy, the Venetian version with its roasted chicken and sauce made from the pan drippings is the one that I find particularly warming and crave-able. I like roast chicken more than just about anything, and this is essentially a celebration of what a glorious thing a well-seasoned, well-roasted chicken really is.
I learned from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food that sage is traditionally used, but I’ve never had it that way, even in Venice, and I prefer it without. Then again, the fennel isn’t traditional either, and nor is the wine or the lemon juice, but I’ve added them over the years and love the dish all the more ever since. And fennel’s just coming into season, so it’s the perfect time to try the recipe out, especially as the weather cools.
This is one of those dishes, like risotto or bouillabaisse, where the quality of the stock makes a vast difference. Not like some chef telling you it’s better to always use homemade stock and to keep batches on hand in your freezer just like they do, but an actual, huge difference. If you’re out of homemade stock and want the full experience, roast the chicken earlier in the day, deglaze and reserve the cooking juices, remove the meat from the bones, and then use the carcass to make stock before proceeding. But then again, don’t let the absence of homemade stock or the will to make it stop you from trying this dish. I have friends who repeatedly request this dish for their birthdays, though I gladly make it for them on any other day too, just so I can have it, just so I can bear witness to their delight.
This dish is ultimately about intensifying the most soul-nourishing of flavors at every turn, with every opportunity. I’ve even, in moments of utter hedonism, taken the chicken’s skin and sizzled it in olive oil until crisp, to adorn the pasta with just before serving. There is no need to rinse the chicken – that just spreads bacteria to other parts of the kitchen. Make several slices in the thigh and leg meat though, to ensure it roasts at the same speed as the breast meat.
Serves 4 - 6
2 fennel bulbs, with fronds attached if possible
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 chicken, neck reserved if possible
2 stalks fresh rosemary, plus 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup pine nuts
2 glasses white wine
2 cups (plus extra) good chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 lb tagliatelle or pappardelle (I prefer non-egg pasta here, but it's just personal taste)
a good handful of flat parsley leaves if your fennel didn't have its fronds attached
Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C, gas mark 7)
Remove the fronds from the fennel stalks and reserve. Trim the stalks from the fennel bulbs and reserve. Trim the root ends from the fennel bulbs and then slice the bulbs in half. Using the center of the bulbs to keep the segments intact, slice into thin wedges – you’ll want them to be thin enough to caramelize and then toss with the pasta later. Place the fennel in a good sized, heavy-bottomed roasting tin (stove top safe), along with the chicken neck if they’ve included it with your chicken, and toss with a generous glug of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.
Clear an area in the center of the pan for the chicken. Pat dry the chicken with paper towels and use a sharp knife to slice through the thigh and leg meat in 3 – 4 places on each side. Season the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Quarter one on the lemons and place in the cavity along with the fennel stalks and 2 stalks of rosemary. Rub the skin with olive oil and season with plenty of salt and pepper, being sure to rub some into the cuts you’ve made in the thighs and legs.
Place the pan in the center of the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 F (180 C, gas mark 4) and roast for an hour and 15 minutes more or until the legs move freely in their joints and the juices run clear.
Meanwhile, boil some water and pour it over the raisins. Allow them to soak for 30 minutes. Place a small sauté pan over very low heat and toast the pine nuts, stirring often. They burn very easily, so don’t walk away, and remove them from the metal pan as soon as they’re lightly golden and fragrant.
Lift the chicken from the pan and allow to rest and cool at least 15 minutes on a plate to catch the juices. Use a slotted spoon to lift the fennel out and reserve in a bowl. Leave the chicken neck in the pan and set it on the stove top. Add the wine, and turn the heat to high. Allow the wine to reduce by half, using a spoon or metal spatula to help loosen the fond – all those caramelized juices are where the best flavor is. Drain the raisins and add along with the minced rosemary, along with any juices that have collected in the plate the chicken is resting on. Then add 2 cups of best quality chicken stock. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to reduce by half again. Remove the chicken neck and discard. Check the seasoning with more salt and pepper. Then remove from the heat and reserve.
Meanwhile, use your hands, two forks, whatever works, to shred all of the chicken flesh and skin into bite-sized pieces. Be sure not to let any of the juices escape. Add to the juices in the pan. You can hold the sauce like this up to 3 days. Remember meat braises tend to develop better flavor overnight, and this is no bad thing.
When you’re ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. Heat the chicken sauce in a large pan if it’s cooled. Be careful not to bubble too long and lose too much liquid. You can always top it up with more hot chicken stock if the sauce gets too dry (the pasta can soak up quite a bit of sauce) – just be sure to recheck the seasoning. Add the pasta to the water and cook until just al dente and then drain.
Meanwhile mince the fennel fronds or parsley.
When the pasta is done, add the juice of a lemon to the chicken, check the seasoning one more time with more salt, pepper, or lemon juice if necessary, and add the pasta to the chicken, tossing to combine. Add half the pine nuts and most of the minced herbs. Plate immediately (if the sauce sits too long on the pasta, too much will be absorbed and the pasta will dry out, though you can always freshen it with more stock). Garnish with the remaining pine nuts and herbs and serve immediately.