Nothing feels more like Sunday to me than a whole roasted chicken cooking in my oven. Sundays was always a special feeling kind of day when I was growing up . Everyone in the family was home on that day. The newspaper was always sitting at our doorstep early in the morning and the first person ready for church was always the first to have at it. I don’t think I ever remember my father ever going to church. I questioned that a few times and never got a straight answer, but my mother always made sure we would make it to church with her. I remember sunny walks home from church, a quick stop at the Italian bakery to pick up Italian bread, and then home. My mother would stop and talk briefly with friends and neighbors we met along the way.
Just as soon as we got home my mother would make preparations for Sunday dinner. We always ate around 2pm, so it was somewhere between lunch and dinner. A pot of tomato sauce was bubbling on the stove top and on some Sundays a chicken was roasting in the oven. The aroma of all that goodness just traveled around the house and when the hunger pangs got too great we would sneak in the kitchen and steal a meatball from the pot and eat it on top of a hunk of Italian bread…dipped in the gravy for good measure.
Grandma, who lived above us, was involved in the same process. For some reason, she started a little later than my mother did, which worked out great for me as you will see. My grandfather, all dressed in his good Italian suit, was sitting at the dining room table reading his Italian newspaper, Il Progresso. My grandmother was busy in the kitchen preparing their Sunday dinner. I had the best seat in the house. I would venture upstairs to see what grandma was cooking and usually got a shot of sweet vermouth from my grandfather. He said it was good for my blood….it was just good period! If grandma was cooking something that I liked (and that was always a 99% sure thing) I would make sure I went back upstairs after I finished my dinner with my family. I always had just enough room left for some of Grandma’s chicken or breaded steak. I never thought of it as having two dinners, it was just an extension of my first dinner.
Classic Sunday Italian Roast Chicken
- 1 6-7 pound whole roaster chicken
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 5-6 fresh basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3 large onions, peeled and quartered
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
- 2 stalks celery, cut in half
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into eights
- 1 cup water
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
To prepare the chicken, rinse in cold water and remove the packaging from inside the cavity. Place the chicken in a large pot filled with cold water and 1/4 cup kosher salt in the water. Allow to soak for at least 1 hour.
Remove the chicken from the pot and rinse under cold water. Dry the chicken inside and out with paper towels. Salt and pepper generously the inside and outside of the chicken.
Inside the cavity of the chicken place both halfs of the lemon, thyme, Rosemary, Basil and 1/2 teaspoon of oregano along with the garlic, one half onion, 1 carrot and 1 stalk of celery. Tie the legs together with butchers twin. Coat the chicken on all sides with olive oil.
Place the chicken, breast side down, on a rack in a large roasting pan. Place the rest of the vegetables around the chicken, except the potatoes. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of oregano. Add a cup of water to the pan.
Roast the chicken for 20 minutes breast side down. Turn the chicken breast side up. Add the potatoes to the pan around the chicken and roast for additional 2 hours. Stir the vegetables from time to time during the last hour and baste the chicken with the pan juices every 15 minutes. Add more water to the pan if it gets too dry. The chicken is done when the thickest part of the breast registers 165 degrees. Or stick a knife into the thigh and the juice should run clear.
Making the gravy
Remove the chicken and place it covered in foil on your cutting board. Remove all the vegetables and potatoes and place on your serving platter. Pour off all of the drippings through a strainer into a medium sauce pan. Allow the dripping to rest for 5 minutes and skim off as much of the fat that’s floating on the surface as you want. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with a 1/4 cup cold water. Place the sauce pan with the drippings on a medium high flame and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture while stirring and simmer until thickened. Taste for salt and pepper. If you need to make more gravy add a can of low sodium chicken broth to the drippings and add an additional tablespoon of cornstarch.