Using a whole chicken: Roasted chicken and root vegetables

When I spent a few weeks studying in Italy in college, I had the privilege of meeting Carlo Petrini, founder of the international Slow Food movement. Slow Food is a non-profit organization created to counteract the growing reliance on fast and processed food all over the globe and the people's dying interest in local traditions, where their food comes from, and how it tastes by inspiring people to return to their kitchens. It emphasizes bringing people together in the home through meals that utilize local, in-season ingredients from sustainable sources. These meals are intended to help create better relationships within families and help people connect to and appreciate their food.

Slow Food is very near to my heart, and the way I think about food and nutrition has been greatly influenced by this beautiful concept. I love shopping at farmer's markets and coming across bunches of carrots that I know were pulled out of the ground that morning because they still have dirt on them. I get unreasonably excited over August tomatoes and absolutely refuse to buy tomatoes in any season other than summer because they don't taste the way tomatoes should. I love getting my hands dirty making bread, pastas, and marinara sauces for myself or a crowd. And I don't say these things to sound superior in any way, but instead with hopes to inspire others to return to these simpler roots of making good, seasonally-inspired food at home. It has brought me a lot of joy, and I want to spread the love.

Roasting a whole chicken can be a very "slow" meal. With a fast food culture comes a major disconnect between the original food source and what comes out of a box or through a drive-thru window. Cooking a whole chicken is one way to appreciate America's most-consumed meat in its simplest form. 
Our natural food supply is pretty amazing. The light, refreshing foods that sound good on a hot summer day - cold cucumber, fresh berries, salads from crisp lettuces, grilled zucchini - are in season in the summer, and the filling, hearty foods that sound good on a crisp fall day - baked russet potatoes, caramelized acorn squash, and roasted root vegetables - are in season in the fall. Eating seasonally not only ensures that your food tastes the way nature intended, but it also lowers your grocery bill and supports the idea of locally-grown ingredients.

I encourage you to read a little about Slow Food and try a Slow-inspired meal or two, like this chicken. Root vegetables are in abundance right now, and most grocery stores sell whole chickens that feed 4 for under $5, making them a very budget-friendly meat choice. The carcass can be saved for broth, which, when combined with the leftover meat and additional vegetables, makes a delicious homemade chicken noodle soup (stay tuned this week for those recipes as well). A truly slow meal, delicious in its simplistic way, where nothing goes to waste.

With that said, you can make this meal as nutrient-dense as possible by filling half of your plate with roasted vegetables and eating a reasonable (3-8 boneless ounces depending on your calorie needs) portion of chicken. If you are working on reducing your cholesterol or are at risk for heart disease, you could choose to remove the skin. 

Roasted chicken and root vegetables
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa
Serves 4

4-5 pound whole chicken
1/2 a lemon
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large carrots, cit into 1" slices
2 celery stalks, cut into 1" slices
3 russet potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
1 large onion, cut into 8 big pieces
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour (optional, for gravy)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. 
  2. Remove the chicken from any packaging and remove the giblets from the cavity (if included). Place in a large roasting pan. Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle the inside and outside with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the dried thyme into the cavity and stuff the lemon and all of the garlic inside. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the chicken and use your hands to spread the oil evenly over the outside. Sprinkle again with salt and pepper.
  3. Make sure the chicken is breast-side up in the roasting pan, and use kitchen twine to tie the legs together and tuck the wings under the bird to ensure even cooking.
  4. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, then add the vegetables into the roasting pan, scattering them around the bird. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over the vegetables and toss to combine. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the vegetables and return the roasting pan to the oven for an additional 45 minutes.
  5. At this point, the chicken should have reached an internal temperature of 165 F. To test for doneness, insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, carefully avoiding the bone. Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent loosely with foil. Transfer the vegetables to a sheet tray and roast for an additional 15 minutes to crisp, then scatter on the platter with the chicken.
  6. To make gravy, put 1/4 cup of the chicken drippings in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour. Whisk vigorously over medium-high heat until thickened.
After dinner, remove as much meat as possible from the carcass and save the bones to make broth for chicken noodle soup the next day.

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