The kids went back to school last week. To me, it feels a bit like sacrilege to begin in the middle of the sacred month of August. But, over the last few days a cool fog has rolled in off the mountains and I’ve had to put extra blankets on the beds. It’s like nature is saying, “It’s time,” and it truly feels like fall is nearly here, a little earlier than normal, as well, but who am I to argue with Mother Nature. At night I still throw the windows open wide and by morning the house is blissfully cool – almost cold, even – and I wake, finding I’ve been dreaming of damp autumn leaves and the scent of cinnamon dancing through the kitchen air.
The first few weeks of la rentrée are always a little chaotic with meetings and painfully early mornings and everything that goes along with acclimating children (who’ve spent the summer reading until midnight) to a more “reasonable” schedule. This year we’ve also had a string of doctors appointments to add to the mix, so “easy” is the name of the game when it comes to dinner.
I love to roast whole chickens year round. I love the flavour of the crispy skin and the way it caramelizes on the bottom of the pan. I like to carve it at the table and let everyone choose their favourite piece. It feels like such a feast when there’s a whole bird on the table – like a mini, mid-week Thanksgiving! But roasting a whole chicken takes a long time. Not the best or easiest meal for this crazy back to school season. The answer, at least in my book, is to simply cut the chicken up, nestle it in with a bunch of cinnamon-scented seasonal vegetables and roast them all together. The flavour is much the same and the vegetables brown in the juices of the chicken. It takes only about half the time of roasting a whole chicken, and while this isn’t exactly a “30 minute meal,” since the oven does all the work, it feels like I have the luxury of free time to clean the kitchen and wash the dishes, sparing myself all that work after the meal is over – either that or I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and step out on the back deck and save the mess for my husband.
For a long time I was intimidated by the idea of cutting a whole chicken into 8 parts. But it’s really a very simple process and once you get the hang of it, it takes about 2 minutes. There are several great “how-to” videos out there on YouTube. It’s certainly worth the effort for a couple of reasons. First, I like to buy high-quality, organic chickens which often aren’t available pre-cut. Additionally, when I cut up my own chicken, I get the backbone and this is “gold” when it comes to making the best chicken stock. I freeze them and when I have several I throw them all in big pot, cover with cold water and a dash of vinegar, add in some aromatics – onion, garlic, celery, carrots, bay and cloves – and slowly bring to a simmer. Of course, we all deserve a break during this busy back to school season, so you could certainly save yourself the effort by buying a chicken that is already cut-up – or simply having your butcher do it for you. This recipe is all about simplicity.
Happy early autumn in the middle of August!
This dish is like a cozy sweater on a cool fall evening. Savoury butternut squash, warm cinnamon, comforting roasted chicken. I like to keep it easy and serve it straight out of the baking dish at the table with a simple loaf of country bread or baguette on the side.
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 parts
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
4 large black or purple carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1/2 a lemon, sliced
8 cloves garlic, peeled
3 – 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 – 2 TBSP butter
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C). On a large baking sheet or roasting pan, toss the carrots, butternut squash and garlic with the olive oil, cinnamon and salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in an even layer.
Season the chicken well with salt and pepper and nestle the pieces among the veggies. Place a few little pieces of butter onto each piece of chicken. Scatter the lemon slices and thyme sprigs among the veggies and chicken. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until the chicken is golden and cooked through.