My Antonia...and a Chicken

Unless you've read the Willa Cather novel "My Antonia," you won't giggle at my title. Why should you giggle? Because my sister, Antonia, I have often referred to as My Antonia. And because this post is all about one of the recipes that she developed--Roasted Chicken With Fennel and Sweet Potatoes. 

One of my favorite meals. Recipe by My Antonia (my sister Antonia)

It's memorable for me because of my aversion to fennel. I can't handle too strong of an anise flavor, so fennel has always lived on my blind side, and I've never cared to correct my vision. Visiting with my sister a few years ago, My Antonia was assembling a chicken, sweet potatoes and fennel wedges in a roasting pan. I was going to add one piece to my plate just to be polite, but I was not about to eat any more fennel than that! Until...I did take that one bite. The fennel had been transformed! So, my cooking takeaway that day was that roasted fennel develops a very mellow anise flavor, which is absolutely amazing when paired with sweet potatoes and a chicken. Who knew? My Antonia knew, and she converted me with one chicken dinner.

My Dewey with My Antonia
at the beautiful Fiscardo harbor in Kefalonia, one of the biggest of the Greek Ionian islands

I called Antonia recently to review her recipe (just to be sure). Guess what? She didn't remember that amazing dinner! It had been one of those things that she'd just thrown together. Fortunately, because I've made it many time since that first time in her kitchen, I remembered the list of ingredients. And they are:
  • 1 small chicken (no more than 3 1/2 lbs)
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in half across and quartered
  • 2 fennel bulbs, root, fronds and stems cut off and outer layer removed
  • some of the fennel fronds to be chopped for garnish (wash and dry first)
  • 1 sweet onion (like Vidalia) peeled and cut into six wedges
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • salt & pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F and move one rack to the middle of the oven.
  2. Cut the fennel bulbs into six wedges
  3. Place the chicken in the center of a large roasting pan with the vegetables and garlic around the chicken. Pour the water into the pan.
  4. Pour the lemon juice evenly over everything and season generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Drizzle generously with olive oil. You can eyeball it or measure it out and pour it onto the chicken and vegetables.
  6. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. This will depend on the size of your chicken. You should check at least once and shake the pan to mix up the vegetables and pan juices. You can turn the chicken at around thirty minutes if it's browned well.
  7. Serve with chopped fennel fronds sprinkled over each plate. This adds just the lightest fennel flavor reinforcement and provides a bit of visual contrast.

My Antonia didn't use onions in her recipe. I added that because of the natural sugars that onions bring to the cooking process. Perhaps she will forgive me?

A salad with your dinner? You can eat this as is, without any accompanying dishes, but my "Just a Salad" salad is particularly easy and provides a gentle acidic element to the creamy chicken and vegetables. The bonus is that it's utterly delicious. On this particular night, I added sliced Kalamata olives to the salad. It was a hit! An award-winning hit.

As always, save the discarded vegetable peelings and return that goodness to the earth. Yes,
even a single person can compost, yes, even in the city. It's a good thing to do.


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