In a couple of days, I’ll be flitting off to Barcelona for a week. Being a bit of a nerd about trip-planning, I’d assembled a laundry list of things that needed to be taken care of pre-voyage: Sunscreen? Check. Spanish/Catalan phrasebook? Check. EU adaptor plug? Check. Pickpocket-proof fanny pack? Check. That’s right – fanny pack. A beige one, no less. Yes, I am severely aware that my travel gear is more Angela Landsbury than Gisèle Bunschen. But I’m sure my travel companion (one, younger brother) will appreciate that I left the PG-13 bathing suit at home. Besides, I’m just looking forward to hanging out with baby brother, surrounded by tapas, Gaudi mosaics and the effortless “th” sound that makes “zapatas” sound like “thapatas”.

But before any of that can happen, there are still a few things that need to be tended to before the fanny pack even makes its way into the suitcase. Ranking high on the trip prep list has been the task of figuring out what to do with the contents of my fridge. Being a consummate over-shopper when it comes to food (see the full confession here), this week I’ve had to deal with a fridge that’s been stocked for a family of six – which is a problem because the inhabitants of this apartment consist of me and my plants: Edgar, Lucinda, Phyllis, Thelonius III and Mike, and they, like waif supermodels, survive off water.

Over the last few days, I’ve had to get serious about the perishable foodstuffs in my kitchen to avoid coming home to a family of rotting bananas and a flock of fruit flies. So, dear readers, the recipe below is one of the many meals this week inspired by my need to make use of the veg and dairy and meat in my fridge before getting on the airplane and making my way through the earmarked pages of my Spanish phrasebook.

Looking forward to finding you here again upon my return from the Iberian Peninsula – the place that brought us flamenco, chorizo and Antonio Bandaras. Muchas grathias for all three.

Roast Chicken with Fennel Gratin

For the chicken:

  • 3 lb whole chicken (better: organic or free range), giblets removed
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped (+ 3 sprigs extra, intact)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped (+ 1 sprig extra, intact)
  • Sea salt and pepper

Rinse the chicken under cold water and pat dry. Insert garlic, lemon and sprigs of thyme and rosemary in the cavity of the bird. If you have kitchen twine, tie the legs together to prevent the lot from falling out and to keep the leg meat moist. Give the bird a little massage of butter. Sprinkle the chopped herbs all over the bird, and add a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper. Let chicken sit out, covered, until it reaches room temperature (about 40 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Keep yourself occupied for a little while, to let the oven heat up properly.

Place the bird in a roasting pan. Immediately reduce oven temperature to 350°F and roast in the oven for about an hour or until a meat thermometer reads 165°F when inserted into the breast of the chicken and the juices run clear.

*Note: a good rule of thumb to gauge cooking time for poultry is 20 minutes per pound at 350°F.

For the gratin (adapted from Saveur):

Serves 2-3 as a side-dish

  • 1 small fennel bulb, sliced; some frilly green bits reserved
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup of cream (15% or 35%)
  • 1/3 cup Gruyère, grated
  • 1/4 cup white wine or vermouth
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper

Toss onion and fennel (including frilly bits) in a small baking dish with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Place in the oven alongside the chicken and let bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

When you’ve removed the chicken from the oven, set the oven to broil.

Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it starts to foam. Add flour, and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Pour in the wine, then the cream and cook, stirring, until thickened (about 2 minutes). Season with salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg.

Pour the sauce over the onions and fennel and grate a thin layer of Gruyère over the top. Place in the oven and broil for about 2 minutes.