Now that summer is over, I have been at a bit of a loss. Last week, when the weather report called for an overnight frost, I found myself at midnight in my back yard with a flashlight and four garbage bags, clumsily trying to cover up my precious tomato plants. This was my first summer of serious gardening (and by that I mean gardening beyond buying and then neglecting sad houseplants), and it shocked me how much pleasure the task brought. I loved coaxing the plants upward and to ripeness, I loved the way their pollen smelled on my hands. And so in the middle of the night, I struggled to keep them alive, and to ward off the inevitable.
I succeeded in keeping the frost at bay, but tomatoes ripened in the cold air don't have nearly the appeal of their July and August siblings, and I have had to admit that finally, summer is over. To quell my sadness, I needed an antidote, a comfort just as powerful as my ripe summer tomatoes. I decided to roast my first chicken of the fall.
There is nothing like a roast chicken, and nothing like roasting one and making gravy to make your home feel cozy. Some women know they are about to give birth because their nesting instinct kicks in and they begin cleaning furiously -- for me, the nesting instinct propelled me to roast a chicken. There is a photo of me the night before I went into labor eating gravy out of a bowl that was resting on my gargantuan belly. I think part of my tomato obsession has to do with creating life for the sake of nourishment. Roasting a chicken seems like the ultimate cold-weather nourishment, its golden skin and juicy interior as pleasing in its own way as that luscious summer fruit.
The real beauty of roast chicken is how amazingly simple it is. Gravy, however, is a different story. For many, making gravy can be fraught with anxiety, but it is also a really satisfying thing to know how to do. But if gravy is too scary for you, your roast chicken will be delicious without it.
3-pound chicken (I highly recommend spending the extra money on an all-natural chicken when roasting the whole bird. For a real treat, buy an Ashley Farms chicken, available at Star Provisions)
Salt and pepper
Half a lemon or onion (optional)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup red wine
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Thoroughly rinse chicken inside and out, then pat dry with paper towels. Salt and pepper skin and cavity. You may also rub skin with half a lemon or half an onion, then put it in the cavity. Place the chicken on a roasting rack in a baking pan, breast side up. Place in oven and roast until done, 45-60 minutes. You can tell the chicken is done if the juices run clear when a sharp knife is inserted into the joint between the body and the thigh or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees at the same joint.
Place chicken on platter, let it rest.
Remove baking rack from pan and pour roasting juices into a gravy separator or measuring cup. Allow the fat to separate, and pour the juices back into the pan. Discard the fat. Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium-high heat. When juices begin to bubble, sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over the surface and stir in quickly. Once it is incorporated, repeat until all the flour is stirred in. If you feel that the gravy is starting to burn, turn down the heat slightly. Once the flour is stirred in, deglaze the pan with the red wine, and cook until all the alcohol has burned off and the gravy is at the desired consistency. Check for salt and pepper and season accordingly.
Culinary questions? Contact our regular Kitchen Witch columnist Kim O'Donnel at email@example.com.