Abra Berens - Roast Chicken over Tomato, Bread, and Parmesan Salad 

Photography by Paul Strabbing

Photography by Paul Strabbing

Who doesn’t love Abra (no question mark needed).  I am lucky enough to be down the road and one turn of a corner to get to Granor Farm where Abra heads up the kitchen.  It’s a programme of food that’s more than impressive, greater than great and in the most perfect way it is more humbling than dazzling.  It’s down to earth real, as is Abra.

And now, you must have heard, she has just begun the tour of her new cookbook Ruffage, a simply beautiful and approachable book that for one, fills the gap in the Midwest for vegetable focused dishes, but also brings a sensible approach to cooking with veg.  I happily stand it on the shelf next to my favourite classics.

I asked Abra what her favorite food or meal was in childhood?  This was her answer:

Ha! I don't know what this says about me but for our birthdays growing up we could ask for any meal we wanted and my mom would make it. For several years in a row I asked for beef tongue. I like to pretend it was the start of my gourmand tendencies but really it just grossed my sister out and she had to eat it because it was my birthday! I don't know when we had it for the first time, but I distinctly remember about five years of birthdays with boiled beef tongue and herby potatoes. 

Anyway, we digress….this below is a lovely recipe. It works at any time of year I think.  My add is to use bread that’s at least a day old, much like for a Panzanella Salad.  Oh and you can learn, maybe should, to spatchcock a chicken, or you can ask your trusty butcher to do that for you.  And don’t forget to use the cooked stripped carcass to make stock afterwards.

Roast Chicken over Tomato, Bread, and Parmesan Salad 

I love this recipe this time of year because either I am delighting in having roasted cherry tomatoes in the freezer (preserved from last summer) or making the best with the very drab tomatoes at the store. By roasting winter tomatoes with the chicken, the excess moisture evaporates during cooking, effectively steaming the underside of the chicken, and concentrating the flavor of the tomato. The bread will be both crispy and squishy just like the best Thanksgiving stuffing. 

If you don’t have a frying pan large enough to hold the chicken, proceed as described and transfer the bread-tomato base to a baking dish and then lay the chicken over that and bake.1 whole chicken, seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, ideally over night or at least for 10 minutes.

2 pints (1- 1 ½ lbs) cherry tomatoes

½ loaf sourdough or other crusty bread

1 onion

4 cloves garlic

½ cup white wine

1 cup chicken stock

2 oz parmesan

Heat oven to 400F

Spatchcock the chicken by cutting the back bone out of the chicken with scissors.

Press the chicken to lie flat removing the keel bone if possible.

Cube the bread as you would for stuffing.

Slice the onion and garlic thinly.

In a large frying pan (large enough to hold the chicken) heat a glug of olive oil over medium heat and briefly fry the onion and garlic until soft.

Add the white wine and reduce until almost dry.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Add the bread and cherry tomatoes and toss to combine (it will be a wet mixture).

Lay the chicken over the whole thing and transfer to the oven.

Bake uncovered until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cover lightly with tin foil to let the chicken rest.

Grate the parmesan over the whole thing and serve with a green salad on the side.

Johanna Lowe