Just when you thought you’d heard every way to roast a chicken, here’s another. You flatten the bird — the British call this “spatchcocking,” though “butterflied” or “split” makes the point better — then slip a ricotta-zucchini mixture under the skin before roasting. Years ago, when the late American author Richard Olney, who lived in Avignon, in the south of France, came to this country to promote “Simply French Food,” I watched him prepare the dish, grating the zucchini on a fancy French device (that I promptly bought, along with the book, of course).
A hand-held box grater works just as well. You salt the zucchini, press out its moisture, then saute it with onion before mixing in ricotta, Parmesan, marjoram (or another herb you like), an egg yolk, and grated lemon rind. The skin of the bird lifts easily from the flesh if you make a pocket first with your fingers, then slip in the filling. The dish, wrote Olney, has “a multitude of virtues.” The creamy cheese protects the flesh, especially the breasts; the filling feels like a surprise under the golden skin; and the bird makes a fine presentation.
Split roast chicken with zucchini and ricotta under the skin
|1||whole chicken (3½ pounds)|
|3||small (1 pound total) zucchini, coarsely shredded|
|Salt and pepper, to taste|
|2||tablespoons olive oil|
|1||medium onion, coarsely chopped|
|2||tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram or parsley|
|Grated rind of 1 lemon|
|¼||cup freshly grated Parmesan|
|Olive oil (for sprinkling)|
|Extra marjoram or parsley (for garnish)|
1. Set the chicken breast down on a cutting board. With kitchen shears, snip along both sides of the backbone; lift it out. Holding both hands on the cut sides, like holding a book, open the chicken so it is flat. Turn it skin side up and with the heel of your hand, press it hard in the center to flatten it more. Set the bird in a shallow roasting pan.
2. Set the oven at 400 degrees.
3. In a bowl, layer the zucchini with salt; set aside for 5 minutes. Use your hands to make balls of zucchini to squeeze out all the liquid. Transfer to a clean bowl.
4. In a skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and cook the onion, stirring often, for 8 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes; cool.
5. In a bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, marjoram or parsley, lemon rind, Parmesan, and pepper. Stir in the zucchini mixture.
6. Slide your fingers between the breast skin and meat on one side to make a pocket. Gradually add the zucchini mixture with a small spoon, using fingers to push it way down to the pointed end of the breast and into the top of the wing drumette. Do the same on the other side. Slide your fingers between the thigh skin and meat on one side to make a pocket. Add zucchini, pushing it along so the mixture fills the top of the drumstick. Do the same on the other side. Add more zucchini where the mixture seems skimpy. Pull the skin over the zucchini mixture on all sides.
7. Sprinkle the chicken skin with olive oil, salt, and pepper. With clean hands, reshape the bird so the legs overlap the bottom of the breasts and the chicken looks compact.
8. Roast for 30 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees and continue roasting for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (not zucchini mixture) registers 165 degrees. Total roasting time is 65 to 75 minutes. Let the chicken rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.
9. Cut the chicken into 8 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings with some breast meat attached, 2 breasts). Garnish with extra marjoram or parsley. Adapted from “Simply French Food.” Sheryl Julian