I'm going to Australia on Tuesday. Sorry dear readers, I have become one of those smug gits who crowbar their holiday plans into conversation, immune to the glaze-over of friends and colleagues. Uppermost in my mind, well after the soppy Richard Curtisian airport reunion with my best friend V, the sunshine and the surfers, is the food. Aussie grub is gorgeous. The combination of sizeable Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese and Japanese immigrant populations, the fantastic produce and, of course, that sunshine has led to good things. Very good things. Last time I was there, I subsisted mainly on Magi noodles in grotty hostel kitchens, so this time I'm looking forward to a bonanza of flat whites, sashimi, vibrant salads alive with coriander and flat leaf parsley, pho, banana bread, and ricotta hotcakes drenched with honeycomb butter.
Sydney on my mind, I turned to the white-trousered wizard of Oz cuisine, Bill Granger, for some Sunday roast chicken inspiration. Bill's TV shows aren't really known over here, although his books and columns are rightly popular. But a few years ago the BBC aired a couple of his series' after Saturday Kitchen. They were wonderful, a sun-drenched slice of grade-A food porn, cruelly screened during a dank, dark British winter. Here's Bill hosting a BBQ on his beachside sundeck. Here he is ambling around the Sydney Morning Herald grower's market, picking up some artisan cheese and sourdough. It's hot. It's sunny. Life is good, let's make pancakes.
One episode featured a spatchcocked roast chook, crammed with ricotta and fresh herbs. It has lurked in my internal recipe file ever since, symbolising everything I love about Aussie food - the freshness, the imaginativeness and the chuck-it-on-the-barbie simplicity. Bill uses chives and chervil, but I've subbed in tarragon here, as its aniseedy kick goes so well with chicken and lends some welly to the timid ricotta. Served with green beans and corn, and a (ssh, out-of-season) tomato salad, it made for a lovely pre-Easter lunch. But I imagine it will be even better come summer, served outside in the evening when the heat has fallen away from the day, with friends, fairylights, and some cold, crisp rosé.
Ricotta and tarragon roast chicken
(adapted from Everyday by Bill Granger)
A 1.6kg free-range chicken
375g fresh ricotta
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
2 tsp grated lemon zest
A goodly pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.
To spatchcock the chicken, place the bird breast-side down on a board. Using a sharp knife, cut along both sides of the backbone, cutting through both the skin and bone. Remove the backbone.
Turn the bird over and press firmly on the breast bone to break it and flatten the breast. Tuck the wing tips under the breast.
Mix together the ricotta, tarragon, lemon, and a liberal amount of salt and pepper. With your fingers, carefully loosen the skin over the breast of the chicken and down to the thigh area. (You may need to use the point of a small, sharp knife to slip through some of the connective tissue joining the skin to the breast, until it looks like the inside of a tent.) Spread the ricotta mixture evenly under the skin to cover the breast and thighs.
Put the chook into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and season. Roast for 50 minutes or until the juices run clear.
Leave to rest for 5 minutes before carving.