Barbara Kafka offers a toast to roasting

March 22, 1995|By Phyllis Stein-Novack | Phyllis Stein-Novack,Knight-Ridder News Service

Cookbook author Barbara Kafka has a strong sense of taste, a dry wit and a passion for unpretentious food.

She wants Americans to cook. She wants us to loosen up in the kitchen, constantly taste things, invite friends in for a simple meal and relax over a glass of wine.

She hopes we'll whisk our shopping carts past the vast array of frozen foods and reach for a fresh plump chicken. To her, "The biggest social tragedy in America today is that families don't eat dinner together."

Always quick to voice an opinion, Ms. Kafka is one of today's most knowledgeable food and wine writers. She can rattle off the genus for different mushroom species and easily trace a recipe's 800-year history. She dislikes snobbery and is happiest eating something that simply tastes good. A contributor to Family Circle, Vogue and Gourmet, she has written five cookbooks, including the best-selling "Microwave Gourmet," which caused an uproar among food snobs in the mid-1980s. Ms. Kafka didn't care. She has always been an iconoclast.

In her next cookbook, "The Art of Roasting," which is nearing completion, Ms. Kafka turns her attention to conventional ovens and champions roast chicken, roasted potatoes, roasted vegetables and roasted fruits -- the kinds of dishes she likes to prepare for her own family and guests.

Following Jim Beard's advice to "Keep it simple," Ms. Kafka turns to such foods as parsnips, the elongated white root vegetable more popular in Europe than in America. She roasts them whole to serve as a side dish, and suggests browning them very well before adding them to stews.

"Parsnips are a homely, old-fashioned root vegetable just beginning to creep back into favor with trendier cooks," Ms. Kafka said. "The right amount will lend a hint of sweetness and perfume."

In the recipe below, parsnips "will glaze wonderfully at this high heat," Ms. Kafka says. "They are perfect with roast chicken or as part of a medley of vegetables for a vegetarian meal."

Roasting works best with parsnips that are under 1 1/4 inches in diameter, weighing 4 ounces or less each.

Ms. Kafka urges cooks to take liberties with her recipe for roast chicken.

"If there is no lemon, garlic or butter on hand, roast the chicken without them," she says. "Or use peeled shallots, or a small onion, quartered. Add some leaves from the top of bunch of celery, a couple of sage leaves or a bay leaf. Try a few wedges of juice oranges or blood oranges." Potatoes can be crisped in the oven along with the chicken.

"Toss a big green salad while it's roasting, and there's dinner for the current crop of harried home cooks," Ms. Kafka says.

Roasted Parsnips

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 1/2 pounds whole parsnips (about 10), trimmed and peeled

1 tablespoon olive oil

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Heat oven to 500 degrees.

Place parsnips in a roasting pan (12-by-18-by-1 1/2 inches). Drizzle vegetables with oil. Using your hands, rub oil over parsnips until each is well coated.

Roast 25 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the vegetables, turning after 15 minutes.

Simplest Roast Chicken

Serves 2 to 4

1 5-pound chicken

1 lemon, halved

1/2 ounce whole garlic cloves (about 4)

optional: 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

kosher salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup chicken stock, water, juice or wine to deglaze pan

Place a rack on the second level from the bottom of oven. Heat oven to 500 degrees.

Pull excess fat from chicken. Freeze the neck, gizzards and liver for another use.

Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the lemon, garlic, butter, salt and pepper. Season the skin with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken breast side up in a roasting pan (12-by-18-by-1 1/2 inches). Place in the oven, with legs facing toward the back of the oven, and roast 50 to 60 minutes, or until the juices run clear. During the first 10 minutes, move the chicken frequently with a wooden spoon to keep it from sticking to the pan.

Before removing the chicken to a platter, insert a large wooden spoon into the neck end and tilt the chicken so the cavity juices run out into the roasting pan. Then place the chicken on a platter.

Skim excess fat from the pan juices and put the pan on top of the stove. Add stock, water or other liquid and bring the contents of the pan to a boil, scraping the bottom vigorously with a wooden spoon. Reduce liquid by half.

Serve the sauce over the chicken, or -- if you prefer the skin to tTC stay crisp -- in a sauce boat.

Roast Chicken

With Crispy Potatoes

Serves 4

1 recipe for Simplest Roast Chicken

1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, halved lengthwise, cut in half across, each quarter cut into 3 or 4 wedges (about 28 wedges total), or 1 1/2 pounds small red new potatoes, quartered

optional: 1 medium onion, peeled but left whole, or 2 unpeeled garlic cloves

optional: 1 teaspoon rosemary

kosher salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Proceed with recipe for Simplest Roast Chicken, using a larger roasting pan so the potatoes will fit.

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