Chicken Orvieto

Over the years I have probably cooked this more than any other chicken dish. It’s based on a dish in Alastair Little’s Italian Kitchen (out of print but worth tracking down on the internet) and I’ve changed it only slightly. Alastair Little, who used to have his own restaurant in Soho in London, had a big effect on how we cook… much bigger than he is given credit for. He was the first person, back in the 1980s, to create menus of dishes from the Middle East and Japan as well as Italy, a range that was new to British diners.

Even though there is fennel in the stuffing, I usually serve this with a creamy fennel gratin – bubbling under a Parmesan crust – and a dish of roast tomatoes. Now that’s a great Sunday lunch.



  • olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and finely chopped (fronds reserved and chopped)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 100g (3½oz) pancetta lardons
  • 250g (9oz) chicken livers, cleaned and chopped
  • 50 black olives, pitted, half of them roughly chopped
  • finely grated zest of ½ unwaxed lemon
  • leaves from a few sprigs of thyme
  • 200g (7oz) waxy potatoes, cut into cubes (no need to peel)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1.8kg (4lb) chicken
  • 50 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 250ml (9fl oz) dry white wine
  • 500ml (18fl oz) chicken stock


  • Heat ½ tbsp of the olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the fennel and onion for a couple of minutes. Add the pancetta and cook until it is golden on all sides and the onion and fennel are soft. Add the livers and toss until they no longer look raw. Put this into a bowl with the chopped olives, lemon zest and thyme. Put 2 tbsp of olive oil into the pan and add the potatoes. Cook until they are tender, stirring occasionally. The potatoes will stick a bit but that’s fine. Season. Add to the olive bowl and toss. Leave to cool. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
  • Remove the excess fat around the chicken cavity then stuff the chicken. Either sew up the cavity, or use small skewers. Put the bird in a roasting tin and drizzle some olive oil over it, then rub it all over, including into the space between the legs and body of the bird. Season with pepper and sea salt flakes.
  • Put into the hot oven and cook for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and cook for another hour. When the chicken has 40 minutes left to cook, toss the garlic cloves into the roasting tin, turning them over in the fat. Check the chicken is done, then put it on a heated platter and cover with foil. Scoop up the garlic, put in a dish and keep warm.
  • Remove the excess fat from the roasting tin, then set it over a medium heat and add the wine, stirring to scrape up the bits. Boil until about 50ml (2fl oz) is left. Pour in the stock and boil until reduced by three-quarters. Briefly add the whole olives, then strain the cooking juices and add the olives to the garlic.
  • Cut the chicken into eight joints and serve with the olives and garlic over the top, with any fennel fronds you removed earlier. Put the stuffing on the same platter or into a bowl and pour the juices into a jug. Serve. You don’t need any starch on the side.

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