Tuesday, June 10, 2008

rome week continues. the brother gracchi and the best pasta you'll ever eat

it's quite ironic that this is rome week, but i'll get to that later. today are two lessons, one on making the most divine spaghetti with roast chicken sauce, and the other on republican agrarian law reform. no, it's more interesting that that i promise.

in the second century BC the romans were in a spot of bother. roman society and politics was governed by a rather complicated set of titles an positions. i have horrible trouble trying to remember if a quaestor outranks aedile, so don't worry if you don't get your head around on the first read. but as is the case with most civilisations, the power of rome relied heavily on the strength of its army. and to be in the army you had to own land. now during this period there were a lot of greedy sods around who were buying up land at a rate of knots, and putting small land holders out on their arses. ahhhhh.... capitalism. gotta love it.

so along comes Tiberius Gracchus, and the Populares party. now old Tiberius came from good stock - his grandfather was Scipio Africanus, the sacker of Carthage (sounds familiar? it was the first scene in the Colosseum in the movie Gladiator). Tiberius, as a tribune, sought to reform land tax and land law to increase the number of land owning citizens and also therefore the number of citizens who could be conscripted.

without going into too much detail this was very very unpopular with many of the land owning patrician families, and in the process of trying to get himself re-elected, Tiberius was killed.

so everything trundles along for about a decade, when Tiberius' up-start of a brother, Gaius, comes along. He's got these crazy ideas in his head about redistributing land to the poor, and allowing citizenship to more of the empire's inhabitants, decreasing the duration of conscription, and curtailing taxes that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. sounds like socialism to me. terrible thing. and the romans certainly thought so and Gaius and his political allies were hunted down or chased out of rome.

and of course all these centuries later there is obviously debate as to whether the Gracchi had the needs of the poor of Rome at heart (which as we have noted in the current political climate is wrong), or whether they were just out to make a name for themselves and increase their power in the senate (good thing, apparently).

at any rate a few years, and battles, later along come the Caesars and voila - Empire. and it's all milk and honey for a few centuries, and then it goes to hell in a handbasket. mercy - i've just put the rise and fall of the Roman Empire into a sentence. if you need pictures with this, just watch the Star Wars films. it's basically the same thing (but Harrison Ford is cuter than the Gracchi).

lordy, all of this political debate has made me hungry. mmmmmmmm..... italian roast chicken pasta. this recipe was given to me by my friend gabriella, who got it from her aunt. her family came to australia, via france, after their part of italy ceased to exist after the war. fascism, certainly a bad thing, i think we can all agree.

to start off with you'll need a whole chicken. please make it a free range, grain feed, hormone/antibiotic free bird. aside from being much, much nicer for the animal before it gives its life for you to eat, it makes the meat taste much better.

start by making slits in the meat and stuffing these with cloves of garlic. then salt the skin of the bird. well. a lotta salt. really. then place large cubes of butter on the bird, in the bird and in the pan. finally scatter around a good quantity of rosemary sprigs, and a couple in the cavity too.

(you can't see the salt in this picuture, but it's there. trust me)

put the bird in a pre-heated oven. how long it takes to cook will depend on the size of the chicken, but allow an hour and a quarter for this part of the process. no one likes their chicken done rare.

as the bird is getting close to done, pour a cup and a half of chicken stock and a cup of white wine over the bird, and return to the oven until it's done.

While the bird is resting cook some pasta. a nice thick spaghetti, or even fettuccine, as it sauce will be very thin and will need something that holds it well.

while that is happening mix a little cornflour with some water and then add this to the liquid in the pan. place on the hob to thicken.

to serve mix the cooked pasta in the pan with the juices and a couple of good hand fulls of grated parmesan. you can either serve the meat separately with some salad as a second course, or do as i do and stir some of the meat through the pasta, and then slice the breasts to place on top.

serve with more cheese.

this really is a heart attack on a stick, but it is so incredibly good, i can't tell you. it's one of my signature dishes, and one that people request when i invite them around. and it's quite easy to do. impress your friends and families today by serving them this, you won't regret it!

but you'll remember at the beginning of this post i mentioned irony. Well Euro 2008 is on a the moment, and last night Italy got their arses kicked by the Netherlands. 3-0!!!! I will have vengeance for what those romans did to my beloved blues in the finals in 2006.

Vive la France!!!!

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