Tavola Calda means “hot table” in Italian. The term refers to take-out establishments that specialize in rotisserie chickens and ready-to-eat hot dishes such as pizza bianca, potato croquettes, baked pasta, and more—with special twists making them unique to the region they’re in. The food served in many of the tavola caldas is so delicious and satisfying, that I often prefer it to that in fine restaurants. In fact, one of my favorite things to do in Rome is to purchase roasted chicken, herb-roasted potatoes, focaccia, and risotto croquettes and take them to a park, such as
Villa Borghese, to enjoy.
1 whole chicken (3½ pounds or
1.6 kg), cleaned and rinsed well
¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon unrefined sea salt or salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon (2 g) finely chopped
1 head garlic, stem sliced off,
1 lemon, cut in half
1½ pounds (680 g) Yukon gold or
other potatoes, peeled and cut into
1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
Yield: 8 servings
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Place the chicken in a roasting pan and
drizzle olive oil over the chicken, turning to make sure that both the pan
and chicken are coated. Season with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and
rosemary by rubbing them into the top and sides of the chicken.
Place garlic and ½ lemon inside the chicken cavity, and squeeze the
remaining lemon half over the chicken. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
Carefully (oil tends to splatter), remove the chicken from the oven and
scatter potatoes around the edges, turning to coat in olive oil.
Return to the oven to bake for another 45 minutes, or until chicken is
done and potatoes are tender. Chicken is done when clear juices run from
the thickest part of the thigh after being pierced with a fork, or when
internal temperature of meat reaches 165°F (74°C).
Cover the chicken and allow to rest 10 minutes before carving. Discard
the garlic and lemon from chicken cavity before serving.
Many women in the region, myself included, don’t bother roasting
one thing at a time. I always make at least two chickens at a time,
using leftover chicken to make Chicken Skillet–Style Shwarma with
Tahini Sauce (opposite), chicken noodle soup, or chicken salad. Other
times I roast a chicken and a whole fish, which can be dressed in the
same way and needs only one-third of the time to bake. I eat the fish
immediately and serve the chicken later in the day or the next—with
leftovers on the thir