Chicken with Za’atar and Aubergine Yoghurt

Chicken with Za’atar and Aubergine Yoghurt

This summer our second son is getting married. The excitement is building in the family – it’s the first wedding – and we are all busy in our different ways with preparations. Busiest of all are our daughter-in-law to be and her parents but now that his Part III architecture exams and coursework are out of the way, our son has also got stuck in. He’s been painting signs and designing and printing menus and orders of service. His super-efficient future wife has drawn up lists and rotas so that we all know what we’re doing in the build up to the day. The wedding will be in a church near her family home in Cornwall and the reception in a marquee in the garden. We have rented a cottage nearby so that we can be on hand to help and also have a holiday afterwards. Our son has chosen his brothers as the best men and all being well, they have sorted out a speech and who will deliver it (maybe it will be all three of them, I don’t yet know) and who will be responsible for the ring. Our youngest son is going to read a poem at the service and one of the bride’s sisters will be giving a reading.

My husband has chosen the wines (a tough job but someone’s got to do it, he says) with the help of willing tasters like me: a light and fruity Pinot Noir (Villa Maria Cellar Selection) from Majestic Wine Merchants; a Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay) from Avery’s, Bristol; and champagne from Waitrose. The caterers are booked, so we’re nearly set.

Every single one of us will be in the marquee on the day before the wedding, laying tables and decorating it with flowers. The logistics of getting everyone to Cornwall have been complicated but we seem to have cracked that now: youngest son will be arriving there on the eve of the wedding from a week’s walking and camping on the Isle of Arran and my sisters-in-law are going to ensure that my somewhat frail 92 year old mother-in-law gets there too.

We haven’t had a “whole family” holiday for three years so I’m looking forward to this one, even though it will not involve much lazing around. It’s a very happy occasion and a great excuse for us all to be together. I’m sure we will eat out (seafood please!) but I will also cook some meals in our rented kitchen. I want to keep these as simple as possible (nothing new there!). I will miss my Aga of course and hope I haven’t forgotten how to cook on a conventional cooker.

I’ve made this delicious chicken dish by Annie Bell a couple of times recently. It is one I can imagine making in Cornwall, provided the kitchen is equipped with big enough roasting tins.

Serves 6 (I made it first for 4 and then for 3, using two pieces of chicken per person and scaling down the other ingredients)

For the chicken

  • 2 lemons
  • 150ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 heaped tsps za’atar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1.8-2kg free-range chicken thighs and drumsticks
  • 50g pine nuts

For the aubergine yoghurt

  • 2 aubergines
  • 1 small or ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • 150g natural Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus an extra couple of tbsp to serve
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander, plus extra to serve

Method

  • Slice one of the lemons, discarding the ends, and juice the other. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, onion, za’atar, cinnamon and sliced lemon in a large dish. Add the chicken pieces and coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
  • For the aubergine yoghurt, preheat a conventional oven to 220ºC. Prick the aubergines all over with a skewer to stop them bursting, and roast for 45-60 minutes (in the Aga roasting oven) until wrinkled, blackened and soft, then leave to cool.
  • Cut off the ends, peel off the skin, halve lengthways and coarsely chop
  • Place the flesh in a sieve and press out the excess liquid using the back of a large spoon
  • Briefly whizz to a coarse purée with the garlic and some salt in a food processor
  • Transfer to a bowl and stir in the yoghurt, olive oil, lemon juice and parsley or coriander. Drizzle over the extra oil and scatter over some more herbs. Set aside
  • If you’ve turned it off, switch your oven back on to 220ºC
  • Season the chicken pieces and arrange, skin side up in a single layer in two roasting tins (the large Aga ones)
  • Option: if you have space you could add halved new potatoes to the tins. I did this
  • Drizzle the marinade over everything and tuck the lemon slices in between
  • Roast (in the Aga roasting oven) for about 45 minutes, swapping the tins round halfway through and sprinkling over the pine nuts after 15 minutes (I forgot to do this the second time I made this dish; it was still delicious but I recommend you try to remember them)
  • Serve with the yoghurt sauce and a green salad

 

Cavolo Nero

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Cavolo nero is a cousin of kale and both belong to the brassica family.  Its long leaves are so dark green in colour, they’re nearly black or “nero”.  It originates from Tuscany where it was first believed to be grown in 600BC.

I can’t say when it first started to appear in our greengroceries and supermarkets but it doesn’t seem like long ago.  Since I first discovered it, relatively recently, I’ve used it mainly in minestrone and in pasta dishes.  It has a deliciously rich and intense flavour.

Not surprisingly, cavolo nero works well in pasta dishes and this recipe by Stevie Parle, which appeared in the Telegraph a couple of years ago, is delicious.

Ingredients

  • 500g penne
  • 300g cavolo nero (you can strip the leaves from the stem if you like but since it’s going to be puréed I don’t think it’s necessary. I just chopped mine up.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Grated parmesan to taste

Method

  • Bring some salted water to the boil with the garlic cloves in a large saucepan and add the cavolo nero.  Cook for 5-10 minutes until tender and drain, keeping the garlic cloves
  • Transfer this and the pine nuts to a food processor and blitz.  Add the olive oil and parmesan (maybe a couple of handfuls), process again and season.  You will have a dark green sauce
  • Meanwhile bring another pan of water to the boil and cook the penne according to packet instructions
  • Drain the pasta, reserving a ladleful of the cooking water, return it to the pan and toss with the sauce, loosening it with some of the cooking water
  • Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve with more grated parmesan