The meal that says ‘chin up!’
It’s no accident that everyone’s favourite home-cooked meals—casseroles, stews, khichdi—are one-pots
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I wouldn’t mind betting that the most successful foodie social media links are the ones that contain the words “one-pot”, especially the ones accompanied with those other guaranteed clickbait terms, “fast”, “easy”, “delicious”. Buzzfeed alone has about 500 such listicles, and I feel like I’ve clicked on all of them. After all, these are recipes that offer the answer to every busy cook’s prayer: delicious food/no effort.
It’s no accident that everyone’s favourite home-cooked meals—casseroles, stews, khichdi—are one-pots. This is food that soothes and reassures in the face of life’s ups and downs, meals that seem to say “chin up, we’re here for you!” If so, more of us than ever must have been clicking on those “one-pot” links recently as we rage in the face of Brexit (Scotland), wait in endless lines at the ATM (India) and despair at the American presidential election (everywhere).
As well as being among the easiest to cook, one-pot meals also lend themselves to a relaxed, creative approach to cooking, allowing you to add or omit ingredients as you go. Many of my favourites involve chicken; perhaps because there’s always something so heartening about chicken roasted in the oven, the sight of its golden crisp skin as it emerges from the oven, not to mention the wonderful smell as it’s cooking.
This one is the most recent incarnation of a recipe that I first made more than 20 years ago and has been a friend in the kitchen ever since, changing and adapting according to family likes and dislikes. It began as a simple lemon and basil chicken Nigel Slater recipe, a perfect solution to the problem of how to eat properly while tending to the needs of small children. The joy, then, was knowing that just a few moments of assembling and less than an hour of hands-off cooking would result in a meal to sit down and savour. Even if, at that time, it was only 30 seconds until the next demand for glasses of water, bedtime stories or cuddles.
I have more evening time these days but I’m still frequently drawn to meals that almost make themselves and never fail to make everything seem okay with the world, at least for a moment or two. And in the world we’re living in right now, that’s saying something.
One-pot chicken with potatoes, fennel, lemon and basil
500g waxy potatoes
1 large fennel bulb
8 chicken thighs, skin on
4 fat cloves of garlic
Juice of 1 large or 2 small lemons
Salt and pepper
A jar of antipasto artichokes (optional but delicious)
A large handful of basil leaves, torn up a little bit
A wine glass of white wine
Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Wash the potatoes and chop into small chunks. Trim the fennel, then chop into eight pieces. Bash the cloves of garlic (but leave the skin on). Put the potatoes, fennel and garlic into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Mix together so that everything is well coated with the oil. Tip the potatoes and fennel into a large ovenproof dish. Lay the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables, skin side down. Drizzle a little more oil over the chicken. Squeeze the juice of the lemon(s) over everything and season with a good grinding of salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes.
Take the dish out and drop in the artichokes and basil leaves. Turn the chicken pieces skin side up, pour the wine, then roast again for another 20 minutes or so until everything is cooked and nicely browned.
Everything you need and want is in this dish except perhaps a glass of that wine, left in the bottle.
The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains. Pamela Timms tweets at @eatanddust and posts on Instagram as Eatanddust.
Also Read Pamela’s Mint columns