I’m a planner. Not all the time, but I like to plan ahead in several areas of my life. Especially when entertaining. So I had decided on a menu for the lunch I was hosting for a few friends in Sweden long before I even got to Sweden.
But the draught threw a spanner in the works. Three days before I was leaving for Sweden the government issued a BBQ ban in most areas and it was forbidden to barbecue even on your own property. All to prevent any more wild fires. Totally logical and something we all had to accept. But since my original lunch plan involved lighting the barbecue I had to think of something else to cook. I thought this would magically come to me as ideas so often do, but no.
So, in this moment of crisis (well not really, but I was starting to panic a little as my days were packed full of activities) I turned to my trusted cook book collection in the beach house and as usual they helped me out. This time it was a recipe in Nigella’s book Summer that saved me! This slow-roasted lemon and garlic chicken is summery (and delicious) enough to make you forget all about your beloved barbecue and appreciate a dish that basically cooks itself in the oven.
And if you don’t find butchering chickens as therapeutic as I do, I would suggest you either ask your butcher for help or buy a mixture of skin-on chicken breasts and chicken thighs.
Nigella’s slow roasted garlic and lemon chicken, serves 4
1 chicken cut into 10 pieces
1 bulb of garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
1 lemon, cut into chunky eighths
1 bunch fresh thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
75-100 ml white wine
salt and black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
Put the chicken pieces in a roasting tin, season and add the oil. Toss the chicken pieces in the oil so they’re coated all over. Place skin side up. Add garlic cloves, lemon chunks and thyme. Sprinkle over the white wine and put in the oven to cook for 2 hours.
Turn up the oven to 200°C and cook the chicken for another 30-45 minutes, by which time the skin on the meat will have turned golden brown and the lemons will have begun to scorch and caramelise at the edges.
The base recipe for this parfait I’ve known since childhood, so full credit for it goes to mamma. It’s delicious on its own, and so much easier to make than ice cream. And it’s infinitely adaptable.
I’ve made it with elderflower before, and when I was at home in Sweden at the end of May mamma and I came up with this rhubarb version together. We wanted to keep the fresh acidity from the rhubarb while still keeping the sweetness of the custard-tasting parfait and I think we managed to do just that. It’s sweet but not too sweet with a hint of acidity for balance and freshness.
Rhubarb parfait, serves 4
3 egg yolks
80 g caster sugar
300 ml whipping or double cream
300-400 g rhubarb
approx 2 tbsp caster sugar
Rinse and slice the rhubarb. Mix with sugar and place in a pyrex dish. Place in a 180C oven and bake for approx 20 minutes until the rhubarb has softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Leave to cool completely.
Beat egg yolkd and sugar until fluffy in a mixing bowl. Whip the cream in a separate bowl and add to the egg mixture.
Line a bread tin with cling film and place a 1 cm wide line of rhubarb compote in the middle of the tin lenghtways. Mix the rest of the rhubarb with the cream mixture and pour into the bread tin. Cover with cling and put in the freezer for at least 5 hours, but preferably over night. Serve with oat thins, berries, more rhubarb, whipped cream or as is.
The days I forget or don’t have time to prepare a lunch box for work are sad days. I work in the London’s West End with plenty of lunch places on my (office) doorstep but I still fail to find something I want to eat for lunch. Sure, sometimes I’ll go the taco route or succumb to a nice burger, but most of the time I just get bored looking in Eat and Pret A Manger. And all the healthy food places are a no no for my stomach as I can’t have wholegrain anything or any cabbage, and it seems, cabbage is in EVERYTHING.
So without actually doing much cooking, especially if I’m short for time, I try to come up with simple yet delicious lunch solutions I can bring to work.
The salad above is a great example of lunch dishes I love to eat. The only cooking involved was to slice courgette and aubergine and bake them in the oven with some oil and herbs. While that was cooking I made the feta crème (feta, creme fraiche, salt & pepper, thyme and a bit of olive oil) and the next day I just assembled it at work with spinach, cherry tomatoes and serrano ham straight from the supermarket. I never ever mix a salad before I’m about to tuck into it, instead I keep each ingredient in its own little container. It makes it so much fresher!
When it’s too cold for a salad this warm Jerusalem artichoke purée (boil artichokes, drain and mix with butter, salt and pepper) with some fried leek, mushrooms and pancetta.
This couscous salad with fried leeks, roasted sweet potatoes and fried halloumi is another quickly made lunch I can eat again and again and apart from the roasting time for sweet potatoes it’s quick to prepare.
The time I struggle the most to make lunch is when I have several nights out in a row, but the night before I try to prep a few lunches and even if I don’t have time to prep for all the lunches at least I don’t have to buy lunch many days either. A good compromise.