It’s a while since I posted a recipe, so since nothing much is happening around these parts, I thought I’d offer a couple of dishes I like. I’m drawn to the sort of one-pot meal you assemble, chuck into the oven and forget about, then get praised to the skies for having pulled off, and these two just about satisfy the criteria. However, I wouldn’t advise forgetting about either of them for longer than the length of time it takes you (or me) to down, shall we say, three generous gin and tonics. Come to think of it, the first one doesn’t require the oven at all, but you can make it well in advance and thus eat it in tranquillity.
First up, then, is the glorious djej matisha meshla, a Moroccan dish of chicken in a tomato and honey sauce. Last time I cooked this was for a friend in Kalamata, and I screwed up by buying supermarket chicken breast in order to avoid having to bone and skin the chicken myself. Well, it would have been wearisome on a very hot day, what with chopping onions, boiling tomatoes and fighting off a very persistent cat. The breasts were tough and fibrous, and we ended up eating what felt like an aromatically-sauced pullover. (Sorry, Lorna.) I have triumphed on other occasions, though. For a friend’s birthday do at a bar in Athens, the bar owner and I had a nice evening doing the catering. Mersi and I cooked djej matisha meshla for the invited guests and the bar regulars. It was amusing to see that Mersi and her husband each had glasses of scotch hidden from each other in cupboards around their flat above the bar. And it was nice, when we served the assembled multitudes, to see Greeks ('salt and honey in the same dish!?!? ') appreciating a savoury stew generously flavoured with honey, because in so doing they were eating their words along with the chicken.
OK then, select a well brought-up chicken and have the butcher skin and chop it into chunks for you. Take a pile of fat tomatoes likewise skinned and chopped. Remove the seeds if you can be arsed, although personally I can’t. Grate a large onion and chop some garlic. Tip the tomatoes, onion and garlic into a big saucepan along with some salt, a stick of cinnamon and a teaspoon or so of powdered ginger. Bring this to the boil, then add your chicken and cook until the flesh is easily pulled from the bones. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. Whack up the heat under the tomatoes, pour in a very generous dollop of fragrant honey, and boil the mixture vigorously until you obtain a velvety, slightly caramelised cinnamon-fragrant sauce. This is not the time to get stuck into the Mother’s Ruin – you must constantly stir the sauce lest it burn, which it will readily do. It will also bubble and splash like a mudpot, so take care. Once you are satisfied with the sauce, bandage your scalded arms, remove the chicken flesh from the bones and return it to the sauce. Your hob and surrounds will look as if you have machine-gunned an intruder in their vicinity, so wipe them down, and then you will thoroughly have deserved your first G&T. I usually serve djej matisha meshla with basmati rice, flavoured with orange and lemon juice, turmeric, thyme, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Wonderful.
Next is a Spanish dish which I think I found in a Nigel Slater book. It’s utterly delicious, dead easy, and people love you for it - exactly my kind of thing. Slice a fat onion, some waxy potatoes and a chorizo. In a vessel suitable for both hob and oven, fry your onion, add your sausage, then your potatoes. Throw in a generous glassful of dry sherry, a couple of bay leaves, salt and enough boiling water to barely cover your spuds. Transfer the uncovered pot to the pre-heated oven and cook until the potatoes are done, forty minutes or so. Adorn with chopped parsley or coriander. Delightful with a lettuce salad, lacy bread and a vat of red wine.
I’m afraid I'm terribly vague about quantities and oven temperatures because I tend to ignore figures, judging portions by eye and reckoning that most things are OK in the oven at 200 or so if you keep an eye on them. Anything requiring more precision, dividing between ramekins, straining through muslin etc., I leave to others.