I took a trip across town last night – from west London to north London. Given the vagaries of central London roads, the journey to Islington – where I was meeting a friend for supper and cinema – can take anywhere from 40 minutes to over 2 hours. Surprisingly, given it was a rainy Saturday evening and I met many roadworks en route, I whizzed across speedily and found myself with almost an hour to kill. Mmm. Well, parked just round the corner from the wonderful Ottolenghi restaurant and cafe in Upper Street, there seemed only one thing to do at 5.30 – have a coffee and cake. Well, just look at the window. Would you resist it?
It’s quite expensive, but it’s also a fantastically civilised place. People were already queuing for an early evening meal. Had I booked? I was asked. No, I only wanted a coffee and cake at the bar, I said. But I was shown to a ball stool and told they’d bring me the menu. I took a chance to check out what was on offer and decided on the lemon polenta cake.
When it was brought to me, the ‘civilised’ service continued: it came on a tray with a glass of water and was all beautifully served. And yes, the taste completely lived up to the manner in which it was served: very delicious. While I enjoyed my unplanned but welcome treat, I leafed through some of Ottolenghi’s books that were sitting around for people to read. In Ottolenghi the Cookbook, I found this wonderful recipe for chicken with hazelnuts and saffron and honey. I instantly decided that would be my Sunday supper.
This morning, I headed into town again to see the Manet exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts. Right next door, on the corner of Burlington Arcade, is a Laduree shop.
I go to the RA quite often and have looked in the Laduree window many times but haven’t actually bought any of their famous macarons there. But well, it was Sunday, and surely Sunday is a day for treats and some macarons would make a great ending to my evening meal. So I went inside and bought three macarons: Brazilian chocolate (that I was told was darker and richer than their ordinary chocolate), vanilla and caramel with salted butter.
The first two choices mirrored my ice cream choices in a new gelateria: if they can’t make a good chocolate and good vanilla, then they’re no good. Well, really there wasn’t much chance these macarons wouldn’t be any good – and of course they were stunningly delicious: so incredibly light that melt-in-the-mouth doesn’t really describe it, with pure, strong flavours.
However, before the macaron experience, I got my chicken going. I had a large portion of chicken leg that I’d taken from my freezer earlier (a chicken bought in my local farmers’ market and jointed before freezing). Ottolenghi’s recipe was for 4 but I decided to halve his marinade for my big chicken portion – a quarter just wasn’t going to work!
Into a bowl I put 1 chopped onion, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, a good pinch of saffron strands, juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 tablespoons water, and salt and pepper. Then I put the chicken in, turned it all over to coat well, then covered in cling film and put in the fridge for a few hours (leave at least one hour to marinate). About an hour before serving, turn the chicken into an ovenproof dish and put into a 190C oven for 35 minutes (or a little more if your chicken portion is as greedily huge as mine!).
While the chicken is cooking prepare the nuts and dressing. Spread 50g hazelnuts (with skin on; not salted) on a roasting tray (this part is best done before the chicken goes into the oven). Roast for 10 minutes till golden brown. Remove from the oven. I then slipped the skins off when they were cool enough to handle. Then roughly chop. In another bowl mix 2 tablespoons runny honey with 1 tablespoon rosewater (I didn’t have that – well, I went into Waitrose who normally do, and they were out of stock, so I bought orange blossom water instead, and that was fine). Add the nuts and mix.
When the chicken is almost cooked, take from the oven and spread the nut mixture on top. Then put back in the oven for 5-10 minutes till done and the nut topping nicely browned.
I can tell you the aroma of this dish cooking was outstandingly good well before it was finally cooked. It was so strong – and so wonderful – I had to go into the kitchen to check and see if it was ready early. It wasn’t, but it was one of the most enticing smells that’s ever come out of my kitchen – and, with all due modesty, that’s really quite something to say! Ottolenghi suggested serving it with couscous or rice. I chose a lovely rice mix I have of brown basmati, red carmargue and wild rice. I cooked some spinach simply and briefly and drizzled over some olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
What a fabulous meal. The tastes were so fragrant and deep and absolutely delicious. I’m glad I got enticed into Ottolenghi’s last night and looked through that cookbook. I’ve had in for a while, but haven’t used it much (unlike Jerusalem that I use all the time!), so I really must go back to it and spend more time looking at it. It’s full of brilliant recipes. Watch this space!