Much as I love baking sweet things, I take much more pleasure in cooking a meal. Maybe it’s because I don’t ever really bake anything particularly complex, but I find it much more of a challenge to cook a really nice meal. There is just so much more to get right – seasoning, depth of flavour, making sure the flavours work together, texture etc etc. In baking, it’s not really hard to get a nice fluffy, moist sponge or something really rich and chocolatey, as long as you have the right recipe.
I think with cooking, I tend to use a recipe and then ‘freestyle’ certain parts of it, mostly because I have to substitute ingredients that I don’t like (I’m quite a fussy eater) or don’t have. So when I find a recipe that works, I tend to add it to my repertoire and cook it a lot. Which brings me on to one of my favourite recipes of all time, which is so so simple but tastes amazing. I always feel like a bit of a cheat when I cook this for others because I get so many compliments on it but I haven’t actually done much. And I have to say, it’s the perfect meal for a dinner party. Without trying to sound pretentious, it has a kind of sophistication in its sheer simplicity, and the combination of ingredients and flavours works so incredibly perfectly. It also only really takes 10 minutes of effort right at the end to bring everything together which makes it perfect for cooking when you have guests and would rather be chatting (drinking) with them rather than faffing in the kitchen.
Every person I’ve ever cooked this for has asked me for the recipe, and I’ve cooked this for almost all of my family and friends, so that has to be a good accolade, no? What follows is hardly a recipe: it’s from Nigella’s How to Eat and I’m not even going to copy it out of the book, but just type it out as I would cook it.
Tagliatelle with Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto
1 whole chicken
Roast the chicken as you usually would (I just put the chicken in an oval cast iron casserole, smear some butter on the top, season, shove half a lemon into the cavity and roast, covered with the lid/foil, for 30 minutes per 500g and then take the lid/foil off and roast for a further 30 minutes uncovered so the skin goes brown).
Whilst the chicken is in the oven, toast a handful or so (as many as looks about right for the amount of people you’re feeding!) of pine nuts in a dry pan until they go golden brown. Soak the sultanas (again, as many as you think appropriate) in boiling water for at least 30 minutes until they are plumped up and soft.
Take the chicken out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes. Keep the pan with the juices in to one side. Put the kettle on to boil water for the tagliatelle. I usually allow about 100g per person, and then make a bit extra.
Once the tagliatelle is boiling, start to pull the meat off the chicken. Don’t carve it like a sunday roast, but rather pull the meat off in chunks. Make sure you get all the leg and wing meat too! Wrap it in foil if the pasta isn’t quite done when you are.
Heat up the juices from the pan you roasted the chicken in until simmering and hot. I add a glug of liquid chicken stock if my chicken hasn’t yielded a lot of juices, or you could crumble a stock cube in and add a tablespoon of water to help it dissolve. Add the sultanas and pine nuts to the juices and stir around. Finely chop the rosemary (not too much, probably a tablespoon when chopped to serve four people, you don’t want it to taste soapy) and add that to the juices, fruit and nuts.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it but not too much, so a little of the water remains around the tagliatelle. Add it to the pan, along with the chicken and toss everything together well to coat all of the pasta in the juices and other nice bits.
Serve! I usually serve with a green salad and bread. Enjoy!