Cooking this dish for friends, one peered into the pan from across the counter and remarked, “That looks very autumnal”. I might have preferred for him to comment on the delicious aromas or the fact that it looked incredibly appetising, but it struck me that for him to comment on our food looking seasonal, it might just be a rare occurrence.
It’s certainly true that the colours alone of this simple traybake are a fairly unsubtle reflection of the autumnal scene before us: all burnt orange, golden brown and deep, dusky purple. Add in the sight of a pumpkin ten days before Halloween and a vine of new harvest grapes and you’ve got a dish you could set your calendar to. I have always kept a diary of sorts for the food I’ve cooked. It’s a discipline that dates back to my private cheffing days, when I tried my utmost never to serve a fruit or vegetable the same way twice, a principle that really tested my creativity during asparagus season. To all intents and purposes, the paper I jotted my daily menus down on may as well have been a plain exercise book, not a calendar, as I can immediately remember which month – sometimes even which week of the month – by looking at what I was cooking. The unmistakable smell of January and marmalade with the arrival of Seville oranges; the woefully short season of elderflower which makes the perfect natural sweetener to the first gooseberries in late May; plump red strawberries and meringues for Wimbledon.
Despite the lack of an obvious compliment for my cooking, I was thrilled by my pal’s purely aesthetic – and I hasten to add entirely untested – reaction to this dish. Nothing gives me greater pleasure in the kitchen then managing to harness something of what’s going on in the fields around me. We sat down to eat part of a pumpkin harvested and cured for a thirty days before reaching my oven, grapes picked just as the winemakers begin their first pressings and red onions dried in the last of the summer heat. October on a plate, some might say.
Chicken leg, pumpkin & grape traybake
I prefer to use whole chicken legs in my traybakes as I think that they hold more moisture than separate thighs and drumsticks. They’re also very good value if you buy a whole chicken and joint it yourself, as you’ve then got the breasts for another time and the carcass and wings for a really good stock.
2 chicken legs
2 red onions, peeled and cut into quarters
100g smoked bacon or pancetta lardons
75ml olive oil
Small handful thyme
100g black grapes (preferably Muscat)
- Preheat your oven to 220 degrees (fan).
- Cut your pumpkin into wedges and toss with springs of thyme, ½ teaspoon of salt & a good splash of olive oil. Arrange in a roasting tray and pop into the oven for 10 minutes.
- Whilst the pumpkin is in the oven, coat the chicken legs in olive oil, season with ½ teaspoon of salt and place skin side down into a frying pan over medium heat. They should sizzle when the skin hits the pan. Without turning or moving them, cook the legs for around ten minutes, until the skin is really golden-brown and starting to crisp.
- Remove the roasting tray from the oven and, using tongs, nestle the chicken in amongst the pumpkin. Set aside whilst you cook the onions.
- Place the onion quarters into the pan, browning on each cut side for around three minutes. After the first three minutes, toss in the lardons to get a little colour. They’ll cook fully in the oven, but this gives them a chance to soak up some of that chicken-ey flavour. Don’t wash the frying pan yet!
- Scatter the onions and lardons in the roasting tray, return it to the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes.
- Glass of wine in hand, slice the grapes in half. Once the timer goes off, add another five minutes and then start to fry your grapes in the chicken frying pan. They should release liquid but you want it juicy, so if the pan seems a little dry, add a couple of tablespoons of water or white wine, if you have any spare.
- Remove the tray from the oven, dish up the chicken and vegetables and pour over the grape juice.
Serve with a robust green salad and warm bread. N.b. the leftovers make extremely good chicken sandwiches.