OK, I admit it, I have been out of the kitchen for ages. I haven't cooked so much as a pan of pasta pesto since I made cheese on toast on the Feast of St. Martin de Porres. The reasons for this are many and various, but mostly I find it hard to feel like cooking if I am glum or challenged. Don't get me wrong, I have not been mopping about doing nothing, but my instinct to cook up a feast wanes if I am not laughing. But, today, enough of all that nonsense. Today is a day for rejoicing. In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum.
It is the feast day of St Margaret of Scotland, St Gertrude and St. Edmund of Abingdon. Aside from sounding like characters lining up for a CS Lewis adventure to Narnia, this little trio have some great attributes. Hungarian born Margaret is remembered for the happiness of her marriage to King Malcolm III of Scotland (she had eight children), for her devotion to prayer and learning, and her generosity to the poor. I know of her because her statue hangs out in Lourdes, near the Gave. St Gertrude was particularly talented at literature and philosophy, and is famous for her devotion to the Incarnation. And, St. Edmund of Abingdon, elected to be Archbishop of Canterbury even though he preferred monastic life, is reknowed as a peacemaker, distinguished commentator on the scriptures and as a talented spiritual writer. Three saints with passions I particularly admire: learning, literature and philosophy and peacemaking. Marvelous.
Perhaps you have guessed by now. I am in a good mood. So my recipie, which I am about to go downstairs and make for the family, is for good mood food. A little Te Deum in the kitchen. Something tasty for the time of year. Something which evokes indoors what Autumn manages outdoors and which Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses in the poetry of Pied Beauty:
Glory be to God for dappled things -
For skies of couple-colour as brinded cow;
for those rose moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh firecoal chestnut falls' finches wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow and plough;
and all trades, their gear and tackle trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour, adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him (GMH 1918)
Glorious autumnal simplicity for about 4 people. Sauteed Chicken with spices, fennel and cream. Yum. It's a Nigel Slater and he is my hero.
8 large chicken thighs (free range, organic, etc etc)
2 medium sized fennel heads
300 ml double cream
fresh coriander leaves
brown rice - to serve
Spice Paste: 4 green cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 crushed chilli flakes
2 small cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon grainy french mustard
Rub the chicken with salt and pepper and fry gently in a tablespoon of the groundnut oil until the skin is golden and crisp. Over a low to moderate heat this will take a good twenty five minutes, during which time a savoury golden sediment will attach itself to the pan. After fifteen minutes' cooking cut each head of fennel into six long wedges and tuck them around the chicken.
Whilst the chicken is cooking make the spice paste. Crush the cardomom pods, discarding the green husks, and smashing the black seeds with a pestle and mortar. Add the tumeric, cumin, chilli and garlic, and continue pounding. Mix in the mustard and a tablespoon or two of the groundnut oil.
When the fennel is tender and the chicken is cooked, remove them from the pan and place to one side. Pour the oil out of the pan and discard. Add the spice paste to the pan on a gentle heat (spices catch very quickly on too high a heat), scrape up any sticky sediment from the pan and mix in. Leave to heat for a minute or two. Stir in the cream and immediately return the chicken and fennel. Leave to bubble for minute or two, toss in the coriander leaves. Serve with brown rice.