There’s a lot you can say about September, and about its obvious superiority to all the other months. August’s blistering heat has been replaced by a subtle crispness in the air. September telegraphs school and new beginnings, and the ambient aroma of freshly sharpened pencils. After summer’s lackadaisical laze, I feel newly sleek, sharp and full of potential. And, as a side benefit, it becomes socially acceptable to turn on the oven again.
After spending the summer eating chilled, blended soups, salads and sushi, rediscovering the oven feels like a revelation: it does all the hard work for you and produces real greatness. Diana Henry, one of my favourite recipe writers, is fully aware of its powers; her newest book, From the Oven to the Table: Simple Dishes that Look After Themselves, is a celebration of the versatile, homey, unpretentious tray-bake dinner.
With this dish, I took the best parts of two recipes she’s recently teased, both of which use the humble chicken thigh as their base. Add a litany of vegetables – potatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic – and some Mediterranean thyme and fennel seeds, plus lemons and a bit of heat in the form of red pepper flakes. To top it all off: tomatoes that are roasted until jammy, doused in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and honey. The resulting dish feels like the epitome of home cooking: hearty and homespun and satisfying on a bone-deep level.
Grenache is a grape that’s often paired with lamb, grouse or other game meat; depending on where it’s from, the sun-loving varietal can itself turn thick and stewed, and taste like cooked-down fruits. But Jauma’s exquisite Like Raindrops, made in Australia’s McLaren Vale region, is Grenache handled with lightness. It pours a glittering, gemstone-red, and while it tastes like snappy cherry, it also features subtle spice qualities, and a lovely, floral note.
This Grenache is light enough to be a natural fit with the chicken; little wonder some winemakers label it “the Pinot Noir of the South”. Together, the two have the soul of a rustic feast, though just enough elevation to feel worthy of a special occasion.
Roasted Chicken Thighs with Potatoes, Bell Peppers, and Balsamic Tomatoes
Adapted from Diana Henry
For the chicken thighs:
600g new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered or halved, depending on size
6–8 cloves garlic, kept in their peel
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced into wedges
2 bell peppers, seeded and stemmed and sliced into wedges
10–12 thyme sprigs
2 unwaxed lemons
2–3 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus additional
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus additional
8 large skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
3–4 tablespoons capers, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
For the balsamic tomatoes:
600g medium tomatoes
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
2–3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2–3 tablespoons honey
Large pinch flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200° Celsius (395° Fahrenheit). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Scatter the potatoes, garlic, onion wedges, bell pepper wedges and thyme sprigs across the tray. Using a microplane, grate the two lemons over the contents of the tray, before halving and squeezing over the juice. Drizzle over the olive oil.
2. Add the fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, and season with the salt and pepper. Using your hands, toss evenly to coat.
3. Place the chicken thighs evenly across the tray. Brush lightly with oil and season both sides with a generous pinch of sea salt, plus freshly ground pepper.
4. Next, line a separate, medium baking tray with parchment paper for the balsamic tomatoes. Halve the tomatoes and arrange cut-side up. Drizzle over the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey, and season the tomatoes with salt and pepper.
5. Add both trays to the oven, and roast for 30 minutes. At the 30-minute mark, remove the tomatoes from the oven (they should be lightly charred and very soft) and set aside. Add the capers to the chicken tray and return to the oven for 10–15 minutes more. The dish is ready when the potatoes are fork-tender, the chicken thighs are cooked through, and their skin is golden and crisp.
6. Leave to cool for a few minutes before dividing the chicken, vegetables, and any accumulated juices between four plates, plus the balsamic tomatoes; be sure to remove the garlic from their peels. Serve with rustic bread and/or a green side salad, if you wish.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table, is out now and available via our online shop and hopefully at your favourite booksellers. Pick up a bottle of Jauma Like Raindrops here and to sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.