Chicken thigh casserole


They say the first step to beat addiction is to admit you have a problem. So here it goes. I seem to be out of control on the following:

Unfortunately, it is too late to save me from avos. Besides, I am simply not ready to part with them.  As for the over-reliance on smoked paprika, and the incessant checking of food news online, there may be a way out. Just not today. Maybe talking about it will help. Today, I came across this piece on meals for one: what chefs and foodies cook when they’re dining al solo. It was before lunch, and I had been trapped in an interminable conference call for approximately 45 hours, which is just what that sort of story is designed for. To wake up your mind and soul, and bring you back from near-coma situations. As I laid eyes on a lazy dish of chicken thighs, I knew I had found dinner.

It’s not often that I prepare slow cooking, all-in-one dishes. It’s probably because I tend to get distracted quickly, or the knowledge that leaving a pot to cook for 5 hours would probably mean forgetting about it altogether and returning to a house fire. The dish favoured by Belleau Kitchen posed no such threats, since it takes less than 2 hours, and it didn’t look like I was going anywhere for the rest of the day, seeing the way my call was going. 


I made a few adjustments to fit what I had at home, and also the picture I had in my mind of smoky paprika chicken. I can’t explain the sudden paprika love. I don’t think I ever used this ingredient before last year, when I was given a small tin of it to try, and never looked back. I mainly use it to add a meaty taste to vegetarian dishes, but this time it was time to try it on flesh!


If I had to pick a recipe that is virtually impossible to mess up, this would be the one. You don’t even add oil to it. The fat on the chicken skin does the job for you. Just pile up layers of chopped vegetables and chicken, thrown in some wine (general rule in life) close the pot and abandon it to its own devices in the oven for a couple of hours. If you’re looking for a good cause for your fancy Le Creuset, this is your chance.  I don’t have one – they always seem to cost the equivalent of half my holiday budget for the year. In fact, I have no idea how the pot in these photos ever found its way into my kitchen. I spotted it one day in the cellar, and suspect someone is looking for it as we speak. Too late now, as I finally saw the point of cooking with one of these babies, and it will be staying.

Chicken Thigh Casserole

for 4 people and a medium sized casserole dish: 25 cm (10 in)

This is slightly adapted from the original recipe, with a smaller dish and longer cooking time.

  • 5 chicken thighs
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into 2 quarters
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 leek
  • fresh herbs: I used rosemary, tyme, fennel leaves
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 small glass white wine. I used Pinot Grigio
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C (390F).

Chop all the vegetables: the onions quite roughly, the garlic thinly, and the rest into 2 cm (just under 1 in) pieces.

Mix all the chopped vegetables together at the bottom of your casserole dish. Add herbs, paprika, salt and pepper, and mix.

Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables, tuck in the lemon quarters in between then, sprinkle some more salt, pepper and herbs, and pour the wine over the lot.

Close the dish with the lid and take it to the oven for 1 hour.

Remove the lid, and let it cook for another 20- 30 minutes, or a bit more if needed. Check that the skin is crispy and the chicken done before serving.

Midweek dinners, mother recipes and a passion for anchovies

Ah, the lure of the thrifty eating!

I suspect I’m not alone in deriving an enormous amount of pleasure from building an entire meal out of leftovers. I’m reasonably sure I’ve lived through some serious famine in a previous life. My inability to throw food away, often verging on borderline petri dish territory, may also have its roots in my upbringing: how my mother loved to repeat the mantra of  ‘you never lived through a war!’. Now, there are so many holes in that statement, it’s difficult to see where to start, really. Let’s see. My mother is a product of post-war Italy, and left for a better life in the tropics as a young child. And I also happen to have met her own mother, who’s capable of spending hours on end over a stove to make sure everyone gets exactly what they want to eat. The notion of a starved childhood fighting for scraps of polenta and sheltering from snow tempests is one she clearly only knows from the melodramatic Italian children’s literature that she herself read to me! In any case, the concept stuck and I don’t like throwing food away. To the extend that I will find myself in an endless cycle of buying a bit of feta just to fit in with that pie made of scraps, but then end up with leftover cheese and buy something else to go with it, and I’m forever trapped.


Going from mothers to husbands, mine is vegetarian, and, as much as I care for the man, that sort of behaviour can be a challenge on occasion. Currently, having a freezer stuffed with 2 pork loins, a kilo of tilapias and some packs of bacon even I could not manage on my own,  it is tempting to smuggle some animal protein in a veggie curry and get it over with. Last night, I decided to tackle the fridge, abandoned after a week away with work, and crying out for some clearing out. This is what I made:


The aforementioned grandmother used to fry potatoes in oil and rosemary, and I don’t know if this particular detail was on purpose or not, but the crispy bits of potato stuck to the bottom of the pan were always my favourite. For me, potatoes made this way beat any results you can get from an oven. Cut the potatoes quite thinly and arrange them in 2 or 3 layers in a deep frying pan, then cover them in nice olive oil. I added to that: smoked paprika, black olives, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. And since the resident vegetarian insisted on having dinner too, towards the end of cooking time, I split the portion between 2 pans, adding anchovies to mine and a couple of eggs to his. The eggs cooked gently and ended with a runny yolk, which immediately took the taste and colour of the paprika. The anchovies melted beautifully into the oil, producing a rich and velvety sauce to coat the potatoes and bring a contented smile to my face.


And then I tackled the suspicious looking tomatoes: panzanella, or stale bread and tomato salad, really is such a simple solution to mankin problems. The only trick here is to prepare the salad not more than 15 minutes before you’re planning to eat it, so the bread doesn’t get too soggy.


A last minute update: just before posting this, I found an abandoned aubergine in the bottom drawer of the fridge, and that went with the leftover olive oil from the previous night’s potatoes, some fava beans, and the lot into a cous cous.

And now we move to the freezer.


Smokey potatoes in olive oil and anchovies

Add other ingredients you may have lying around that go well with the potatoes. The one thing not to compromise here is the quality of the olive oil. Use the nicest you have.


  • 4 medium potatoes. I used Maris Piper
  • enough extra virgin olive oil to fill about 2 inches (5 cm) of a deep saute’ pan
  • a handful of black olives
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme
  • salt, black pepper
  • 5 salted anchovies fillets

Peel the potatoes and cut them into approximately 1 cm (just under 0.5 in) slices

Fill a deep saute’ or frying pan with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and warm it in a medium heat, but not too much as to become smoky.

Add the potatoes, forming a tidy layer to cover the bottom of the pan.

Sprinkle some salt and pepper, smoked paprika, then place a couple of springs of rosemary and thyme.

Add a second layer of potatoes and continue with the same ingredients until you used all the potatoes. Up to 3 layers will cook well. Any more, and you’ll end up with burned potatoes and the bottom and uncooked ones in the middle.

Set the eat to lowr, cover the pan and let it cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Towards the end, when the potatoes are almost tender, add the anchovies. Push a few of them towards the bottom of the pan. They will melt quickly and mix with the olive oil and paprika sauce. Leave the rest of the anchovies on the top of the potatoes.

Cover the pan again, cook for a further 5 minutes, and it’s ready.

Eat with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Vegetarian version:

Replace the anchovies by 2 eggs. Carefully make a small nest by shifting a few potatoes to the side, and gently break an egg into it. To the same again with the other egg, then cook for only 2 to 3 minutes, so the yolks remain runny.

Smoky dinner: paprika cod with spinach and bacon


London is one giant barbecue at the moment. As part of the nationwide effort to squeeze every last drop out of summer, checkered picnic tablecloths cover every available patch of grass, and the permanent aroma of grilled meat permeates the air like a thick Victorian fog finding its way through the pores and crevices of the city.

On my commute back from work one evening last week, I looked like a cartoon character dreamily following the hypnotic t-bone shaped smell of deliciousness. It wasn’t going to be a salad dinner.

Midweek barbecues can be a hassle, though. Especially if your dining companion is vegetarian. What could be a matter of firing up the grill and throwing a couple of sausages on it becomes a ritual a bit like this: venture into the cellar and dust off the portable barbecue for the non-meat items; fetch some halloumi from the Turkish shop; think up a combination of peppers, onions and various other vegetables with simultaneous cooking time that can be stuffed into the same skewer; agonise at the supermarket over whether it is acceptable to buy a chicken thigh shaped tofu schnitzel.


It’s not that I don’t like the halloumi, and the peppers, the onions, and the … sorry, no, the ready-made veggie burgers I really cannot abide. My point is that I believe there is a place and a time for vegetarian meals. Barbecues for me mean barely cooked red meat, fat dripping on the fire, hissing and releasing that irresistible smell that makes your stomach jump with excitement. Eating rich pork sausages while you wait for the really good stuff to get ready. Fresh fish just seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon, gently smoked. Ripping the meat off pork ribs with your bare teeth. Skewers of chicken hearts.  Not grilled halloumi.


Checking the time and thinking up quick dinner ideas, I fantasised about sirloin. This is when I remember two facts:

1. The Resident Vegetarian had a work dinner that night.

2. I had no-one left to blame, and really was simply too lazy and too hot to start a barbecue just for myself.

smoked paprikaLooking at the red slices of chorizo at the deli counter, I thought they would be quite lovely fried with white fish. It would placate my craving for a smoky dinner. And the chorizo reminded me of one last important thing that day: sitting in my food bloggers’ weekend goodie bag was a tin of smoked paprika. I had been wondering how to use it. I grabbed the only decent fresh fish I could find at that time and went home to make cod, paprika, and whatever else I could find. Which was: some spinach, a bit of smoked bacon, and 3 (three) new potatoes. Hardly the stuff of dream banquets, but sometimes the lack of choice makes you use ingredients more wisely. To complete the smoky theme, I also found something else I had been meaning to try for a while, again buried in the goodie bag bounty: smoked salt.IMG_1059

I have one question left after last week: how come I haven’t been cooking with smoked paprika all my life? It is wonderful! I am forever hooked. I used the same big frying pan 3 times, for the bacon, the spinach and the cod, making a point of not washing it in between to make the best of all the tastes.

IMG_1081As for the potatoes, well, I wasn’t sure if I was meant to fondant new potatoes, but I thought I’d give it a go for the sake of experimentation. If nothing else, it would take no time at all to cook 3 small new potatoes. It did work rather well, actually, but they weren’t as pretty as perfectly cut proper fondant potatoes like King Edward or Maris Piper.  For flavour, I used sage, a tiny bit of fennel, and – God only knows how I had that – a herb called rock hyssop, which turned out to have a lovely spicy lemony taste.


I started on a cold bottle of Portuguese vinho verde,  and by the 20 minutes it took to cook dinner, somehow the 1st glass had evaporated. It is shocking what the hot weather does to wine. Another 2 went with the fish.

I’m not sure if the photos do justice to the beauty that was this dish. A squeeze of lemon brought out the freshness of the fish and the spinach, and then with the first bite I got  a smoky punch of flavour. Three cheers for the latest ingredient to make it to my all-time favourites: paprika, you are my friend!

Fillet of cod with smoked paprika, spinach in bacon and fondant potatoes.

For 4 people

  • 4 fillets of cod
  • 3 tbsp olive oil + a bit to drizzle
  • 100g/ 3.5oz smoked bacon
  • 500g/ 17oz fresh spinach.
  • 4 medium potatoes: Maris Piper, King Edward or any baking potatoes. note: if you choose to use new potatoes, use 8 smaller ones instead of 4 and reduce the total cooking time to 20 minutes.
  • 100ml/ 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • a handful of fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, rocky hyssop, fennel.
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika + a little bit to season the fish
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • smoked salt; black pepper


Start with the fondant potatoes:

  1. Peel the potatoes.
  2. Using a cookie cutter, cut the potatoes into barrel shapes. They should be about 4cm/ 1.5 high. Or, if you’re using smaller new potatoes, just peel them.
  3. Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan.
  4. Over a medium heat, fry the potatoes on one side for 5 minutes, without stirring.
  5. Once they’re a dark golden colour, add the butter and the herbs.
  6. Turn the potatoes over and fry them for another 5 minutes.
  7. Very carefully add 4 tablespoons of the stock over the potatoes. It will sizzle and splurt and make a bit of a mess around the cooker.
  8. Reduce the liquid by half, then add the remaining stock.
  9. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Prepare the rest:

  1. Season the cod fillets on both sides with the paprika, salt and black pepper.
  2. Steam the fresh spinach just enough for the leaves to begin to wilt. If you don’t have a steamer: fill a large saucepan 3 inches high with water and boil it. Fill a metal colander with the spinach and place the colander on top of the boiling water, making sure the bottom of the colander does not touch the water. Cover the colander and let it steam for just about  minute. note: with young spinach, you don’t strictly need to do this, but it reduces the volume and makes it easier to fit the leaves in the frying pan later.
  3. Cut the bacon into small cubes.
  4. In a large frying pan, fry a third of the bacon cubes in only a drop of olive oil, over a medium heat. The bacon will continue to release more fat as it cooks.
  5. Fry until the bacon is translucent, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the cod fillets, skin side down, and let it cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Do not stir or touch the fish. You may need to do this in  batches if the frying pan is not large enough.
  7. Carefully turn the fish over, and add the sliced onions around the fish.
  8. Add the paprika to the onions and bacon, some salt and pepper, and stir.
  9. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, over a gentle heat, until the onions are soft and coated in red by the paprika.
  10. Check that the fish is cooked through. Remove from the heat, transfer the onions and bacon to a bowl and cover it. Transfer the fish to a warm plate, careful not to break them. Try to keep some of the cooking oil in the frying pan.
  11. Add a touch more olive oil and the remaining bacon to the frying pan and let it cook for about 4 minutes. Add the spinach, little by little. Season with salt and pepper and cook for only a minute or even less, until it reduces in volume and is coated in the juices from the pan. Do your very best not to overcook the spinach.
  12. Serve: place the spinach in the middle of the plate and squeeze a bit of lemon on it. Top it with the onions and bacon, then carefully place the fish on top of the spinach. Squeeze some more lemon on  the fish and drizzle a bit of olive oil. Add the potatoes to the side and pour some of the reduced stock over them.

IMG_1097PS: in what seems to be a tradition with my cooking, I realised long after eating that one ingredient had been left out. I meant to chop a couple of tomatoes to eat as a fresh salad on the side. You may want to give that a try.