Pardon me while I gush for a moment. You see, I feel like I’ve been waiting for years to hold this book in my hand and to get downright giddy in my admiration for the lady who wrote it. I’m talking about Seven Spoons. I’m talking about my dear friend, Tara.
Tara and I have both been at this blogging gig for quite sometime now. In fact we joke that we are practically the grandmothers of this field. We have walked through unchartered waters when there were just a few of us, all friends, all figuring it out as we went along.
We also have two boys right around the same ages so we have spent hours discussing their mutual love of Star Wars and the pains of stepping on misplaced legos.
We both longed to write cookbooks, eager to put our voice into the into the world of books amid the likes of some of our mutually admired predecessors. To put recipes onto a tangible page that our readers could stain in their own kitchens. At just about the same time we both had that opportunity. Together we talked about the insecurity of it all, the excitement in recipes gone right and the fear that comes with putting something you love so deeply out into the world. She would go out of her way to encourage me deeply through my own fears and even though we had practically an entire country that separates us I could feel and hear her cheers from my tiny kitchen.
Now her book, Seven Spoons is here and in my eye it is completely and 100% Tara. That is pretty much the highest compliment I can think to give.
I served our dinner with whipped hummus from the book; Rose Water and Orange Blossoms, pita bread and pan-fried zucchini with sumac and scallions.
The images are striking, simple and pull you immediately into the food. The recipes are classic with twists that get me fluttery with excitement and leave me popping off of the couch and into the kitchen. But her words – oh her words. Tara has a way of describing things that is really unmatched. She uses words like punchy, slurry, piquant, puddles, rivulets, and caramel-licked. They describe the food perfectly so I am left craving the recipe and somehow know exactly what to expect.
On the day her book was released I spent most of my day within the pages of her book as it sat, getting splattered, teetering on my counter, getting used. I made almond milk, trail mix bars, her classic sandwich bread, walnut and espresso butter (which my kids have asked that it become a regular in our home) and this chicken with a punchy relish. It was the best way I could think of to celebrate her book, her hard work and to show just how damn proud I am of what she created.
She thinks I’m biased but really I know a classic when I see it and this book is just that. I know that it will find a home in thousands of kitchens getting tattered, splattered and used for years to come. It already has in mine.
Serves 4, generously
The original recipe calls for couscous and I am eager to try it that way but I had lentils and didn’t have couscous so I went with that. Other than that the recipe below is in Tara’s beautiful words.
1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds
1 tablespoon butter, softened
Medium-grain kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Approximately 2 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
4 cloves garlic, with loose paper removed but unpeeled
8 ounces lentils or as Tara wrote the recipe, large pearl couscous
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 4 anchovy fillets, rinsed if salt-packed
Generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons capers, rinsed if packed in salt, drained if packed in brine
2 tablespoons golden raisins or dried currants
A couple handfuls of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Pickled caperberries, for garnish, optional
Preheat an oven to 400° with a baking pan on the lower middle rack.
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Rub the butter all over the chicken, making sure to give the back a good coating. Season generously with salt and pepper, inside and out. Position the wing tips behind the back and tie the legs together. Place the chicken, breast side up, on the preheated pan. Roast for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir the juice from 1/2 lemon into the stock in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until steaming, then pop in the garlic. Pull from the heat and keep in a warm spot.
(I leave it on top of the hot stove, but with the burner off.) After 30 minutes are up for the chicken, pour 1 cup of the liquid into the baking pan, holding back the garlic, and roast for 30 minutes more.
Cut the juiced lemon half into wedges; keep the other half for the relish.
Pull the baking pan from the oven. Sprinkle the couscous around the chicken. pour the remaining liquid onto the couscous and tuck in the lemon wedges and soaked garlic. Return the baking pan to the oven and continue to roast until both the chicken and couscous are cooked through, around 30 minutes. If the liquid is absorbed before the couscous is cooked, add more liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, as needed.
Let the baking pan stand for 10 minutes while you make the relish. Squeeze the (now) roasted garlic into a small skillet. Add the oil and set the pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the anchovies and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring and breaking up the anchovies and garlic, until they’ve turned into a grungy past, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the capers to the pan and cook for 1 minutes more. Stir in the juice from the second half of the lemon, along with the raisins and half of the parsley.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, then check for seasoning. Remove the chicken to a board and carve as you’d like. Fluff the couscous with a fork, then arrange the cut chicken on top. Scatter the res of the parsley over the whole baking pan of chicken and couscous, and serve with relish.
Note: I’ve used a variety of grains instead of the couscous with success – rice blends, bulgur, farro, and all sorts of smaller pastas, from orzo to alphabet shapes, and a mix of all of the above., in an exercise of getting rid of the straggling amounts found in my pantry. most will cook in the prescribed 30 minutes, but allow some leeway either way, adding heartier substitutions like farro to the pan earlier than you would the couscous and adding more water as needed.