Two bunches of lemon thyme, a pound of sweet butter, two plump chickens, a ball of fresh mozzarella and an armload of bright bell peppers. I pick these up at the market, and with the odds and ends I have at home, it’ll be kismet -- the perfect Saturday morning of cooking.
When I first started cooking on Saturday mornings, I’ll admit the ritual was haphazard. But these days I buy at the market with my eye on the few hours ahead that I’ve set aside to prepare food for the weekend and well into the next week.
Two juicy roast chickens (for eating right away and for sandwiches) with a luscious red pepper sauce that also makes a wonderful dip, a salad of lentils -- served warm or cold, and fragrant lemon popovers for dinner or even brunch the next day.
For efficiency’s sake, I focus on dishes with overlapping ingredients. The shallots I roast under the chickens will be savory in a red pepper and goat cheese spread that I make for sandwiches. After I’m done zesting a fragrant lemon into popover batter, I’ll squeeze its fresh juice into the salad of lentils, roasted vegetables and fresh mozzarella. Leftovers fuel invention, and this kind of cooking gives me the satisfaction of not wasting a thing.
Everything falls into place. I turn on the oven, put on a pot of coffee and then line up the chickens on a cutting board.
I rub the birds all over with thyme- and coriander-spiked yogurt, then arrange them in the refrigerator to tend to later. An hour gives acidic yogurt its time to tenderize, leaving me time to make the panful of hot, crisp popovers.
Conventional wisdom dictates that popovers be eaten fresh out of the oven, but I beg to differ. Even at room temperature, popovers are perfect for tearing into pieces and eating with fresh dips or brothy soups.
I’ll also dust a plateful with powdered sugar and take them to a dinner party tonight with friends; served this way they make an elegant dessert. We’ll even reheat a few popovers to go with Sunday night’s supper.
While the popovers bake, I peel plump shallots and chop carrots and glossy peppers, toss them with olive oil in a roasting pan and arrange the chickens on top. Out come the popovers, in go the chickens: brilliant timing. I sit down with a cup of hot coffee, tear open a popover and drizzle it with honey. During these few minutes, I sit back and enjoy the sounds and smells of my bubbling Saturday-morning kitchen.
When the chicken is almost done, I put on a pot of green lentils to cook until they’re tender, and whisk together a tart balsamic vinaigrette. Next, I combine roasted vegetables with the buttery lentils, cubes of fresh mozzarella and the vinaigrette to make a warm salad. We’ll eat these lentils three or four different ways before they’re gone: piled into a popover and eaten for lunch, served alongside the chicken for supper and spooned into a small bowl as a snack later this afternoon.
When the chickens are deep brown, and their skin crisp, I set them aside. I puree the roasted shallots and peppers with sharp, salty goat cheese and set a bit of the mixture aside to eat later, spread on thick slices of sourdough toast for sandwiches made with shredded leftover chicken.
The rest of the bright red concoction flavors a creamy pan sauce, the last thing I’ll make this morning. So much cooking for tomorrow and next week is done and it’s barely afternoon; I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.
In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the dry mustard, thyme, coriander, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and one-half teaspoon pepper. Loosen the skin around the chicken breasts and thighs, then rub both chickens all over (beneath the skin and inside the cavity, too) with the yogurt mixture. Refrigerate the chickens, uncovered, for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the shallots, carrots, peppers, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, three-fourths teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper into a large roasting pan and toss well. Arrange a rack over the vegetables large enough to hold both chickens.
Arrange the chickens on the rack, breast-sides up, and roast, basting occasionally with pan juices, until the vegetables are very tender and the chickens are deep golden brown and cooked through, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Transfer the chickens to a large platter and tent with foil; set aside.
Drain the pan drippings into a bowl, then skim off and discard the fat; set aside.
Remove and discard the skin from the peppers (it should peel off fairly easily), then transfer them to a food processor. Add half the shallots and pulse until roughly chopped. Add the goat cheese and salt and pepper to taste and pulse again until just combined. This makes a generous 2 cups of puree. Remove all but 1 cup of the puree and set aside to use throughout the week as a sandwich spread or dip, then puree the remaining red pepper mixture until smooth.
In a large skillet, whisk together the reserved pan drippings, chicken broth and flour until smooth, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until just thickened, about 1 minute. Whisk in the red pepper puree and cook until just thickened, 1 to 2 minutes more. Strain the sauce, discarding any solids, and keep warm.
Carve the chickens and transfer to plates. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of the red pepper and goat cheese sauce over each serving and serve with the remaining roasted shallots and carrots on the side.
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