Nigel Slater's chicken with peppers, lemon and mint

A Cook’s Book: 3 classic Nigel Slater recipes to serve at your next dinner party

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When cooking for friends, it’s all about cooking from the heart – and Nigel Slater’s fuss-free recipes will satisfy all your guests.

As the night draw in and the leaves start to fall, it’s a comforting surety that some of our favourite cooks will always emerge with new recipes to soothe our spirits. Nigel Slater, one Britain’s best-loved cookery writers and king of easy weeknight dinners, is definitely among them. Over the years, the award-winning journalist, author and TV presenter has created a canon of straightforward recipes – and if you’ve ever perused his weekly food column for the Observer, or meditatively watched his weekend cookery programmes, then you’ll know there’s nothing this man doesn’t know about beautiful home cooking.

Slater is nothing if not committed to his culinary output, though, and his hot-off-the-press offering, A Cook’s Book, imparts the same philosophy of simplicity. Written at his kitchen table during the pandemic, the book narrates the story of Slater’s life in the kitchen, from the first jam tart he made with his mum at the Aga and the glory of eating a fresh baguette in Paris, through to the joy of cooking a roast chicken for one. There are no fancy dishes here, though; merely a “roll call of those that have become an essential part of my life.”

A Cook's Book by Nigel Slater
A Cook's Book by Nigel Slater

Then, of course, there are the stories. Slater describes himself as “a cook who writes” and his essays evoking the beauty of fresh ingredients are guaranteed to capture the imagination long before you even pull a pan from the cupboard. There is a quiet pleasure too, he explains, to be found in the grounding nature of preparing and cooking food, as well as eating a restorative dinner at the end of it. Infused with his warm, thoughtful and mischievous voice, each page calls to the appetite – and if you’re forever in pursuit of simple dinner party fare, we’ve three of Slater’s recipes to share around your table.

If you’re a fan of seasonal autumn veg, a must-try starter is Slater’s squash with sauerkraut and gruyère. Not only does the dish only require a handful of ingredients, but the addition of tart cabbage to sweet roasted pumpkin and melted cheese gives a piquant surprise for your taste buds. 

While process-heavy recipes have their place, there are few greater pleasures in the kitchen than meals that only require one dish, little prep and even less washing up. Cue Slater’s recipe for chicken with peppers, lemon and mint. Ideal for the prep-adverse, Slater roasts the vegetables with chicken thighs until the pan is simmering with juices, then finishes with slivers of preserved lemon and a sprinkling of finely chopped mint – be sure to have fresh bread on hand to mop up the juices.

Save your fancy desserts: is there anything better than a freshly baked cake? Your guests will love you for making this wholemeal plum cake with spiced icing. Brimming with warming spices of cinnamon and cardamon, the cake is made picture-perfect with a blanket of white icing, toasted seeds and dried pink rose petals. Our Scandi bakery dreams just came true…

  • Squash with sauerkraut and gruyère

    Dinner party recipes: squash with sauerkraut and gruyère by Nigel Slater
    Dinner party recipes: squash with sauerkraut and gruyère by Nigel Slater

    Nigel says: “Cabbage comes in many forms, and for me this brassica’s finest moment is when the leaves are shredded and fermented into sauerkraut. I have made my own, involving salt, a weight and a wait, but the commercial brands are usually good. I say usually because I’ve had a few horrors. For the record, those with the fewest ingredients are the best. Ideally just cabbage and salt. You are looking for something pure, clean and refreshingly sour. A tiny bowl containing a tangle of sauerkraut is a daily thing for me, in the way that kefir or yoghurt is. I like sour things.

    Sauerkraut’s uses are manifold. A mound of it will slice through the fattiness of a roast duck, the vegetable’s inherent astringency making the meat seem even sweeter; a spoonful will add vigour to a Savoy cabbage sauté and it makes an interesting addition to a bowl of buttery winter gnocchi. A year ago, I introduced it to a sweet pumpkin roast, with cream and grated gruyère. A butternut squash would have worked as well. A dinner of sweet and fudgy squash, piercingly tart cabbage, sweet onions and cream. It was hands-down one of the most delicious plates of food I ate all year.” 

    Serves 3

    Ingredients

    • 3 small orange fleshed squashes
    • 30g butter
    • 1 tsp thyme leaves
    • 2 medium to large onions
    • 3 tbsps olive oil
    • small bunch parsley
    • 250g sauerkraut
    • 150ml double cream
    • 125g grated gruyère

    Method

    Set the oven at 200°C. Cut the squashes in half and use a spoon to remove the seeds and fibres. Place the squash hollow side up in a roasting tin, then divide the butter and thyme between them. Season with salt and black pepper and bake the squashes for 45 minutes to an hour until the flesh is soft and giving.

    While the squashes bake, peel and finely slice the onions. Warm the oil in a deep pan, over a moderate heat, add the onions and cook until pale gold and soft. Expect this to take a good 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Roughly chop the parsley, then stir into the softened onions. Remove from the heat and add the sauerkraut, cream and cheese.

  • Chicken with peppers, lemon and mint

    Dinner party recipes: chicken with peppers, lemon and mint by Nigel Slater
    Dinner party recipes: chicken with peppers, lemon and mint by Nigel Slater

    Nigel says: “Making something to eat is one of the great joys of my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally welcome a dinner where the preparation time is almost zero. I have a chicken supper that fits neatly into that scenario, where peppers roast till silky and on the verge of collapse, where their juices mingle with those of roast chicken. The sweetness is spiked with sour lemon and cool mint. A dinner that is as much about the juices on your plate as about the meat. You will need good bread to mop them up.”

    Serves 3

    Ingredients

    • 4 romano peppers
    • 2 orange or yellow peppers
    • 400g cherry tomatoes
    • 4 garlic cloves
    • 6 chicken thighs
    • 6 tbsps olive oil
    • 1 preserved lemon
    • small handful mint leaves

    Method

    Slice the romano peppers in half lengthways, remove any seeds, then cut each half into two short lengths. Do the same with the orange or yellow peppers, then put all of them in a roasting tin. Add the cherry tomatoes, left whole. Set the oven at 200°C.

    Peel the garlic cloves, flatten them with a knife and add them to the roasting tin. Place the chicken thighs, skin side up, among the peppers, pour over the olive oil and season well with salt and black pepper. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until the chicken is golden brown and crisp and the peppers are soft.

    Halve the preserved lemon and scrape out and discard the flesh. Chop the lemon shells into small pieces, then add to the juices in the roasting tin and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Put the chicken, tomatoes and peppers onto plates, then chop the mint leaves and stir them into the juices in the roasting tin. Spoon the juices over the chicken and peppers and serve.

  • Wholemeal plum cake with spiced icing

    Dinner party recipes: wholemeal plum cake with spiced icing by Nigel Slater
    Dinner party recipes: wholemeal plum cake with spiced icing by Nigel Slater

    Serves 8

    Ingredients

    • 500g ripe plums

    For the cake:

    • 200g butter 
    • 75g light muscovado sugar 
    • 75g golden caster sugar 
    • 100g skinned hazelnuts
    • 4 eggs 
    • 150g self-raising wholemeal flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder 
    • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
    • pinch of salt

    For the icing:

    • 150g icing sugar 
    • 3 tsp lemon juice 
    • 6 cardamom pods 
    • a pinch ground cinnamon 
    • 1 tsp sesame seeds 
    • 2 tsp poppy seeds
    • 2 tsp dried rose petals

    Method

    Set the oven at 160°C. Line the base of a 23cm springform baking tin with baking parchment.

    Halve and stone the plums and set aside.

    Make the cake: dice the butter, then put it in the bowl of a food mixer with the sugars and beat for a good five minutes till light and fluffy; the colour of latte. Regularly push the mixture down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even creaming.

    While the butter and sugar cream, toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan, watching carefully and moving them round the pan so they colour evenly. Grind to a fine powder in a food processor. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, then add, slowly, with the paddle turning, to the butter and sugar. Combine the ground hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, then add to the batter, mixing it together thoroughly.

    Scrape the batter into the lined tin and gently smooth the surface. Place the plums on the surface of the cake. They will sink into the cake as it bakes. Bake for 55 minutes to an hour, until the cake is spongy to the touch. (Test for doneness with a metal skewer. It should come out a little damp, but without any raw cake mixture sticking to it.)

    Remove the cake from the oven and leave to settle for 20 minutes. Run a palette knife around the inside of the tin to loosen the cake, then carefully undo the spring clip and transfer the cake to a plate.

    Make the icing: sift the icing sugar into a bowl, stir in the lemon juice and add a little water – just a drop or two – if necessary to bring it to a thick pouring consistency. Crack the cardamom pods, remove the black seeds and grind them to a fine powder, then stir into the icing. Stir in the ground cinnamon and pour over the cake. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until golden, then mix them with the poppy seeds and dried rose petals and scatter them over the icing.

    If your plums aren’t perfectly ripe, cook them briefly first.

    • 500g unripe plums
    • 30g butter
    • 250ml unfiltered apple juice

    Halve and stone the plums. Melt the butter in a shallow pan and add the fruit, cut sides down. Pour in the apple juice and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the plums are translucent and tender to the point of a knife. The apple juice will have virtually disappeared. Watch the fruit carefully towards the end of cooking, making sure it doesn’t collapse.

    Remove from the heat and continue as above.

    A Cook’s Book by Nigel Slater (£30, Harper Collins) is out now

Photography: © Jonathan Lovekin

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