roasted chili chicken thighs with lemon

Chicken thighs are a one-meat-fits-all staple in my kitchen, especially boneless skinless ones. They cook quickly and play friendly with the flavor spectrum of my pantry  — fresh and dried herbs, fragrant spices, canned tomatoes and coconut milk, and ingredients that live in the fridge, like mustard and hot sauce.

They’re a lot like chicken breasts that way, but thighs deliver much more chicken-ness and don’t become dry and boring after cooking.

Even though I cook dinner almost every day of the week, I’m not always great at planning out every single meal in advance. Many days I find myself putting things together on the fly, sometimes with a depleted fridge. That’s why I rely on the tried-and-true combo of lemon, olive and red chili, elemental but also essential in some way to just about everything I cook.

This chicken recipe cooks in one pan, on top of the stove for a few minutes then finished under the broiler, creating a savory pan sauce to pour over the meat and a simple side, like wilted greens and some grilled crusty bread. The sliced lemons add lots of tang and juice, but I sometimes add halved cherry tomatoes instead — they collapse and give up their own sweet tomato liquid as they roast under the broiler — perfect to serve as a one-bowl dinner with pasta.

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spaghetti with squid and cherry tomatoes

This is one of my favorite ways to cook squid, using a method I often use when I want to simplify things — one-pan roasting. The beauty of it (aside from cleaning up fewer pans) is that the tomatoes and squid cook quickly, at the same time, and create a delicious garlic and chili-scented pan sauce for the pasta.

The toasted breadcrumb topping is key: as much as I love (and crave) pasta showered with cheese, the contrast here between the crunchy crumbs, al dente pasta and springy squid rings is really wonderful. It’s super traditional — almost verboten — for Italians to serve seafood with an aged cheese like Parmigiano or Pecorino, because its salty sharpness can overwhelm the delicate nature of fish or shellfish. Although I tend to push the rules a bit when I cook, in this case tradition wins.

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cast iron chicken diavola

I’ve been roasting chicken in a cast iron skillet a lot over the past few months. Sometimes I season a bird with grainy Dijon mustard mixed with some chopped tarragon, making sure to smear plenty of the mixture under the skin. Other times I keep it simple with just salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon. The skillet goes from stovetop to oven (and straight to the table, sometimes) which simplifies things even more.

You can easily find pre-seasoned cast iron pans now, but when I bought mine oh-so-many-years ago that wasn’t an option. Those pans are treasured tools in my kitchen for sure, with a patina that bears witness to half my lifetime of cooking. I’ve made everything from pancakes to frittatas to deep-dish pizzas in them, and when I was first learning to cook, my 10-inch pan was the only thing I cooked in aside from a pasta pot. [Read more…]