I feel a kinship with Jamie Oliver, who created this delicious & delightfully crispy garlic-infused baked chicken legs. He has this compelling knack for combining unusual elements together and for presenting them in a simple and rustic manner. I like it. Some of my favorite dishes of his pay reverence to the sort of food that our great-grandmothers would serve at a family dinner. I like that too.
That alone would be enough to have me tip my hat off to the guy. Now add his engaging, Mockney approach and his focus on healthful eating and our relationship with the Earth, and I somehow have to find a way to tip off two hats.
I didn’t start out liking him, though. When I first heard of him he was the ‘Naked Chef,’ which I considered a rather obvious ploy for marketable sensationalism. I soon tired of picturing Mr. Oliver covering his personals with a cast iron pan and a sheepish grin every time the name of his cooking show came up. I realize he was referring not to himself but to how he strips down a recipe to its ‘bare’ essentials (picture a Beavis & Butthead chuckle here). Still. Words create such powerful associations.
The late ’60s cooking show ‘The Galloping Gourmet‘ had an infinitely more creative name. Plus, its English host Graham Kerr actually did gallop on stage. Ok, maybe it was more of a prance, but he didn’t just walk onto the stage. The title made sense for that alone. I’ve since learned that the title actually alluded to a 35-day trip he took, along with a wine expert, to visit some of the finest restaurants around the world. Lucky devil.
But back onto Jamie. I’ve come to really enjoy him. The first cookbook of his that I ever perused at a bookstore landed me on a recipe that, I swear, had 37 ingredients. My eyes glazed over by the time I reached the 12th one, and so I gently placed it back on the stack. Thankfully, though, I have friends who are big fans and they’ve since turned me on to some of his delicious and significantly less involved dishes. Even the most harried of working parents can throw them together in minutes and enjoy.
This chicken dish is such a recipe. It creates the most savory broth, which becomes a perfect condiment for pasta. You could eat it with rice or with boiled potatoes as well, although I must admit to having first tried it with pasta and to never feeling the need to mix things up. I just love the combination of the succulence of the meat, the savoriness of the beans and the chewiness of the pasta. Add a little Parmigiano-Reggiano to the mix to make it extra decadent.
I almost giggle every time I put it together because I can’t believe I am able to create something so tasty in such little time. It almost feels like cheating, which makes me feel a little guilty…but that’s only because I grew up Catholic.
making garlic-infused baked chicken legs
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Season 4 jointed (thigh and drumstick attached) chicken legs. They’ll weigh around 3 lbs., if you’re ordering them from a butcher.
On the bottom of a baking dish (one that is large enough to snugly accommodate all four chicken pieces), arrange a 15-oz. can of well-rinsed and well-drained black beans. Place the chicken pieces on top. Add 4 very ripe, quartered plum or very fleshy tomatoes.
Now, I don’t like to pick out those pesky tomato skins from my mouth when I’m trying to savor this dish, so I’ve taken to removing the skin of plum tomatoes, which are beefier and thus have beefier skin. In this particular case, the coveted plum tomatoes I was seeking didn’t pan out at the supermarket, as they all looked rather sad. I ended up selecting the happiest and beefier tomatoes I could find and so that’s why you’re not seeing plum tomatoes in the picture below. In any case, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and then drop in them in.
Allow them to cook for 1 minute and then immediately remove them from the pot. You’ll notice that some skins will break in the pot and some won’t.
It doesn’t matter. The skins will be easy to peel either way. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin by hand. Slice in half and remove the seeds.
Prepare a large bunch of basil by first washing it and then by picking the leaves and by finely chopping their stalks. Scatter the basil throughout the baking dish. Then add the chopped up tomatoes after you’ve quartered them.
Separate all the cloves of an entire bulb of garlic and arrange throughout the dish along with ¼ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Add 1 pint of halved cherry tomatoes.
Mix everything around a bit. Then pull the chicken legs on top while pushing the tomatoes underneath.
Pour 1/4 cup of chicken broth around the chicken pieces. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
Place in the oven and lower the heat to 350°F. Bake for 1 ½ hours, turning the tomatoes halfway through, until the chicken skin is crisp and the meat falls off the bone. Remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic out of the skins. Serve with pasta that has been cooked al dente, or still firm, or rice, douse with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggianoand serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.