Harvest time – and the produce it brings – was a big deal when I was growing up. Now local churches and charities seem to want donations of canned food (as it doesn’t spoil and you can easily distribute it to those who need it), but I remember our church being full of apples and pears, carrots, parsnips, nuts and as many russet and golden flowers and leaves as they could arrange around the altar.
I suppose nowadays autumn is dominated by Halloween, but I wish we could get back to focusing on what harvest time is about – plenty. It shows great human optimism to celebrate this as the leaves are falling and winter isn’t far away but, as long as the summer has been good, who doesn’t love the fact that the days are cooling and life is becoming a little slower?
This autumnal baked chicken is a very simple dish and the quantities can easily be doubled if you have friends coming round. Apples can be used instead of pears, but they need to be cooked with the onions for twice as long until they are beginning to soften (they have firmer flesh).
Preheat the oven to 190C, 375F, gas 5. Trim the skin on the chicken thighs (you just want to get rid of those straggly bits on the underside). Slice the onion halves into half-moon shaped wedges – about 1.5cm (½in) thick at the thickest part.
Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan. Season the chicken thighs and brown them on both sides until golden (you need to get a good colour, not to cook them through). Transfer the chicken to a small gratin dish that will hold the thighs in a single layer. Arrange them skin-side up.
Add the pears and onions to the frying pan and cook in the remaining fat for about 4 minutes – again, just to get a little colour. Add these to the gratin dish with the chicken (put them under and around the thighs).
Add the cider to the frying pan and deglaze the pan by bringing the cider to the boil.
Pour onto the chicken and pears. Cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the pears are tender and slightly caramelised.
To make the hazelnut crust, put the nuts, parsley, garlic and seasoning into a pestle and mortar and pound them together. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, just chop the parsley and garlic finely and season.
Mix the crust to a rough paste with the olive oil, then add the calvados or brandy.
When the chicken has 10 minutes’ cooking time left, spread it with the nut paste then return it to the oven to finish cooking.
The chicken should be cooked through, the cider reduced and the pears tender. Serve immediately.
This is good with mash or, more healthily, brown rice. A watercress salad (tossed with a some nuggets of blue cheese, if you like) might be gilding the lily but really is pretty delicious.