Say what you like about Jamie Oliver. I know people find him smug, laddish, jammy and generally irritating. But he's also really watchable - a genuinely nice bloke and who cooks appealing food and happily laughs at himself. For me, the biggest problem with his shows and books is ingredients. He's always bunging in a bit of arrowroot, or something equally unavailable at Tesco.
30-Minute Meals is the epitome of Jamie, and probably outsold the Bible last Christmas. (That's another irritating thing about him - successful bastard!) It's also, for a mainstream cookbook, pretty scary. Each double page spread presents you with a 3 course feast which you must prepare in a race against time, incorporating a barrage of flavours and cooking techniques. I've never, ever brought in one of these badboys at under 40 minutes and I've burned myself trying.
I have to say though, I love the book. It's packed with great recipes and makes after work cooking more of an assault course and less of a chore. And it builds up your repertoire of gourmet, fast-cook meals. I would add a couple of suggestions of my own: Firstly, don't be afraid to dawdle or mix up the order of the cooking. Jamie has you firing up the hobs before you start chopping and juggling four pans at all times, which is too much like hard work. Secondly, if you don't want to make the starter, side dish or the pudding - don't bother.
It was in this spirit that I approached Jamie's "Stuffed Cypriot Chicken, Pan-Fried Asparagus and Vine Tomatoes, Cabbage Salad, Flatbreads, St. Clement's Drink, and Vanilla Ice Cream Float." In other words, sod the St Clements and the Ice Cream Float. I served booze and frozen yoghurt instead. And, instead of stuffing the chicken and chopping the cabbage and prepping the asparagus and flatbreads against the clock, I did all that before my guests arrived then just did the heating once they arrived. This made me look suave and collected like Michael Caine doing the omelette in The Ipcress File.
The results were impressive. Light but striking flavours, amazing textures... bloody delicious basically. The chicken comes out really zingy and asparagus steamed in tomato juice is a crunchy, flavour-packed revelation. This is a great summer set piece.
So here it is in two stages. I've upped the ingredients because I was doing for six. Preparation takes about 25 minutes and cooking only 20, whereas if you try and do it all together you'll end up sweating and cursing an hour later, and muttering all kinds of things about poor Jamie.
Garlic, lots of
Olive oil, plenty
Salt and pepper
Lemons (Jamie loves his lemons mmmate)
Loads of parsley
Loads of basil
Pitta Bread x 6
Chicken breasts, skin on x 6
2 packs vine tomatoes
1/2 a white cabbage
Flatbreads. (I used pittas.) Rub with garlic. Put a tablespoon of olive oil, loads of salt and pepper and a bunch of thyme on a chopping board and flop the garlicky pittas into them, rub them together and generally get them all sexy, then stack them up on a plate.
Cypriot Chicken. Put a good bunch of parsley, another of basil and a couple of rosemary sprigs, 8 sundried tomatoes and a block of feta on a board. (I didn't have sundried and used normal. Worked fine.) Chop it up nice and fine. Grate over zest of a lemon and crush on three cloves of garlic, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper and chop through again. Slit the chicken, stuff it and then rub salt and pepper into the skin liberally. Stand to one side - they'll be going in a super hot pan later.
Asparagus. Lug some olive oil into a deep pan, add thyme sprigs, rosemary sprigs, three bay leaves and vine tomatoes to a pan, and chuck salt over. Lop the bottom off the asparagus and leave to one side along with a good handful of black olives.
Cabbage salad. Use a Magimix salad blade to slice up cabbage and put that in a bowl. Now use the regular blade to dice the hell out of an onion, a red chilli (seeds out) and a good fistful of basil. add these to the cabbage, plus the juice of two lemons. Toss this salad and take to the table.
When you're ready to eat turn on a high flame under a pan with nothing but oil in it, and under the tomatoes, with the lid on. Whack the oven onto full blast with the pittas in it.
After 2 minutes, put the chicken in skin down with the very hot oil. Put some crinkled greaseproof over the top, and a lid. Turn down the tomatoes to medium.
After another 5 minutes, add the asparagus to the tomatoes and replace the lid. Flip the chicken (remove the paper) and turn down to medium. You'll let these guys and the pittas cook for another 12 minutes.