I hadn’t actually cooked a full roast by myself until I got to university. In my second year, I lived in a beaten-down student house with four friends, and had the run of the shabby old kitchen. The gas oven there was horrific – old and unreliable with uneven heat and prone to turning itself off for no particular reason – but the great thing about roasting huge lumps of meat is that they’re not too precious about things like consistent oven temperature.
My best friend, Annis, and I once decided to host a pre-Christmas dinner there before everyone went home for the holidays. We walked up the road to the supermarket and bought so much stuff that we had to take the trolley back to the house with us because we had no hope of carrying it otherwise. In the end, there were seventeen people crammed into our little house, eating food off whatever random assortment of china, plastic, and paper plates we could find and drinking very cheap wine. We tried to make it look Christmassy.
The humble roast chicken is still my favourite. Yes, beef and pork and lamb are all special and delicious, but for me, you can’t beat roast chicken. It’s cheap, easy, and customisable. Everyone likes it (um, except vegetarians – sorry guys), whereas I have friends who object to beef, pork, and lamb. Best of all: leftovers. I always buy a bigger chicken than we need, to ensure that when we’ve eaten I get to pick the carcass clean (oddly satisfying) and fill a Tupperware box full of delicious meat for the next day.
A cold roast chicken sandwich is a glorious thing – lightly toasted fresh bread, a little bit of garlic mayo, salad leaves, maybe some bacon, and piled high with cold roast chicken. But this time, I fancied a change.
In defiance of the spectacularly non-existent summer we’ve had, I’ve made a light, summery salad, perfect for outdoor gatherings or long, lazy suppers on warm, light evenings. I mean, yes, in reality we ate this on the sofa under a blanket with the central heating on, but never mind. The salad still had that summery spirit I was hoping for.
Notes: I’ve made enough here to feed two people, but you can easily multiply it as needed. The quantities are pretty flexible – really, just use your common sense and base it on how much of everything you have lying around.
I’ve made the pesto from scratch here, because I think it tastes so much nicer and in a salad where pesto is a key ingredient it seemed worth it to me. But the pre-made stuff in a jar will do too if you’re pushed for time. I always do it by eye and it’s a very forgiving thing to make, so don’t worry too much about quantities.
200g cold roast chicken, torn into bite-size pieces
100g soft goats’ cheese, torn into lumps
4 apricots, stoned and halved
salad leaves of your choosing – here, I’ve used one of those mixed bags of watercress, spinach, and rocket
for the pesto (if making it from scratch)
1 large handful of basil leaves
1 small handful grated parmesan
1 small handful toasted pine nuts
juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic glove, crushed
6 tbsp good olive oil (or thereabouts)
salt and pepper
- If you’re making the pesto, do this first. Put all of your ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you have a glorious green paste. If it isn’t loose enough, add more oil. Taste it. Does it need more lemon? Cheese? Salt? Adjust accordingly, then set aside.
- Heat a grill pan on the hob until very hot. Brush your apricot halves with olive oil on both sides, and lay them cut-side down in the pan. Grill for two minutes, then flip. You should have the beginnings of a charred bar pattern – if you want it darker then leave them for three minutes per side. If you don’t have a grill pan, you can do this under a grill in the oven.
- Assemble your salad. If you want this done prettily on a serving platter for a gathering, start with your leaves, and then place the apricots, chicken, and goats’ cheese on top and drizzle with the pesto. If you’re not fussed about presentation, whack it all in a bowl and give it a good mix. It will still taste great.