Indian-spiced chicken and potato traybake is an easy sheet-pan dinner. (Jonathan Lovekin)

Indian-spiced chicken and potato traybake is an easy sheet-pan dinner. (Jonathan Lovekin)

Don’t judge Nigella Lawson’s newest cookbook by its cover

It may look boring, but “At My Table” is far from it. Especially if you make a chicken traybake.

Nigella Lawson may be a celebrity cookbook author with countless titles to her name, but her newest cookbook, “At My Table,” didn’t grab my attention. My kitchen didn’t know how much cooking ease I’d ignored. 

Food52 blog’s Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks set this right.

“The Piglet” is an annual competition of cookbooks paired off, cooked from and judged against each other until one is standing. “At My Table” was knocked out in the second round, but not before I realized what I’d been missing.

In an age of visual overload, the cookbook competes with Pinterest, food blogs, magazines and Netflix cooking shows. “At My Table” doesn’t work too hard to grab your interest. With a simple muted brick tone on the spine and a monochrome cover photo of Lawson tearing bread at her kitchen island, it’s nice, but not an eye-grabber. The interior layout remains just as sparse — not sparse in a trendy way, but simplified to the point of almost boring.

But boring Lawson’s food is not.

I made an error judging this book by its cover, and I’m happy to report that “At My Table” now sits stained and tabbed at my counter.

Lawson’s vegan lemon tendercake is a wonder to behold. So moist, but still with a gentle crumb — who would think it has no eggs! Her simple smashed cucumbers make the best weekday addition to the table and, for a last-minute dessert, emergency brownies fit the bill.

Best of all, nearly all of Lawson’s recipes call for what I already have in the house. Her recipes are simple, adaptable and geared to making weekday, after-work meals less of a chore.

Where I was really smitten was with her chicken traybakes. First, I sampled the Indian-spiced chicken and potato traybake. Generously seasoned chicken thighs — skin-on, bone-in — roasted over a bed of peeled potato bites worked some kind of magic in my oven.

“You can make this any time!” was my family’s consensus. The potatoes absorbed all the aroma, seasonings and delicious chicken drippings from the roasting thighs. The chicken skin crisped to perfection, providing bites of “chicken bacon” — as my daughter calls it — to pair with a plate of chicken and potato goodness.

And, it’s that easy! I found all I needed already in my pantry and fridge and had a meal prepped in 15 minutes. One hour later, a finished dinner that fit our table perfectly.

Glowing from our success at making an actual adult meal on a Monday night, I went for Lawson’s chicken and pea traybake the next day. Key to this dish is the booze and the fact that the chicken thighs — again skin-on, bone-in — are baked over a bed of frozen peas. Yep, you dump a bag of frozen peas on a baking tray, add chopped leeks, some garlic, herbs and white vermouth (or really almost any other light-colored booze like leftover chard, vodka or even aquavit … not rum) then sit back to sip on said light-colored booze and wait for dinner to arrive.

Again, as the potatoes did, the peas absorbed all the flavor and the leeks caramelized down to sweet quarter-size bites. The hits kept on coming. My weekday meals felt like a real success, and I’m ready for traybake No. 3.

I promise, I won’t be fooled again. Simple cookbooks can hide magic deliciousness in their pages.

Another easy dinner, chicken and pea traybake is flavored with white vermouth. (Jonathan Lovekin)

Another easy dinner, chicken and pea traybake is flavored with white vermouth. (Jonathan Lovekin)

Chicken and pea traybake

This recipe works just as well with herbs other than dill — try chives or bay leaf. This is an adaptable recipe; I doubled the chicken easily. Just make sure your peas are frozen and you follow Lawson’s instruction: “What’s key here is the size of the roasting pan. I wouldn’t go any smaller — measuring from inside rim to inside rim — than about 15 by 11 inches (a little larger is fine) as there needs to be space around the chicken thighs for the magic to happen.”

7 cups frozen peas (2 pounds)

4-5 medium-large leeks, trimmed and cut into 1-inch slices

2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and minced

¼ cup dry white vermouth

2 tablespoons regular olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling

Small bunch dill, torn into pieces

8 chicken thighs, skin-on and bone-in

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and clatter the frozen peas into a large roasting pan, followed by the leeks, garlic, vermouth, 2 tablespoons of oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and most of the dill. Turn everything together in the pan — breaking up any large clumps of the frozen peas — until well mixed.

Arrange the chicken thighs, skin-side up, on top, then drizzle them with a little olive oil and give them a good sprinkling of salt, before roasting in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, give the peas a small stir or tamp down, so that the few that are sitting on the surface and drying out a little are submerged in the liquid. Don’t do the same to the leeks, however, as the bits that are peeking out will become desirably caramelized in the heat. Put back in the oven for a further 30 minutes, by which time the peas and leeks will be soft, and the chicken tender and cooked through, its skin golden and crisp.

Tear off the remaining dill fronds, and scatter over the top on serving, perhaps with some simply steamed baby potatoes to soak up the pea and chicken juices.

Serves 4.

Indian-spiced chicken and potato traybake (pictured at the top)

The magic in this dish is how the potatoes absorb all the delicious juices from the chicken. The end result is something akin to blissfully herby smashed potatoes. If you don’t have nigella seeds, cumin seeds work well as a substitute.

3¼ pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds

2 teaspoons nigella seeds

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

2 limes, finely grated zest and juice

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling

¼ cup cold water

12 chicken thighs, skin-on and bone-in

2 tablespoons regular olive oil

Cilantro, for garnish

Quick-pickled onions (see below)

Making the quick-pickled onions: Squeeze juice of 2-3 limes over 1 small red onion, peeled and cut into half-moons. Cover and let steep while you cook the chicken. Lift onions out of marinade to serve.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the cut potatoes into a large, shallow roasting pan and sprinkle with the spices, followed by the lime zest and juice, garlic, 2 teaspoons of salt and the water.

Tumble the chicken into the pan, and toss everything well together then turn the chicken skin-side up on top of the potatoes. Drizzle the skin with the oil and sprinkle over a little salt, then cook in the oven for 1 hour, or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken cooked through, its skin golden and crisp. Serve scattered with chopped cilantro and, if wished, the quick-pickled onions.

Serves 6.

— Excerpted from “At My Table” by Nigella Lawson with permission from Flatiron Books

“At My Table”

“At My Table”

“At My Table”

By Nigella Lawson

Flatiron Books. 288 pages. $19.36.

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