Time is always an issue, so I'm developing a little repertoire of dishes that almost seem to cook themselves. A family favourite is the all-in-one roast I've blogged about before. We're also partial to cooking a whole chicken with potatoes, all together in the same roasting tin. The bird is slathered with butter and dressed with the juice from a couple of lemons that have been halved and stuffed into the cavity and tucked among the large chunks of potato. I might also slice through a head of garlic and position one half at each end of the bird. A splash of white wine will help keep things moist. After a generous seasoning with salt and pepper, the dish can be put into a moderate oven and left alone to cook until the chicken juices run clear and the potatoes are tender. If you're feeling keen, you could deglaze the tin and make a gravy, or just serve with some green veg or salad and plenty of Dijon mustard.
Recently I cooked a rather more luxurious version of this kind of dish for Valentine's which was on a week night during the half-term holiday. It had been a busy day. I had a tin of confit duck in the cupboard, so decided to see how it responded to this hands-off approach. I peeled and thinly sliced some potatoes and arranged them in a small roasting tin, positioning the (deliciously fatty) pieces of duck on top, before roasting in a moderate oven until the duck skin was crisp and golden and the potatoes soft. (After about half an hour I poured off some excess fat and made sure the duck wasn't colouring up too much. The dish needed just over an hour's cooking.)
While it was in the oven we relaxed with a refreshing apéritif and then enjoyed the dish with some peas – easy and so good with duck – and a little home-made spiced plum chutney on the side. Such a simple dish is an ideal foil for some serious wine and we spoilt ourselves with a mature red Burgundy, the fresh acidity cutting nicely through the decadent duck fat. Fabulous.