You should make Chicken Marbella, you know

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In my early twenties, I spent a few summers in Texas and this is how I discovered The Silver Palate. Though the New York deli was a thousand miles from my little Houston apartment by the Rothko Chapel, its cookbook was in my kitchen. I don’t know where it came from. It doesn’t seem likely that it belonged to my boyfriend, who liked a good restaurant but didn’t cook much, other than knowing his was around a barbecue grill.

That summer, I read The Silver Palate Cookbook cover to cover, charmed by its line drawings and quotations (“If I can’t have too many truffles, I’ll do without truffles” Colette), its sidebars (The Mustard Maze, Cooking with Herbs, Crudité Combinations) and menus (A Beach Picnic, A Vernal Equinox Supper, Country Weekend Lunch). In its pages, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins conjured up a life that was smart but not stuffy, filled with people and parties and draining the last drop of delicious from life. I made its mini quiches (it was the 80s) and American Picnic Potato Salad, Crackling Cornbread and Molasses Cookies, Tapenade and Gazpacho, Braised Short Ribs and Blackberry Mousse. I splattered up its pages with pesto and raspberry vinegar, olive oil and mayonnaise. It made me happy.

When I finally made it to New York that first summer, along with trips to MoMA and Bloomingdales, the Carnegie Deli and H&H Bagel (where I saw Dianne Weist, pushing her baby in a stroller, which rounded it out as the quintessential New York Woody Allen experience, back when that was still a good thing), I walked along Columbus Avenue, seeking out the Silver Palate’s blue striped awning. The shop was tiny, perhaps a dozen or so feet square. I bought a bottle of dressing and a tin of coffee, which I brought back to England and kept in my kitchen for months, not using them, cherishing them.

I still have my original Silver Palate book. It’s falling to pieces now, faded Post-It notes clinging to pages, remembrance of dinners past. I still use it, decades after capers, olives, filo and pancetta, once so new to me, have folded into my every day kitchen vernacular.

So when I was flipping through Ina Garten’s latest book, Cook Like a Pro, I was delighted to see Chicken Marbella (recipe in link) in its pages. It was the first main course to be sold at the deli and Ina has tweaked it slightly in her version. In the introduction to the recipe, she says, “Nora Ephron commented that in the 1980s whenever you went to a dinner party in New York City, everyone served Chicken Marbella from The Silver Palate Cookbook…”

This brings together three of my favourite things: my beloved Silver Palate; the peerless Ina (Who Can Do No Wrong); and Nora Ephron, whom I admire so much and whose book Heartburn I read at least once a year. How could I not make it? Seriously?

It marries sweet prunes (I always bring bags and bags of Agen prunes back from France with me), salty capers and the sourness of green olives. It is very simple – throw everything together in the marinade, leave it overnight and then cook it for just less than an hour the next day. Serve it with rice to soak up the delicious juices. In the SP Bible, Rosso and Lukins also say it’s good cold, or as a picnic dish. I hate eating elaborate food outside, but I might make an exception in this case. It’s great for parties as it scales up really well. I am going to be making it a lot. Many years have passed, decades even, since I first made it. Welcome back, old friend.

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