You know when you read a recipe about char-grilling vegetables like peppers or aubergines which tells you to hold the vegetable over a gas flame and keep turning it until the skin is blackened and you think “I cannot do this because I have an Aga”? Well, I have discovered (you probably all knew this already) that placing the vegetable on a rack in a hot oven, ie the Aga roasting oven, has the same effect. I did it last night with red peppers and have done it with aubergines, as you can see in this recipe.
I wanted to make a pasta sauce using roasted peppers and cream, because I think they work very well together. So this is what I did.
(serves 2-3 people)
3 red peppers (the Romano type would also work, possibly better, but you might need a couple more)
2 tbsps olive oil
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of chilli flakes
5 or 6 tbsps double cream
Fresh basil leaves
200g of spaghetti or pasta of your choice
Position the rack on the third set of runners in the roasting oven and place the whole peppers on it
Roast them for about 25 minutes, turning them halfway through (I used tongs)
Once they are nicely charred in places and soft place them in a dish or on a plate and cover with clingfilm; after half an hour or so it should be easy to remove the skins and deseed the peppers
Keep back half of one of the deseeded peppers, slice the rest and place them in a saucepan or sauté pan large enough to hold the pasta when it’s cooked
Cover and keep warm in the warming or simmering oven
Warm the olive oil in a small pan on the simmering plate and add the crushed garlic, taking care not to burn it, followed by the chilli flakes and cream; bring to the boil then remove
Combine the cream mixture and reserved half pepper in a blender or food processor, season and then add this sauce to the sliced peppers
Cook your pasta according to the packet instructions
Drain, reserving a ladleful of the cooking water, and add to the pepper mixture, loosening with the cooking water if you feel it needs it
Toss everything together with the basil leaves and serve
What frightening and difficult times we live in. I hope you are coping with the lockdown and that you and your loved ones are staying safe and well. There are four of us here. My youngest son is home from university, possibly until the Autumn; this is lovely for my husband and me. We took the decision to dispense with the services of the carers who were coming in every day to look after my frail and demented 95 year old mother-in-law. We just felt the risk of the virus being brought into the house was too high. It means there is even more for us to do but of course we are here and have the time to do it.
We are trying hard not to go to the shops and have been lucky enough to get a couple of online supermarket orders delivered. Our excellent local butcher, Ruby and White, has also set up an online delivery service. This means I have not (yet) been unable to cook my chosen dish for want of the necessary ingredients.
I have turned more than once recently to Diana Henry’s most recent book, From the Oven to the Table. You will remember I cooked this chicken with sherry and torn sourdough recipe from it a while ago. Last week I made the Sausages and Lentils with Herb Relish, which I want to recommend to you. I have begun to feel uncomfortable about writing out someone else’s recipes in full. After all, food writers like Diana Henry, have spent months working on their cookbooks, devising recipes, cooking them probably several times, tweaking them and then writing them up for the likes of us. So from now on I will continue to point you in the direction of good recipes and tell you how I adapted them for Aga cooking, but unless they are my own, I will not write them out in full.
Until now, my most successful attempt at a sausages and lentils dish was the one I wrote about here. This one is similar but in my opinion, even better.
Diana Henry’s Sausages & Lentils with Herb Relish
My tips for adapting it for the Aga are as follows:
When browning the sausages, heat the oil in the sauté pan on the simmering plate, add the sausages and then place the pan on the floor of the roasting oven. Shake the pan after about five minutes, or take it out and turn the sausages over one by one before returning the pan to the roasting oven floor, to ensure they’re brown all over
When you’ve taken the sausages out of the pan and added the vegetables and pancetta, you can return it to the floor of the roasting oven to cook them quickly, but you must keep checking them; it’s hot in there and you don’t want to burn the onions. Alternatively, if you have enough time, you can cook them in the simmering oven
Once you’ve added the garlic and lentils and the stock mixture and returned the sausages to the pan, put it uncovered in the baking oven for about fifteen minutes before adding the remaining liquid if you think it needs it. Remember, you will get less evaporation in an Aga
At this point you can continue to cook the dish in the baking oven (for about 25 minutes) until the lentils are soft and the liquid has been absorbed, but you could also put it in the simmering oven and forget about it for a while. It all depends on how early you started cooking and when you want to eat
Do make the herb relish; it’s a delicious accompaniment to this dish. The only herb I had in my fridge was flatleaf parsley but combined with the capers, garlic, mustard and lemon, it worked perfectly.
Blood oranges are available in the shops at the moment, and at the time of writing Covid-19 has not caused us to panic buy them. They are delicious eaten on their own as one of our five-a-day or baked in a tart or cake, but why not try using them in savoury recipes too?
In this all-in-one-tin dish, the chicken acquires a delicious crisp, caramelised skin and its juices combine with all the other ingredients to make a wonderfully flavourful supper.
I got the idea from a Sainsbury’s recipe by Sarah Randell, but there were quite a few stages to it and in adapting it for the Aga, I realised the process could be made much simpler.
Chicken, fennel and blood orange traybake
4 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
1 red onion
1 fennel bulb
2 blood oranges
350g Charlotte potatoes (or any waxy type)
2 tbsps olive oil
6 unpeeled garlic cloves
6 small rosemary sprigs
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 tbsps clear honey
100ml Madeira or Marsala
Quarter the potatoes lengthways
Peel the onion, halve it and then cut each half into four wedges
Trim the fennel and slice into thin wedges
Place the potatoes, onion, fennel, cinnamon, garlic and rosemary in the small Aga roasting tin, season and toss everything in the olive oil
Season the chicken thighs and tuck them in among everything else in the roasting tin
Mix the juice of one of the oranges with the honey and stir in the Madeira/Marsala
Pour about half of this over everything and slide the tin onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven for 15 minutes
After this time pour over the remaining juice/honey/Madeira mixture and return the tin to the roasting oven for about 25 minutes, but check it after 15
Quarter the other orange and then chop each quarter in half and add these to the roasting tin for the final 10 minutes or so of cooking
If you want to slow things down you can place the tin in the simmering oven once the chicken has a good colour, after about 30 minutes, and leave it there until you’re ready to eat
Meanwhile put the pistachios on the small Aga baking tray and bake in the baking oven for 4-5 minutes until nicely toasted. Leave to cool and then chop roughly. Sprinkle over the finished dish
I served this straight from the tin since it was just the two of us, but you could of course transfer everything to a nice serving dish or platter. Don’t waste any of the delicious juices in the tin and spoon some over each serving. Serve with a green vegetable or salad.
French cuisine hasn’t had a great press in the last few years. I’m not sure how fair that is or how qualified I am to judge given that our last family holiday in France was 8 years ago. We were in the South West near Bordeaux, and while we were surprised to have a couple of disappointing meals we also enjoyed some sublime cuisine. Rick Stein’s recent television series “Secret France” showed that delicious French food is alive and well throughout the country and here in Bristol the fairly new restaurant Little French has been highly praised in the national press and shows that the “unpretentious French food” it offers is beloved by many of us. Following a superb lunch there the other day, during which between us my husband and I enjoyed mackerel tartare, mouclade and frites, queen scallops and hake with clams, I was inspired to make Clothilde’s Beef, a recipe in Diana Henry’s book Food from Plenty. She tells how she first ate it on a French exchange as a teenager when it was cooked by her opposite number, Clothilde. She notes that instead of potatoes, her French family served it with a gratin of macaroni. This immediately took me back to the food I used to eat on my many visits to France as a teenager and later on as a student when I was doing a degree in modern languages. It’s exactly the type of dish the mother of my friend Françoise would make. How powerfully evocative food can be!
1kg silverside of beef
Salt and butter
1 tbsp groundnut oil
2 onions, halved and each half either sliced into crescent moons or cut into three or four wedges
3 garlic cloves, crushed
150ml dry white or red wine
4 carrots, halved lengthways
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
3 thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
150ml chicken or beef stock
Season the beef
Heat the oil in a frying pan on the boiling plate and add the beef
Immediately transfer the pan to the floor of the roasting oven to brown, turning it over after about five minutes
Once brown, transfer the beef to a casserole while you add the onions to the pan, tossing them around in the fat before returning the pan to the floor of the roasting oven to cook the onions until golden. Keep an eye on them; you don’t want them to burn
With the frying pan on the simmering plate add the crushed garlic and cook for a minute or two
Add the wine to the onion and garlic mixture and bring it to boil
Add this mixture to the casserole along with the tomatoes, carrots, thyme and bay
Bring the stock to the boil in the pan on the simmering plate and pour it into the casserole
Season well, put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven for a minimum of four hours. Mine was in there for about six; the vegetables were soft and the meat wonderfully tender and the juice deliciously aromatic
For the macaroni au gratin
a little olive oil
150-200g Gruyère cheese (depends how cheesy you like it), grated
230ml double cream
Cook the macaroni in boiling, salted water on the boiling plate for 5-6 minutes, until barely al dente
Drain in a colander and shake it dry
Spread it out on a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss until coated to keep the macaroni from sticking to one another; leave to cool
In a saucepan on the simmering plate bring the cream and ½ tsp salt to a boil, letting it simmer for a minute; the cream will start to thicken
Add the macaroni and cook for a further minute before gradually adding about ¾ of the cheese, stirring and letting it melt into the sauce
Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle over the remaining cheese
With the rack on the first set of runners place the dish in the roasting oven and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning the dish round halfway through, until it’s sizzling hot with a golden brown crust
I’m calling these “Scandinavian” because I consulted my Norwegian grandmother’s recipe for the meatballs themselves and stole elements of a Diana Henry recipe for Swedish meatballs (in her book “Roast Figs Sugar Snow”) to make the sauce.
Surprisingly, even though my mother gave me her mother’s meatball recipe years ago, I had never used it before. I make meatballs a lot, but usually Italian-style ones in a tomato sauce to serve with spaghetti. It’s good to have a change and these, dare I say it, are just as good or possibly better. If Italian flavours are what you’re after it’s simpler just to make a ragù.
The addition of baking powder to my grandmother’s meatballs is a revelation: it makes them wonderfully light and airy. You can serve these with lingonberry sauce or jam. My son bought me some at SkandiKitchen in London. Ikea sells it too, but if you haven’t got any, cranberry sauce would also go well. I served them with braised, spiced red cabbage and plain boiled potatoes, which struck me as being very Norwegian. I’d like to think my grandmother would approve and that she’d be pleased I served them on her Porsgrund china plates.
500g pork mince
500g beef mince
1 heaped tsp salt
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1 heaped tsp ground white pepper
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
100g breadcrumbs, soaked for about 30 minutes in 150ml milk until all the milk has been absorbed
About 1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
400ml chicken or beef stock
1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
1 tbsp plain flour
200g sour cream
3 tbsps chopped fresh dill
Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs thoroughly in a large bowl. You could do this in a food processor
Using wet hands form the mixture into balls. I’ll leave the size to you
Fry in a little oil until brown. I “fried” them, drizzled with oil, on the large Aga baking tray for five minutes on the floor of the roasting oven before turning them over and frying for a further five minutes or until they were nicely browned. Doing it in the oven like this stops the Aga losing heat and means you don’t get fat splashing over the Aga top
Heat the butter with 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan or sauté pan on the simmering plate. Add the flour and cook, stirring until the flour is golden
Take the pan off the heat and gradually add the stock, stirring well after each addition
Put the pan back on the simmering plate and bring the liquid up to the boil, stirring constantly
Add the sour cream and then the meatballs
Cover and place in the simmering oven for at least 30 minutes (but as you know, they will be fine if left there for much longer than that) until the meatballs are cooked through. (If you are short of time you could cook them for about 15 minutes in the baking oven.)
Taste for seasoning, add the chopped dill and serve
All my favourites in one dish: Diana Henry; a new one tin recipe; chicken thighs; sourdough. This is one of those perfect for the Aga one tin dishes which has the added bonus of using up some of the sourdough I have been making. My sourdough is improving and everyone seems to enjoy eating it but this new pastime has brought out the perfectionist in me and I haven’t yet achieved my ideal loaf. I am beginning to understand what drives people to keep baking sourdough. Part of the enjoyment is reading books about it and watching video demonstrations. I am aspiring to make Chad Robertson’s “basic country bread” as described in his wonderful book “Tartine“. I am reading it avidly and am grateful to my youngest son for leaving it at home when he returned to university this week. The other sourdough book I’m finding invaluable is James Morton’s “Super Sourdough” which my sons gave me for Christmas.
Anyway, back to the chicken recipe. It’s from Diana Henry’s latest wonderful book “From the Oven to the Table” and I hope you find it as delicious, interesting and distinctive as we did. The great thing is it’s very easy to up the quantities, using an additional roasting tin, without much extra work. You would need to allow some extra time in the oven and swap the tins round halfway through to make sure all the chicken pieces achieved that golden brown crispiness.
175g sourdough bread, torn into pieces roughly 5cm square
450g small waxy potatoes, cut into chunks
1 large onion, peeled and cut into wedges
6 thyme sprigs
1-2 tsps (according to preference) chilli flakes
1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
150g pancetta or bacon, ideally in one piece cut into chunks, but I used rashers which I chopped up
8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
2 tbsps sherry vinegar
220ml amontillado sherry
5 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
150g spring onions, trimmed
100g bitter salad leaves such as radicchio or chicory
25g toasted pine nuts
Put the bread, onion, potatoes, thyme, chilli and garlic cloves in the large Aga roasting tin
Add the pancetta or bacon and the chicken thighs
Pour on the sherry vinegar, 70ml of the sherry and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil
Season and toss everything round with your hands, finishing with the chicken thighs skin side up. Make sure the bread isn’t too exposed, or lying at the edges, or it will become too dark
Slide onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven and roast for 25 minutes, tossing the ingredients round and turning the tin round once. Keep the chicken skin side up
Mix the spring onions with the last tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl and lay them on top of the tin, adding another 50ml sherry
Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes
Pour the remaining sherry into a small pan with the raisins and bring to just under the boil on the boiling plate. Leave these to sit, then add them to the roasting tin for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time
For us this was a kitchen supper so I served it from the tin and placed a salad bowl of red chicory dressed with balsamic and olive oil on the table. Alternatively, you could transfer everything to a large serving dish and mix in the leaves
I may have mentioned before how much I love recipes where everything is cooked in one tin or pot. The great thing is, Agas are particularly suited to this sort of cooking. At the shop of the beautiful National Trust property Trerice in Cornwall in the summer, I bought Rukmini Iyer’s books The Roasting Tin and The Green Roasting Tin, which are excellent and inspiring. Last night though I had specific ingredients I needed to use up for supper so I made up my own one tin recipe, taking ideas from those books, Jamie Oliver and Meera Sodha.
Cauliflower, Chicken and Potato Traybake
1 large cauliflower
500g potatoes (I used Charlotte but any waxy potato would be fine)
1kg chicken wings
6 tbsps rapeseed oil
30g bunch coriander
2 tsps cumin seeds
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
1 ¼ tsp salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Chop the potatoes into 3cm chunks
Separate out the cauliflower into smallish florets, about the same size as your potato pieces
Finely chop the coriander stalks, placing the leafy sprigs in a bowl of cold water to keep them fresh until needed
Place all of the above in your large Aga roasting tin
Grind the cumin seeds and mix with the salt, chilli powder, turmeric and rapeseed oil and pour all this over your vegetables in the tin making sure everything is coated in oil. Add a little more oil if you think it’s required
Slide your roasting tin onto the second set of runners of the roasting oven and roast for 15 minutes
Season your chicken wings and add them to the tin, nestling them in between your vegetables but if you run out of space just rest them on top
Return the tin to the roasting oven, this time on the top set of runners for about half an hour but check after 15 minutes and turn everything round a bit so that everything is cooked and some edges are a little charred
Before serving pour over the lemon juice and garnish with the coriander sprigs
NB You could use chicken thighs for this but then I would add them at the beginning because they need a longer cooking time.
Hello, it’s been a while. Rest assured I’ve been cooking and have plenty to share with you, but somehow I have not got around to doing it yet. My youngest son has got me into sourdough baking, which I am enjoying far more than I ever expected. It’s challenging though and while my loaves are improving, I’m not ready to write about it yet.
Today I want to tell you about ragù: I’ve been experimenting a little with it lately. Ragù simply means meat sauce and I suspect in Italy it’s one of those dishes for which there are as many recipes as there are cooks. Here we tend to call it “bolognese sauce”, “spaghetti bolognese” being one of this country’s most popular dishes, despite the fact that in Bologna they always serve their ragù with tagliatelle and never spaghetti.
I’m sure you all have your favourite ragù/bolognese recipe. I wrote about mine here, as it’s used to make Tamasin Day-Lewis’s lasagne, but recently I’ve made some adjustments to it to make it work better in the Aga. I felt the finished sauce contained a little too much liquid; one of the best Aga tips I’ve been given is to use less liquid than a recipe prescribes because in an Aga there’s no evaporation. It’s why Aga dishes are always so deliciously succulent and moist. The result of my tweaks is a thicker sauce and I’m very pleased with it. I’ve also been making another ragù recipe which my eldest son recommended to me; it’s incredibly simple and delicious and comes from The Silver Spoon, the English edition of the bestselling Italian cookbook, Il Cucchiaio D’Argento. I own the Italian version, a Christmas present from my sons, but for some reason it doesn’t contain this specific recipe. You will see that the addition of garlic to this recipe is optional. I used to think garlic was essential to ragù but it turns out Italians often don’t add it. I urge you to try this recipe without; I was surprised at how flavourful it was. The wine is also optional but I confess I have only ever made this version with wine.
I have only used minced beef in these two recipes but you can use half beef/half pork or veal. Ragù is also delicious with the addition of a little crumbled up Italian sausage. It must be a proper Italian one though, for reasons of both flavour and texture.
Anyway, here are the two ragù recipes for you, with quantities adjusted to make them work well in the Aga.
(Sorry, not sure how many people this large quantity will serve, but I’d say at least 10)
1 kg minced beef (not extra lean: you need the fat for flavour)
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbs olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato purée
100ml white wine
Take a large casserole or saucepan and heat the oil and butter in it on the simmering plate
Add the onions and stir until coated in the oil and butter
Cover and place in the simmering oven for 10 minutes or so before stirring in the carrots and celery and returning to the simmering oven until all the vegetables (the soffritto) are soft
Place the pan on the boiling plate, stir in the crushed garlic and add the mince and some salt and pepper
Stir it in while breaking it up with your wooden spoon. You could also use a fork
Once the meat is brown all over move the pan to the simmering plate
Add the tomato purée, bay leaves and milk and simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the wine
After another 5 minutes of simmering, stir in the passata, cover and place in the simmering oven and cook for a minimum of 3 hours. You can always add a little water if it looks dry but it probably won’t. I sometimes uncover it for an hour or so towards the end
Serve with tagliatelle (or spaghetti as in my photo above), which has been tossed with the ragù in the pan, and lots of grated parmesan
2 tbsps olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
250g minced beef
1 tbsp concentrated tomato purée
120ml dry white wine (optional)
Gently heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy based saucepan on the simmering plate and add the onion. Cover and cook in the simmering oven for 10-15 minutes until translucent
Add the carrot and celery and cover and cook for a further 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft
Stir in the crushed garlic, if using, and then add the steak, with your pan on the boiling plate, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and perhaps a fork too
Cook for a few minutes until all the pinkness of the meat has gone
Remove to the simmering plate and stir in the tomato purée
Stir in the wine, if using. If not, stir in the equivalent quantity (120ml) of water
Season with salt and pepper and bring it up to the boil and if it’s looking dry add some more water: perhaps another 100ml
Cover and transfer to the simmering oven and cook for a minimum of three hours, adding more water if you think it needs it. This also applies if you added wine initially
I recently added this dish to my repertoire of suppers you can cook in one roasting tin. It is the essence of uncomplicated cooking and what home cook is not a fan of that, especially midweek when there isn’t a great deal of time? And as all Aga owners know, this type of cooking is particularly suited to the Aga way of cooking.
The combination of pasta and tomato sauce is one of my favourite things, and I make it a lot. I probably make Felicity Cloake’s “perfect” sauce the most but not every time. Another favourite is the one I told you about here.
Whenever we eat this I’m transported back to when my boys were young. I would make it for them at least once a week; clean plates were guaranteed. Of course one could easily pick up a tub of sauce from the supermarket, and sometimes on busy days I would do this, but in truth it doesn’t take long to prepare your own. I’d like to think that’s what Italians would do. In fact I happened to be chatting on the phone to an Italian friend when making tomato sauce yesterday, and he gave me a few tips. You see I had bought some fresh San Marzano plum tomatoes in my local Waitrose and wanted to make my sauce with these instead of the usual tinned tomatoes. I’m sure in Italy this sauce is made with fresh tomatoes a lot of the time, but until relatively recently we couldn’t even buy fresh plum tomatoes here so we all use tinned. I knew the San Marzano was considered to be a superior tomato and a quick Google search revealed that it’s also sweeter and less acidic than other plum tomatoes. I normally add a little sugar when cooking tomatoes but didn’t in this case: they were sweet enough.
My friend Antonio said there was no need even to cook them: I could just chop them up, add a little olive oil, basil and seasoning, and add them to hot pasta. I will do that next time but I had already chopped an onion which was softening in some olive oil in the simmering oven. His next tip was to slightly undercook the spaghetti, drain it and then finishing cooking it in the sauce. He also said to add some grated parmesan at the same time as adding the pasta. I will describe everything I did below.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
700g fresh San Marzano plum tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
About three basil stalks, chopped
Salt and pepper
A handful of basil leaves
Grated parmesan, to taste
Add the olive oil and chopped onion to a sauté pan or wide saucepan and heat gently on the simmering plate
Cover and place in the simmering oven until the onion is soft
Add the basil stalks and garlic and cook for a minute on the simmering plate before stirring in the tomatoes, red wine vinegar and some salt and pepper
Place the pan in the simmering oven for about an hour but it could well be ready before that and will not come to any harm if you leave it for longer than that. I covered my pan for part of the time but am not sure it makes much difference
Meanwhile cook your spaghetti according to packet instructions but for 1 or 2 minutes less than prescribed
Drain and add it immediately, with some of the cooking water still clinging to it, to your sauce
Add some grated parmesan to the pan
Toss it all together for a couple of minutes with the pan on the simmering plate; the pasta will absorb a little of the sauce and finishing cooking
To serve, add the basil leaves, shredded if large, and have some more grated Parmesan on the table for whoever wants it
Rocket dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper is the perfect accompaniment, as is this bottle of Valpolicella.