I recently took part in a fun Twitter challenge. Jenny Linford (@jennylinford) invited her followers every day for a week to name their seven favourite cookbooks. As well as making my choices, which wasn’t easy, I so enjoyed browsing the hashtag #7favouritecookbooks. Of course many of the books mentioned were my own favourites too while some I’d heard about but never owned (and now want to!) and some I’d never come across but now want to explore. The books in my selection were well used by me, obviously, and in several cases constituted just one example of work by my favourite cookery writers like Delia Smith and Diana Henry.
Recently for friends I made the roasted vegetable couscous dish in Delia’s Summer Collection, one of my seven choices. They all remarked how the dish had stood the test of time and that it reminded them what an excellent book it is. We agreed on what an impact it had had and how it had changed the way we cooked: suddenly we were needing fresh coriander and limes all the time and as for roasting vegetables as an alternative to boiling or frying them, this was a revelation.
I make this type of roasted ratatouille all the time now, sometimes with the harissa dressing and couscous, but mostly to serve with roasted or barbecued meat. Leftovers are delicious warm or cold with a dollop of hummus. This summer I’ve been making a similar dish which particularly complements fish, but also goes well with meat; it’s the Sicilian caponata. The authentic way of making it is to fry each vegetable separately but the other day I thought I’d try roasting them all together in the same way I’d do the roasted ratatouille; this seemed to me to be the ideal Aga way. Only the tomatoes are prepared separately and then added at the end.
I was guided by the caponata recipe in Xanthe Clay’s lovely book “The Contented Cook”.
- 1 large aubergine, cubed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, cut into 10 or 12 wedges
- 1 fat garlic clove, crushed
- 2 red peppers, deseeded and thickly sliced
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced (save the frondy tops)
- 2-3 large, ripe tomatoes (I used plum; you could use tinned if you don’t have any fresh ones)
- 1/2 glass red wine
- 2 tbsps red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- Handful of green olives
- 2 tbsps capers
- Basil leaves (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Place the aubergine, onion, garlic, peppers and fennel in the small Aga roasting tin
- Season and stir in about 3 tbsps of olive oil, coating everything
- Slide the tin onto the top set of runners in the roasting oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are soft and slightly charred in places
- Meanwhile put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave for a couple of minutes, then drain under cold water and peel off the skins and deseed. Chop the flesh
- Put the wine, wine vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil on the simmering plate. Add the chopped tomato and cook in the simmering oven until the mixture has reduced to a thick sauce. Season and stir it into the cooked vegetables.
- Leave to cool to room temperature before mixing in the olives, capers and the basil or fennel fronds
- Check the seasoning and serve
Yesterday I made the lightest and most delicious scones I’ve ever eaten. They are “Lily’s Scones” from Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess” book and I can’t think why I hadn’t tried them until now. You probably all already know about them but here’s the recipe, just in case. Oh, and I served them with Diana Henry’s “nearly” strawberry jam which I made the other day; it’s a quick way of making jam and perfect for this time of year when strawberries are in abundance. It’s a fairly runny jam (just like my Norwegian grandmother used to make, actually) and deliciously fresh-tasting.
Diana Henry’s “Nearly” Strawberry Jam
- 350g strawberries, hulled and gently wiped clean
- 75g granulated sugar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Quarter the large strawberries and leave the small ones whole
- Place them in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice
- Set on the simmering plate and stir a little until the sugar dissolves
- Roughly mash the fruit with a fork or potato masher. You want to end up with a mixture which is part purée, part chunks of fruit
- Remove to the simmering oven for about an hour until it’s thickened somewhat, but remember, this is a runny jam
- Pour into a bowl and leave to cool or into a lidded jar for storing in the refrigerator where it will keep for at least four days
Diana Henry says you could make a larger batch and freeze some.
(Makes about 12)
(You will need your large Aga baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide and a 6 1/2 cm crinkle-edged cutter)
- 500g plain flour
- 1tsp (or perhaps a little less) salt
- 2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
- 41/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 50g cold unslated butter, diced
- 25g lard, in teaspooned lumps
- 300ml milk
- 1 large egg, beaten, for egg-wash
- Sift the flour, salt, bicarb and cream of tartar into a large bowl
- Rub in the fats till it goes like damp sand
- Add the milk all at once, mix briefly and then turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly to form a dough
- Roll out very gently to about 3cm thickness
- Dip the cutter into some flour, then stamp out your scones. You will need to reroll for the last couple
- Place them on the baking tray and brush the tops with the egg-wash
- Slide onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven and leave for 10-12 minutes until risen and golden
Serve with jam and Rodda’s clotted cream: the jam goes on first and the cream on top, as my Cornish daughter-in-law insists.
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.
My recipe is based on one of Nigel Slater’s from his “midweek dinner” series in the Guardian. It came about, as so many meals do, when I had not planned what to cook but had some pork sausages and a couple of fennel bulbs in the fridge that needed using up. A quick Google and there was Nigel with the inspiration I needed. He recommends honey but my Canadian-born husband and I prefer maple syrup.
Roasted Sausages, Fennel and Potatoes
For 4 people
- About 8 good quality pork sausages
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 3-4 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into thickish segments
- 600g new potatoes, halved
- 75ml white vermouth or white wine
- Heaped tbsp grain mustard
- 2 tbsps maple syrup or honey
- Place the sausages in the large Aga roasting tin with a tablespoon of oil and slide it onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven for 5-10 minutes to colour the sausages a little
- Take it out of the oven and add the fennel and potatoes, turning them in the oil and seasoning. You might want to add a little more oil
- Return to the oven and roast for about 40 minutes, turning everything about halfway through
- Take out of the oven and remove everything to a serving dish. Place this in the simmering oven
- Place the roasting tin on the simmering plate and add the vermouth or wine. Let this bubble up while scraping up any bits that have stuck to the tin
- Stir in the mustard and maple syrup or honey and let this all bubble for a couple of minutes before tasting for seasoning
- Pour the “sauce” over everything in the dish and return it to the simmering oven until you’re ready to eat for 15 to 30 minutes. During this time everything will become extra sticky and caramelised
Serve with a green salad or green vegetable or indeed both.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know how fond I am of baking with raspberries. I’ve made this raspberry yoghurt cake twice now, once with regular flour and once with spelt and can honestly say there was no noticeable difference. The recipe is by Diana Henry – no surprises there! – and is from her book Simple. I love that the recipe was inspired by a cake she ate at a café in Nettlebed, a village in Oxfordshire, which holds many happy memories for me.
On the day Theresa May resigned I announced on Twitter that I was about to make this cake as a break from all the political drama, and there was quite a bit of interest, which is why I’m writing up the recipe for you today. The yoghurt doesn’t give the cake a yoghurt-y taste, if you know what I mean, but I think it gives it a lightness and makes it deliciously moist. It’s a perfect summer cake, but if you keep raspberries in your freezer, there’s nothing to stop you making it at other times of the year.
Raspberry Yoghurt Cake
- 125g unsalted butter
- 225g caster sugar
- Finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 300g plain flour or spelt flour
- 2 tsps baking powder
- 115g natural yoghurt (I love Yeo Valley Greek Style)
- 200g raspberries
- 150g icing sugar
- Approx. 2 tbsps lemon juice
- About 10 raspberries
(Preheat conventional oven to 180ºC)
- Butter a 22 x 12 x 7cm loaf tin and line the base with bake-o-glide or baking parchment
- Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
- Add the lemon zest and vanilla
- Add the eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition
- Put 2 tbsps of flour in a bowl and toss the raspberries in it
- Mix the flour and baking powder together and fold this into the batter, alternating with spoonfuls of the yoghurt
- Put one third of the batter into your loaf tin and add half the raspberries, spreading them out evenly
- Put another one third of the batter on top followed by the remaining raspberries and finishing with the rest of the batter
- Bake for about an hour and 15 minutes in the baking oven, but check after 40 minutes or so and cover it with foil if it seems to be colouring too much
- A skewer should come out clean when it’s done. Leave the cake in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool
- Mix the icing sugar with the lemon juice until smooth
- Spread two thirds of this on the cooled cake
- Partly crush the 10 raspberries and add them to the remaining icing. Don’t completely mix them in; you just want them to stain bits of the icing. Pour over the cake
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.
Who doesn’t love a meal which can be cooked in just one tray or tin? With this one by the great Ottolenghi, flavour and texture are not sacrificed for simplicity. The recipe was in his Guardian column (third recipe down) recently and I couldn’t wait to make it. I’ve already made it twice and am certain it’s going to become a staple in this house.
I have made one-pot pasta dishes before, where the pasta and the sauce ingredients are all cooked together in water in a large pan on the hob, so I was delighted to find this one because cooking everything, including the pasta itself, together in one roasting tin in the oven seemed so perfectly suited to Aga cooking. Even the rocket is stirred in rather than served separately. There is also a scrumptious salsa and I would urge you to take the extra few minutes to make this.
I found it slightly trickier than usual to decide which Aga oven(s) to use for this dish. Ottolenghi’s instructions for a conventional oven are 240ºC for the initial meat-browning stage and to turn it down to 200ºC after that. I found that if I put it in the roasting oven for both stages the pasta browned too quickly, even if I did as instructed and turned it in the sauce a couple of times to keep as much of it as possible submerged. I’ve shown at 7. below what worked for me. You might find a different oven permutation suits you better.
If you can’t find paccheri, Ottolenghi suggests using rigatoni or tortiglioni. I bought my paccheri from Ocado.
- 1 litre chicken stock
- 30g dried porcini mushrooms
- 750g minced pork
- 350g Cumberland sausages, casings removed
- 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tbsps tomato paste
- ⅓ tsp chilli flakes (how precise Ottolenghi is!)
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 15g sage leaves, roughly chopped (I used a little less than this because we’re not keen on a strong sage flavour)
- 75ml olive oil
- 60g Parmesan, grated
- Salt and pepper
- 3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 500g oyster mushrooms, left whole or roughly torn into large pieces
- 100ml double cream
- 250g paccheri
- 70g rocket leaves
- 35g capers, roughly chopped
- 15g parsley, finely chopped
- 1 lemon, zested: add the zest and juice to taste
- 3 tbsps olive oil
- Add the porcini mushrooms to the chicken stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil on the boiling plate. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly
- Place the mince, sausage meat, Worchestershire sauce, tomato paste, chilli flakes, fennel seeds, sage, 3 tbsps of the olive oil, half the Parmesan, 1 3/4 tsps salt and some ground black pepper in the full size Aga roasting tin
- Blitz the celery, onion and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped and add to the roasting tin and mix it all together
- Bake in the middle (with the tin hanging from the third rung from the top) of the roasting oven for 30 minutes until brown and sizzling
- Using a fork, break up the meat to get rid of any clumps, then stir in the porcini mushrooms and stock, the oyster mushrooms, pasta, cream and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil
- Make sure to stir in the pasta very thoroughly and that it is mostly submerged in the sauce
- Return to the Aga but this time to the baking oven to cook for about 45 minutes. Take it out a couple of times to stir the pasta in the sauce. Alternatively, if you have time, place it in the roasting oven or baking oven for 10-15 minutes before transferring it to the simmering oven for an hour or more (depending on when you wish to eat). As we Aga owners know, it will not come to any harm
- Meanwhile make the salsa by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and adding a grinding of black pepper
- Stir in the rocket and remaining Parmesan before serving. You could also sprinkle over some extra Parmesan shavings
Ottolenghi says to pour the salsa over the whole thing but I chose to serve it in a bowl to be passed round the table.
(The first time I made it there were only three of us so I roughly halved the quantities and used the half size Aga roasting tin, which is the one you can see in these photos.)
Many years ago my sister-in-law gave me The Silver Palate Cookbook for my birthday. It was written by two American women who had opened a shop in New York selling various foodstuffs and gourmet take-away dishes which they prepared themselves. The shop was a huge success as was this book of its recipes, which gave the owner the sense they were cooking restaurant food in their own homes, but without too much hassle. It felt cool to own this book.
When my children were young I used the book mainly for its baking recipes. There was a period when almost weekly I made the chocolate chip cookies as an after school treat for my sons and their friends. I still make the glazed lemon cake, at his request, for my eldest son’s birthday (he’s 31!)
I don’t think I’m unusual in that I sometimes forget about the cookbooks I own. It doesn’t mean I no longer like them and nor do I ever get rid of books (I’m looking at you, Marie Kondo). I love returning to old favourites and it only takes a newspaper food column or blog post to jog my memory and renew my fondness for a book or recipe.
Which is exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago when Debora Robertson wrote a post on her website entitled “You should make Chicken Marbella, you know” and I was prompted to get my Silver Palate book out again. The recipe in the book uses four small chickens (weighing 2 1/2 lbs each), quartered, giving 16 sixteen pieces. This was too much for my purposes (a small family supper) so I scaled down. I could have jointed a chicken but decided to use eight free-range chicken thighs (skin on, bone in) instead. This is what I did:
(This dish involves marinating so start it several hours ahead or even better: the night before)
- 8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 tsps dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4-5 tbsps red wine vinegar
- 4-5 tbsps olive oil
- 10-12 pitted prunes
- 16 pitted green olives
- 2 tbsps capers with a bit of juice
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tbsps brown sugar
- 100ml white wine
- 2 tbsps (approx) chopped flatleaf parsley
- In a large bowl or dish combine the chicken thighs, garlic, oregano, seasoning, vinegar, oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice and bay leaves. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight
- To bring it up to room temperature, take the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it
- Arrange the chicken and other ingredients in the small Aga roasting tin (or any tin measuring approx 32 x 21 cms) spooning the marinade around and over the chicken
- Sprinkle over the sugar and pour in the white wine
- Bake in the roasting oven for about 45 minutes. Or, if you have time, start it off in there for 15-20 minutes and then move to the simmering oven to finishing cooking slowly, allowing the chicken to become supremely tender and sticky and the flavours to develop, until you’re ready to eat
- Sprinkle with the chopped parsley to serve
We ate ours with wholegrain basmati rice and green beans. Broccoli or a green salad would also go well.