Braised beef with macaroni au gratin

Braised beef with macaroni au gratin

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!

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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

  • 150g macaroni
  • a little olive oil
  • salt
  • 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

 

 

 

Scandinavian Meatballs

Scandinavian Meatballs

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. IMG_3152

Scandinavian Meatballs

Ingredients

Meatballs:

  • 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

Sauce:

  • 400ml chicken or beef stock
  • 20g butter
  • 1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 200g sour cream
  • 3 tbsps chopped fresh dill

Method

  • 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

 

 

Ragù

Ragù

 

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. EE573656-7F71-4B7F-9A1D-F427DB65EDE4My 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.

Mum’s Ragù 

(Sorry, not sure how many people this large quantity will serve, but I’d say at least 10)

Ingredients

  • 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
  • 25g butter
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 100ml milk
  • 100ml white wine
  • 200ml passata
  • Seasoning

Method

  • 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

Son’s Ragù

(serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 40g butter
  • 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)

Method

  • 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
  • Serve as above

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew

Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew

Before she became a TV celebrity Mary Berry was known as an Aga cook who ran courses on how to get the most out of your Aga as well as for writing The Aga Book which I believe is still given to every new Aga owner when their new oven is installed. My mother-in-law, who has owned a few Agas in her time, learned how to make this stew on one of Mary Berry’s courses and wrote it out for me many years ago because she thought it was so simple yet so delicious. I never got round to making it then but when I found a jar of sun-dried tomatoes which needed using up in my fridge recently, the recipe sprang to mind and I dug it out.

You can make this the day before, refrigerate it overnight and reheat it gently in the simmering oven the next day. I have never worked out why but casseroles are often better when made a day ahead.

The quantities of wine and stock given here are approximate because, as we Aga cooks know, you tend to need less liquid in an Aga. I start with the wine and stop pouring when the meat is almost but not completely covered. You can always add stock later on if you think it needs it.

Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew

(Serves 4 generously)

Ingredients

  • 800g braising beef, cubed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • Approx. 250ml red wine
  • (Approx. 250ml beef stock: see above)
  • 10-12 sun-dried tomatoes, halved
  • 10g dried mushrooms (I used porcini)
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée

Method

  • First you need to brown the meat. To avoid splashing oil everywhere you can do this in the roasting oven, as I did when I made boeuf bourgignon
  • Spread the beef out on your large baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide if you like, drizzle it with olive oil and season
  • Slide the tray onto the first runner and leave it there for 5 minutes before moving it to the floor of the oven for a further 5 minutes, by which time your beef should be browned
  • (You can of course brown your meat the conventional way, in batches in olive oil on the boiling plate)
  • Meanwhile in a large casserole gently fry your onion and pepper slices in a tablespoon or two of olive oil (if your sun-dried tomatoes come from a jar you can use some of the oil from that), starting it off on the simmering plate before covering it and putting it in the simmering oven
  • Pour 100ml of hot water onto the mushrooms and put them to one side for 15 minutes
  • When the onions and peppers are soft place the casserole on the boiling plate, add the beef and stir the flour into it
  • Add the red wine and, if required, the stock and bring to the boil
  • Stir in the tomato purée, mushrooms with their soaking water and apricot jam
  • Cover and place in the simmering oven for a minimum of three hours until the beef is tender. Add seasoning to taste

This is delicious with mashed potato but I think I prefer it with rice. Serve with a green vegetable too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Inspired by the success of the lamb ragù in my last post, I decided to try out the “not browning the meat” method once again and made an old favourite: boeuf bourguignon. It was a success, so I thought I’d give you the recipe I used for this classic dish. I adapted it from Delia’s in her Complete Cookery Course. It’s also available online here. I’m probably breaking the rules here but if you don’t have any Burgundy, it would not be a disaster if you use whatever red wine you do happen to have in your kitchen.

Serves 6 generously

Ingredients

  • 1kg braising steak (I used chuck), cubed
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
  • 400ml approx red Burgundy
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, or ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Approx 12 small onions or shallots, peeled and left whole
  • 225g streaky bacon, smoked or green, ideally bought in a piece and then cubed but don’t worry if you only have rashers: just chop them up
  • 120g mushrooms, sliced, or small button ones left whole

Method

  • Spread the beef out on a large baking sheet which fits on the Aga runners and drizzle with olive oil
  • Place the tray on the top runner of the roasting oven for 10-15 minutes to brown the beef
  • Meanwhile in a large casserole, sweat the onion in a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the simmering oven until soft and translucent
  • Place the casserole on the simmering plate and add the beef to it. Stir in flour to soak up the juices, then gradually pour in the wine until it barely covers the beef, stirring all the time. Don’t use all the wine if you don’t have to; remember that you tend to need less liquid when cooking in an Aga
  • Add the crushed garlic, thyme and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper
  • Put the lid on and place in the simmering oven for 3 hours or more
  • In a frying pan on the simmering plate fry the onions and bacon in a little olive oil until coloured
  • Add them to the casserole together with the mushrooms
  • Put the lid back on and return to the simmering oven for at least an hour, but longer would not do any harm at all
  • Sprinkle with some chopped fresh parsley to serve

Boulangère or dauphinoise potatoes go well with this and so does rice. A green salad and/or green beans are also good accompaniments. As with most casseroles, this one is better on the second day so it’s worth making the day before you want to eat it. I’d maybe not add the mushrooms until reheating it on the second day

 

 

 

Beef Short Ribs

Beef Short Ribs

A Bank Holiday Weekend and an opportunity to try a new recipe requiring hours of slow cooking: my sort of recipe. I bought the beef with no particular recipe in mind so I was pleased to find I’d bookmarked this one for Glazed Sticky Longhorn Short Ribs over a year ago. I have no idea if my ribs were from Longhorn cows but I bought them from my excellent local butcher, Ruby and White, which has never let me down.

Ingredients

Serves 6

  • About 3kg beef short ribs
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Seasoning

For the sticky BBQ glaze

  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 300ml passata
  • 100ml tomato ketchup
  • 2 level tsp five spice
  • 1 level tsp all spice
  • 1 level tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 level tsp Sichuan pepper
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 6 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 level tsp rapeseed oil

Method

(Preheat conventional oven to 100ºC)

  • Place the ribs in a large roasting tin, season and drizzle with rapeseed oil
  • Cover with a double layer of foil and place in the simmering oven to slow-roast for about 8 hours but can be longer. The meat will be tender and falling off the bone
  • Alternatively, if you want to eat at lunchtime, place the ribs in the oven before going to bed. Could probably leave them there until you’re ready to add the glaze (see below), but if you’re worried they will be falling apart too much (is this possible?), remove them at breakfast time and replace them, with the glaze, a couple of hours before you want to serve them
  • A couple of hours before the end of the cooking time make the glaze
  • Place everything in a saucepan, add 100ml water and stir on a medium heat/the simmering plate until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Or bring to the boil and leave uncovered in the simmering oven for at least half an hour
  • Then pour about ⅔ of the sauce over your ribs, replace the foil and return them to the simmering oven for a minimum of 30 minutes but can be longer
  • I didn’t have all the ingredients for the seasonal slaw so I served our ribs with Nigella’s Hot and Sour Shredded Salad (recipe in her book “Kitchen”) and steamed Basmati rice, with the remaining glaze drizzled over the ribs

Nigella’s Hot and Sour Shredded Salad

Serves 6

  • 3 carrots
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 long red chilli
  • 1 long green chilli
  • 20g/small bunch coriander

for the dressing:

  • juice of 1 lime (if you don’t have one, a lemon will do)
  • 4 x tbsp Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • Cut the carrots into long slices and then julienne them (i.e. cut into matchstick-like strips)
  • Trim and halve the spring onions and julienne as well
  • De-seed the chillies and cut into juliennes
  • Finely chop the coriander
  • Mix all of the above in a bowl. In another bowl mix the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and dress the vegetables with this

Italian/New York Meatballs

Italian/New York Meatballs

I make meatballs fairly regularly: Italian ones with garlic and herbs in tomato sauce, Thai ones with ginger, chilli and lime in a broth and Scandinavian ones with nutmeg and white pepper in a sour cream sauce. These are just the basics; there are so many variations, I feel I could spend my life making delicious meatballs without serving the same ones twice. And I haven’t even mentioned the accompaniments: pasta, noodles, potatoes or bread? I feel a whole series of blog posts coming on.

When a recipe I spotted recently promised to give me Italian-style meatballs like they make in New York, I couldn’t wait to try them. The meatballs proposed by chef Stephen Harris in the Telegraph are, as he says, quick to make and to cook. While they are not the best I’ve made, they’re pretty good and do conjure up that New York/Italian vibe.

Ingredients

For 2 people

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)
  • 1 ½ tbsp olive oil and some for drizzling
  • 100g baby spinach
  • 1 x 400g tin tomatoes
  • About 30g parmesan and a squeeze of lemon

Method

  • In a bowl mix the mince with about 5 pinches of salt and the thyme leaves if using
  • Roll the mince between your palms into 10 x 50g balls
  • Heat half a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the meatballs, turning them until they’re brown all over. They will not yet be cooked through to the middle
  • Remove the balls to a plate and heat another half tablespoon of oil in the pan and add the spinach leaves, cooking them until wilted
  • Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil and stir in a little more salt
  • Add the meatballs, turn down to a simmer and cook. If you’re using an Aga, you don’t need to cover them: just place the pan in the simmering oven for about half an hour or longer if you need to. If using a conventional hob, loosely cover the tin (with a lid or some scrunched up foil) and simmer for about 10 minutes
  • Drizzle with a little olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon and serve with grilled ciabatta (see below) and a rocket salad

Grilled ciabatta

  • Split half a ciabatta lengthways
  • Take a ridged griddle pan if you have one (or a regular frying pan if you don’t) and pre-heat it in the roasting oven
  • Place it on the boiling plate and add your ciabatta slices and toast on both sides
  • Rub the pieces of ciabatta with the cut sides of two halved cloves of garlic and drizzle over some olive oil

If I was making these again, I’d add breadcrumbs soaked for half an hour in milk to the meat mixture. I find this makes the meatball texture softer and less rubbery. But that’s for another day. In the meantime, these will do fine.