Casseroles are perfect winter food: they require long, slow cooking and are warming and comforting. They are also ideal if you are cooking for a large number of people because the quantities can easily be increased. Furthermore, if you are entertaining you can make your casserole ahead so that on the day it only requires reheating and you can concentrate on spending time with your guests.
Despite knowing all of this, for me there’s a problem: I hate making casseroles because I hate the meat-browning stage of the process. My kitchen is always left with a film of grease on every surface and my hair looks like I’ve spent the day working at the local chippy.
Browning the meat for a casserole, we are told, seals in the juices and assures flavour, so it probably isn’t a stage we should skip. But what if we could? One of my Aga recipe books suggests browning the meat for a casserole in the roasting tin in the roasting oven, which seems to me to be the answer. After all, you need a high temperature and the Aga roasting oven is hotter than the highest setting of most conventional ovens.
Then the other day this recipe for roasted lamb ragù caught my eye in the Waitrose Food Magazine under the heading “A Genius New Way to Cook”; you roast literally everything together in the oven, including the meat. Waitrose says you can try it with other combinations of meat, spices and herbs, and I’m thinking of trying to make one of my favourites – boeuf bourguignon – in this way. Anyway, this ragù was absolutely delicious and I will definitely be making it again and using the same method for other combinations of ingredients. (She says, with a flick of her ungreasy hair.)
Roasted Lamb Ragù
(Pre-heat conventional oven to 200ºC)
- 2 leeks, halved lengthways and finely sliced
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 clove
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 2 bay leaves
- A few thyme sprigs
- 1 tsp honey
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 900g lamb neck fillets
- 250ml red wine
- 250ml chicken stock
- 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
- Toss the leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, spices, herbs, honey and anchoivies in the large Aga roasting tin. Season
- Season the lamb neck fillets and lay on top
- Place the tin on the third set of rungs in the roasting oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning everything at least once. You want the meat to be browned and the vegetables soft and turning golden
- Stir in the wine, stock and tomatoes and place in the simmering oven for 2 or 3 hours. You know the drill: no harm will come to it if left for longer. Mine was in the oven all afternoon
- (Or turn a conventional oven down to 160ºC, cover the tin loosely with foil and roast for one hour and 30 minutes.)
- Roughly shred the meat, turning it in the juices and put the tin back in the roasting oven for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until the meat is browned in places and the ragù is glossy and thick
- (Or turn the conventional oven back up to 200ºC, remove the foil, shred the meat as above and roast for a further 30 minutes.)
We had ours with delicious sourdough bread, purchased that day from the wonderful Hart’s Bakery in Bristol, and a green salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If we hadn’t had delicious, fresh bread to hand, I’d have served the ragù with pasta. Tagliatelle would be perfect.
Turkey, ham, Norwegian spiced pork belly, bacon, cold leftover turkey, turkey soup, ham sandwiches, Jamie’s Asian-style turkey salad, cold pork, more ham, beef fillet, Thai green turkey curry…and so it went on over the Christmas period, to the point where we said we never wanted to eat meat again. Except that we didn’t mean it. We love it of course and after a couple of days of eating mainly vegetables and pasta, we were ready to be carnivores again and I made lamb shawarma for the first time.
Since there were only going to be three of us, I bought a half shoulder of lamb instead of a whole one. At the last minute we invited a friend to join us but there was still plenty for four people. The recipe is one by Honey & Co like the pomegranate molasses chicken I did a while ago. I adapted it for slow Aga cooking for a change (joke) and I was very pleased with the result.
We ate ours in wraps with the white cabbage and pomegranate salad suggested in the Honey & Co. book, and a dollop of yoghurt. Delicious.
- 4 onions, peeled
- 1 shoulder of lamb, on the bone
- 3 tbsps ras el hanout
- 2 tsps salt
For the salad:
- ½ white cabbage, shredded
- ½ tsp salt
- juice of 1 lemon
- Small bunch parsley, chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
- Seeds from 1 pomegranate
- Purée two of the onions with the ras el hanout, salt and pepper in a food processor
- Slice the other two onions and place them in a roasting tin
- Pat the purée all over the lamb and lay it on the bed of onions
- Place the roasting tin uncovered in the roasting oven for 20 minutes, by which time it will have started to colour and brown
- Pour in a glass of water and cover the tin with foil
- Place in the simmering oven for several hours; I’d say a minimum of four but after seven or eight it will be even more meltingly gorgeous. You should baste it every so often and maybe add some more water, but only if it’s drying out
- It’s done when the meat falls easily off the bone
- (Conventional oven owners: start it in a very hot oven for 30 minutes and then turn it down, after adding water and covering the tin, to 200ºC/180ºC fan, and roast for a further hour. Repeat the process and turn the oven down to 180ºC/160ºC fan for a couple more hours, basting halfway)
- For the salad, sprinkle salt on the shredded cabbage in a bowl, mix and allow to sit for 15 minutes until it starts to soften. Add the lemon juice, parsley and vegetable oil and mix well. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, reserving a few to sprinkle over the lamb
I made a few mince pies this week. They’re now in the freezer but I might get them out this weekend as my youngest son is returning home from university and I think he’ll appreciate them. Apart from that and the Christmas cake, I haven’t done a huge amount of Christmas preparation but now that it’s December I will be getting my act together. I have had to postpone my plan to write up some of my Christmas recipes because I don’t have any decent photos to accompany them. I will aim to take lots of photos during this Christmas period so that I can write up the recipes in good time for Christmas 2018.
Meanwhile the Sunday roast continues to happen in our house and last Sunday it was gigot boulangère. If ever there was a dish that lends itself perfectly to Aga cooking, this is the one. If you love lamb and love boulangère potatoes, then this is one for you. On Sunday morning, after a cup of tea in bed with the papers on my iPad, I got up at 8 to prepare this dish. My neighbours may have caught a glimpse of me fetching some rosemary and nearly catching my death in my garden in my dressing gown. In less than an hour though lunch was in the oven, to be more or less ignored until we were ready to eat it at 2pm.
- 1 leg of lamb weighing about 2.4kg
- 1.8kg potatoes
- 2 onions, peeled and sliced
- 2 garlic cloves
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 100ml white wine
- Pound the peeled garlic with 1 tsp salt flakes (I use Maldon sea salt) in a pestle and mortar until you have a rough paste
- Add 1 tbsp olive oil and about 1 tbsp chopped rosemary to this
- Give it a stir and season
- Set aside
- Drizzle some olive oil into the bottom of your large Aga roasting tin, which you have lined with bake-o-glide
- Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. At this point many cooks would tell you to use a mandolin, but I don’t possess one so I use a nice sharp knife
- Cover the base of the tin with a layer of potatoes followed by the onion slices, chopped rosemary and some seasoning and then the remaining potato slices
- Pour over the white wine
- Stab the leg of lamb all over with the point of a sharp knife and then rub in the garlic and rosemary paste you made at the start, massaging it into the slits you’ve made
- Lay the lamb on top of the potatoes and hang the roasting tin on the third set of runners in the roasting oven and cook for 45 minutes
- Transfer to the simmering oven for at least 4 hours but, as always, longer is fine, if not better
- To serve, place the lamb on a large dish or board for carving, and the potatoes in a dish with all the juices. I put a bowl of redcurrant jelly on the table. Some mint sauce would have been nice too
Pound garlic with salt and add chopped rosemary, olive oil and pepper to make a rough paste
Layer slide potatoes with sliced onions, chopped rosemary and seasoning
Rub the paste into the lamb and place it on top of the potatoes
The cooked boulangère potatoes
- Conventional cooking: pre-heat the oven to 200ºC and cook the potatoes for about an hour before placing the lamb on top and roasting it for about 15 minutes per 500g depending on how you like it done.
- There were only three of us for lunch on Sunday so I asked my butcher, Ruby and White, to give me just half a leg of lamb, as you will see in the above photos. I halved the quantities of the other ingredients and used the small Aga roasting tin.
We had a lovely weekend at home this Easter, with our sons and two of their girlfriends joining us for most of it. I tried to keep the cooking as simple (but delicious) as possible and had a cooking-free Saturday night when we went to our local Italian to celebrate my birthday the previous week.
For Easter Sunday lunch I ordered a large leg of lamb from the butcher and asked him to remove the bone and butterfly it. My thinking was that it would cook more quickly and carve more easily (although carving is my (surgeon) husband’s job!).
On Saturday afternoon I prepared the marinade, covered the lamb and put it in the fridge to be forgotten about until Sunday morning.
I adapted the following recipe from Diana Henry’s book, Cook Simple.
Indian Leg of Lamb
For about 8 people
- 1 x 2kg leg of lamb, boned and butterflied
- 55g blanched almonds
- 2 onions, roughly chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- a big chunk of fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 green chillies, halved and deseeded
- 550g plain yoghurt
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 4 tsps ground coriander
- 2 tsps ground cinnamon
- 2 tsps garam masala
- salt and pepper
- Make deep gashes all over the meat with a sharp knife and put it in a dish
- Blitz everything else in a food processor and spread this all over the lamb, massaging it in with your hands. It will look like this:
- Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge
- On Sunday morning, preheat a conventional oven to 200ºC, take the lamb out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature. Place it in a large roasting tin and cover with foil
- Aga users: put it in the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, then remove the foil for 5 or ten minutes before placing the lamb in the simmering oven until you’re ready to serve lunch. This was 2pm in our case, so the total cooking time was about four and a half hours. If you’re using a conventional oven, the cooking time is about one and a half hours, with the foil removed for the last 20 minutes or so
- Leave the lamb to rest on a board while you reheat the cooking juices, stirring as you go, to make a delicious sauce to be served with the lamb
- I served our lamb with a pilaff, carrots roasted with coriander and garlic and two green vegetables
Spring was definitely in the air last weekend. It was still chilly, especially in the early morning and evening, but when the sun was shining one could actually feel the heat from it. Early Spring blossom has started to appear on the trees in Bristol and the daffodils are very much in flower. So it might seem odd that I chose to cook rather wintry, comfort food dishes, but I thought I’d better get them in before temperatures really do rise.
My husband says I can’t possibly write a post about this meal because we didn’t take a photo of it, but, with apologies for the lack of illustration, I’ve decided to do it anyway. It was a success and the ideal thing to cook last Saturday when I had plenty of time in the morning but wanted to watch England play Wales in a crucial Six Nations rugby match in the afternoon. Honestly, as you will see, this hotpot is more or less just an assembly job. While I was preparing it I managed to keep an eye on the Italy v Ireland match.
For the ingredients, I more or less followed Felicity Cloake again and make no apologies for that. Here is what I did.
- 6 lamb cutlets
- 400g diced lamb shoulder
- Flour, salt and pepper
- 3-4 large, floury potatoes
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 300ml stock (Felicity says lamb stock, but I used a homemade chicken one because that’s what I had in the fridge, and it was fine.)
- 20g melted butter, plus extra to grease.
- Dust the meat with the flour and seasoning. Peel and slice the potatoes thinly.
- Butter a casserole which has a lid.
- Put a layer of overlapping potato slices in the bottom of the casserole, season them and sprinkle with a little thyme.
- Put the meat and bay leaf on top, followed by the onions and some more seasoning.
- Top with the remaining potatoes, overlapping them again. Season these and pour on the stock, which should not come above the topping.
- Brush the potatoes with the melted butter.
- Put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven. Cook for 4-6 hours.
- Thirty minutes before serving, remove the lid and transfer to the roasting oven to brown the potatoes.
I placed it in the oven at about 2pm and then all I had to do when we were ready to eat was steam some carrots (in the simmering oven of course) and cook some cabbage.
By the way, for afternoon tea on the sofa, in front of the England v Wales match, we had buttered slices of this delicious “hot cross” fruit loaf which I’d bought in the morning from the Bordeaux Quay stall at Whiteladies Road Market.
This beef stroganoff, based on Delia Smith’s recipe, has the flavours of “proper” stroganoff but the advantage that it can be made ahead instead of at the last minute; it’s ideally suited to Aga cooking.
(Serves 4 people)
- 700g fairly lean braising beef
- 2 onions, sliced
- 50g butter
- 275 ml dry white wine
- 250g mushrooms, sliced if large
- 250ml sour cream
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and freshly milled black pepper
- Cut the meat into thin strips, about 5mm wide and no more than 6cm long.
- Melt the butter in a casserole and soften the onion in it in the simmering oven for about 15 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.
- Place the casserole on the boiling plate and brown the beef in batches.
- Once the meat is browned, move the casserole to the simmering plate and return the beef and onion to it. Season and pour in the wine.
- Bring to simmering point, put on the lid and let it cook in the simmering oven for 3-4 hours.
- An hour before you want to eat, stir in the mushrooms, cover and return it to the oven.
- Taste to check seasoning, stir in the sour cream with a good grating of nutmeg. Don’t let the cream boil.
- Serve with plain boiled rice and perhaps some broccoli or a green salad.
I could have used a smaller casserole.
This wine was a good accompaniment.
Chopped fresh parsley makes a nice garnish.
Depending on the weather, perhaps my next posts will move on to lighter, fresher dishes.