Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Tomato Sauce for Pasta

We’re slowly adjusting to being empty nesters. Mind you, university terms are not that long and our youngest will be home for the Christmas holidays in just a few weeks. One thing I’m struggling with though, is reducing the amount of food I buy: I keep overestimating how much we’ll need. I imagine that just when I’ve got it right, it will be time to step up the quantities again for the family returning home for Christmas. And so it is that yesterday I suddenly remembered the San Marzano plum tomatoes I’d bought and not used. I don’t keep tomatoes in the fridge because they lose their flavour. This means they need to be used within a few days of purchase. My tomatoes were fine but starting to feel a bit squidgy; it was time to make a pasta sauce. Pasta with a really good homemade tomato sauce is one of my favourite dishes to eat. We probably had it at least once a week when my children were growing up and I still make it often. I have tried lots of different recipes over the years. The one I probably make the most is this one by Felicity Cloake. But sometimes I just make it up as I go along according to what I have in the cupboard and yesterday I decided to make a sauce using roast tomatoes, based on my friend Kate Percy’s from her book Go Faster Food (you don’t have to be an endurance athlete to enjoy her recipes: I’m certainly not one).  Roasting tomatoes is a great way to use them up when they’re past their best and it also intensifies the flavour of disappointingly insipid ones.

Ingredients

  • 3 x San Marzano tomatoes (or other plum tomatoes)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 250ml passata
  • Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Glug of red wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp dried basil (or a couple of stalks of fresh basil if you have it)
  • 250g spaghetti or pasta of your choice

Method

  • (Pre-heat conventional (fan) oven to 140ºC or 170º if you’re in a hurry)
  • Place the tomatoes on a baking tray lined with bake-o-glide
  • Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle lightly with sugar
  • Place in the simmering oven for 3-4 hours until shrivelled and the aroma is intense
  • Tip the roasted tomatoes and all the residual juices from the tray into a saucepan or small casserole
  • Squash the tomatoes down a bit with a wooden spoon, add the passata, garlic, bay leaf, chilli flakes, a little more olive oil, red wine vinegar and basil
  • Bring to simmering point on the simmering plate and transfer to the simmering oven for an hour or two for the flavours to meld and the sauce to thicken. You can leave it uncovered if you want it to thicken in less time than that
  • (Or simmer covered on a conventional hob at low temperature for half an hour to an hour, removing the lid towards the end if you feel it’s not thick enough)
  • Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until it’s al dente
  • Check the sauce for seasoning and toss the drained pasta in it
  • Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan

 

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Slow-Cooked Chicken

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A friend came to supper the other day who said he had exactly the same Aga as mine. He confessed he didn’t think he and his wife made the best use of theirs and proceeded to ask me some questions. I was surprised to find they didn’t even know what the ovens were for: they only used the roasting and baking ovens (although they didn’t know this is what they’re called) and the simmering oven for warming plates. They didn’t use the warming oven at all! I told him they needed to buy an Aga book and that I’d read my Mary Berry one, which came free with my Aga, from cover to cover. He said they had the book but hadn’t bothered to read it.  In their defence, they “inherited” their Aga when moving into their house whereas I made a deliberate choice to become an Aga owner and cook and saw it as a kind of project. It made me realise there are people out there who didn’t choose to have an Aga but have got one by default and that they might find blogs like mine useful.

I was sorry therefore that the supper I cooked for our friend and his parents, old friends of my husband’s family, was not one of my best. I wanted to use up the pheasant breasts I still had in my freezer and found this recipe. It looked and smelled delicious and tasted good, but the meat was a little rubbery and dry. I find this happens with chicken breasts too and I don’t know what the answer is. What is more, I chose the recipe because it was a slow braise, which in my opinion ought to have ensured tender, succulent meat. On reflection, I think breasts, whether of the pheasant or chicken variety, should not be cooked for very long, so my suggestion for adapting this recipe for the Aga would be only to cook it (in the simmering oven of course) for the initial 45 minutes.

Legs and thighs, on the other hand, lend themselves to slower cooking. The dish in the photo above is braised chicken pappardelle. I got the recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Guardian column, and you will see he provides two further slow-cooked chicken recipes. I pounced on the article when I saw it, as I always do when I see the words “slow-cooked”; I immediately think “Aga simmering oven”. I have now made all three recipes and they’re all superb, but today I’m going to tell you how I made the one above in the Aga.

Braised Chicken Pappardelle

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1.5cm chunks
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5g thyme sprigs
  • 500g vegetable stock
  • 50g anchovies in oil, drained and finely chopped
  • 400g pappardelle (I used a good quality dried one)
  • 40g rocket leaves

Method

  • Put the chicken in a bowl and toss with the oil, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of black pepper
  • Put a large, heavy-based casserole for which you have a lid on the simmering plate.  Sear the legs for ten minutes, turning them once, until the skin is dark golden brown, then remove from the pan.
  • Add the carrots, onion, bay leaves and thyme to the pan and cook until softened. You could do this in the simmering oven of course. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute
  • Return the chicken to the pan and add the stock, anchovies and a good grind of black pepper. Cover and cook in the simmering oven for at least an hour but two would be better
  • Lift out the chicken from the pot and bring everything to the boil on either the simmering or boiling plate and cook until the liquid is reduced to about 300ml
  • Meanwhile pull all the meat off the chicken bones in chunks or, as I prefer, shreds, and discard the bones and the thyme
  • Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until al dente and drain
  • Add the chicken and pasta to the reduced sauce and vegetables and mix well
  • Divide between four plates or pasta bowls, layering with rocket leaves as you go
  • Drizzle with olive oil and serve

Social Life and a Quick Lunch

 

This blog has been much neglected in recent weeks.  Sometimes life simply doesn’t offer up the moments of calm needed to sit down and concentrate on writing.  For one thing, I’ve been totally absorbed in the political upheaval this country has been undergoing since the EU referendum result was announced on 24 June; and then we’ve also been busy (!) catching up with old friends at a couple of wonderful events.  First was Henley Royal Regatta two weeks ago; we try to attend most years.  My husband and I are both from that part of the world and I used to watch him row there when we first met.  In recent years our son W has been a competitor and it’s been wonderful to go along and support his crew.  We usually meet up with old friends and make a day of it and this year was no different.  The weather was absolutely awful: windy, cool and pouring with rain much of the time.  Only in Britain would you choose to put on a summer dress and spend the day in a field by the river in such atrocious conditions!  Hope the photos above give you a flavour.  There was respite to be found, of course, in the Pimms tent first and later in the lunch marquee.  We sat in the grandstand after lunch to watch some of the races and then at last, at ten past seven in the evening, it was time to watch our son’s race.  It had stopped raining by then and the sky had brightened slightly.  I broadcast the latter part of the race on Periscope but, luckily for you, I haven’t yet set up my blog to play videos so you can’t watch it and hear me screaming as his crew overtook their opponents and won.

The weekend after that we met up with the same friends at mutual friends’ daughter’s 21st birthday party, which was amazing.  We danced the night away, literally.  When dawn broke at about 4.30am we decided it was time for bed but our hosts kept going until 7.30.

So, back to cooking.  Unusually for me on a weekday, I cooked lunch on a Wednesday recently.

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It was Jamie Oliver’s spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, balsamic and basil and brilliantly quick and easy to make.  I needed to use up the tomatoes in a jar I’d opened a few weeks earlier.  It says to consume them within 7 days of opening but I rarely achieve this and don’t think I’ve poisoned anyone yet.

Anyway, here is what you do:

Jamie Oliver’s Spaghetti with Red Onions, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Balsamic Vinegar and Basil

Ingredients

(serves 4)

  • 450g dried spaghetti
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped or sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 handfuls of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 3 tbsps balsamic vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 handfuls of basil, torn
  • Parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated, to serve

Method

  • Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente
  • While doing this, slowly fry the onion in a couple of lugs (Jamie’s word) for a few minutes (in the simmering oven if you like) until soft and tender
  • Stir in the tomatoes and balsamic and throw in your drained pasta
  • Season and toss together with the basil
  • Serve with the grated cheese

I adore fresh basil and at this time of year I keep a pot of it, bought from the supermarket, on my kitchen window sill and it does very well, as long as I keep it watered.

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Pasta Salad

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Salad can be many different things: a side dish or a main meal; vegetarian or containing meat; cold or warm.  This delicious pasta salad works both as a (vegetarian) meal in itself and as an accompaniment to barbecued meats.  Youngest son and I had it for supper the other night when my husband was at a meeting.  We nearly didn’t have any supper at all.  Just as we were sitting down to eat I dropped my glass of water on the granite work surface and it shattered into millions of pieces.  I was still finding tiny shards of glass the next day, including in my sandal, even though I had vacuumed and swept very thoroughly.  Fortunately though, I’d moved the bowl of salad to the table before dropping the glass so we were able to eat our supper without tearing our insides to shreds.

We ate this with some roasted asparagus spears.  At this time of year, my kitchen is hardly ever without British asparagus.  You have to make the most of the short season.

Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Basil and Black Olives

Ingredients

  • 175g dried pasta
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and sliced
  • 225g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4-6 spring onions, sliced
  • 8-12 black olives, pitted and halved
  • 8-12 fresh basil leaves, torn

Dressing

  • 2 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 2 tbsp oil (from the sun-dried tomato jar)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
  • pinch of sugar
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Basil leaves to garnish

Method

  • Cook pasta until al dente, drain and refresh with cold water.  Turn into a large bowl and toss with the oil
  • Add sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, olives and basil.  Toss
  • Make dressing: put sun-dried tomatoes, oils, vinegar, garlic and tomato paste in a blender (I used my mini food processor) with the sugar, salt and pepper and blitz until fairly smooth

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    Mini food processor

  • Pour dressing over the pasta and toss well.  Ideally leave it for 1-2 hours for the flavours to infuse
  • Garnish with basil

 

 

 

 

 

 

To roast asparagus:

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Snap off the bottoms and lay the spears in rows on a roasting tray.  Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on some sea salt.  Put the tray in a hot oven (near the top of the Aga roasting oven) for 10 minutes, giving it a bit of a wiggle after 5 to move the spears around a little.  You can eat them hot like this, or let them cool then add a little lemon juice and black pepper, and maybe some shavings of parmesan to make another delicious salad.

 

 

Film Club Supper alla Bolognese

I belong to a little film club comprising eight friends.  We meet every six weeks or so and take it in turns to host.  The hostess (yes, we are all female) chooses the film and makes supper which we eat at the start of the evening, usually, but not always, sitting at a kitchen or dining room table.  Pudding and/or chocolates tend to be consumed on the sofa while watching the film.  We are allowed to pause the film for loo breaks, to make tea and coffee or to comment on or ask each other questions about the film.  It’s great fun.

We’ve watched a wide range of films over the years, both foreign language and English.  It was my turn to host our last meeting and I chose the film Carol with Cate Blanchett and Roony Mara.  I always mean to go to the cinema to see the Oscar nominated films but invariably don’t get around to it, so film club presents an excellent opportunity.  And it’s so easy to watch films these days.  On this occasion all I did was log on to Amazon Instant Video to rent the film and within seconds it was available to watch.

We liked the film very much.  It is beautiful and moving and Cate Blanchett’s performance is every bit as good as one has come to expect.  But I will leave film reviews to others and move on to important matters like the food!

Supper was Rick Stein’s Bolognese sausage ragù with tagliatelle.  I’d recently watched his programme from Bologna in which he’d toured that city’s food markets and restaurants.  It had transported me back to a wonderful holiday we’d enjoyed in that region of Italy when we’d also discovered its delicious cucina.

During the programme Stein made the ragù and I decided there and then to make it for film club.  My guests were too polite to say so but I know it was a little dry.  I was trying not to add too much wine/stock/cream to adjust for the fact that, as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Agas are brilliant at retaining moisture.  But I went too far and felt we could have done with a little more creaminess to coat the strands of tagliatelle.  The flavour, however, was superb: with the aroma of fennel, rosemary and chilli, we could almost have been in Bologna.  I will definitely be making it again soon and might update this post if I get the liquid:sausagemeat ratio right next time, but for  now, here’s the recipe with my suggestions based on my experience.

By the way, I made double the BBC recipe linked to above (there were seven of us eating that night) and cooked, I felt, a little too much tagliatelle (750g).  I didn’t add all of it to the ragù but there was still plenty; nor did I emulate Rick Stein and make my own pasta.  I chose this very good quality one by  “Artigiano Pastaio” which is not cheap but worth it for a treat.

Finally, at the last minute, with my friends arriving on the doorstep, I remembered just in time to take a few photos.   Taking photos of the food needs to become second nature to me and I must learn to ignore my family when they roll their eyes at me for holding up the meal in order to take pics, or I won’t be able to call myself a blogger.

Ingredients

(For 4 people)

  • 400g fresh or good quality dried tagliatelle (or homemade as per Rick Stein’s recipe)
  • 400g sausagement
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 3/4 tsp fennel seeds, roughly ground in pestle and mortar
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves finely chopped
  • I large clove garlic, crushed
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 150ml double cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated parmesan to serve

Method

  • Heat the oil in a large casserole on the boiling plate and break up the sausagemeat into it.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring all the time, moving it to the simmering plate if it seems too hot
  • Add the onion, celery, fennel seeds, chilli flakes and rosemary and cook for about 15 minutes until the onion is soft.  You can do this in the simmering oven, maybe for a little longer than 15 minutes
  • Add the garlic, give it a stir and then pour in the white wine.  Cook for 10 minutes or so on the simmering plate until it’s reduced.  Then add 100ml of stock and 100ml of cream, season, let it come to a simmer then cover with a lid.  Cook in the simmering oven for 30 minutes or so and take a look.  If you think it looks a bit dry add the rest of the stock and cream.
  • You can leave it for an hour or two in the simmering oven.  When you’re nearly ready to eat, cook the tagliatelle according to packet instructions and when it’s al dente, drain, add it to the ragù and mix it in.

Serve with a dressed green salad.

 

I haven’t posted for a while so here are photos of other things we’ve been eating lately.  First, I made Mamma Moore’s apple cake again, but this time with rhubarb, of which my allotment-owning sister-in-law brought a whole load when she visited recently.  It worked superbly; rhubarb and ginger have a real affinity.

And then last night we had the simplest of seasonal dishes: trout caught the night before by my husband’s friend, baked in the oven with lemon juice, butter and parsley and accompanied by Jersey Royal new potatoes, carrots and fresh peas.

 

Cavolo Nero

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Cavolo nero is a cousin of kale and both belong to the brassica family.  Its long leaves are so dark green in colour, they’re nearly black or “nero”.  It originates from Tuscany where it was first believed to be grown in 600BC.

I can’t say when it first started to appear in our greengroceries and supermarkets but it doesn’t seem like long ago.  Since I first discovered it, relatively recently, I’ve used it mainly in minestrone and in pasta dishes.  It has a deliciously rich and intense flavour.

Not surprisingly, cavolo nero works well in pasta dishes and this recipe by Stevie Parle, which appeared in the Telegraph a couple of years ago, is delicious.

Ingredients

  • 500g penne
  • 300g cavolo nero (you can strip the leaves from the stem if you like but since it’s going to be puréed I don’t think it’s necessary. I just chopped mine up.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Grated parmesan to taste

Method

  • Bring some salted water to the boil with the garlic cloves in a large saucepan and add the cavolo nero.  Cook for 5-10 minutes until tender and drain, keeping the garlic cloves
  • Transfer this and the pine nuts to a food processor and blitz.  Add the olive oil and parmesan (maybe a couple of handfuls), process again and season.  You will have a dark green sauce
  • Meanwhile bring another pan of water to the boil and cook the penne according to packet instructions
  • Drain the pasta, reserving a ladleful of the cooking water, return it to the pan and toss with the sauce, loosening it with some of the cooking water
  • Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve with more grated parmesan

 

Supper à Deux

Last Saturday evening our youngest son was heading out to a party.   I like to think we’re old hands at matters teenage so we trod carefully and got away with asking a few questions, which elicited the following: it was local, so he could walk to it, and was being hosted by two of his school friends.  We were also told he and others would be gathering at a friend’s house beforehand and walking to the party together.

We’ve been here before of course, my husband and I.  The difference is that when our older boys went to parties, there was always at least one left behind who, depending on his age at the time, needed some sort of attention from us.  Since our third son left home to seek his fortune (well, first to go to university and now London to try out various jobs) our life has been undergoing subtle change.  We’re very gradually becoming accustomed to just the two of us sitting down to eat together, but it’s still quite a rare thing because my husband tends to be away two nights a week in London.  And we won’t be proper emptynesters until we can go to sleep without listening out for the key in the door announcing that someone has arrived home safely.

So that he could dash off to meet his friends on Saturday without going hungry, the boy ate a large, late lunch.  Once he’d gone, I set about preparing this pasta dish which I’d found on the BBC website.  It was the first time I’d cooked anything by Darina Allen, but it was delicious and I’ll definitely make it again and seek out more of her recipes.  I halved the quantities and, I confess, DID NOT peel the tomatoes, but I did deseed them.  I hate fiddly cooking jobs.  I’m probably rather a lazy cook.  I also left the rosemary out.  Get me.  Oh, and we didn’t have parmesan with it either.

Darina Allen’s Penne with Tomatoes, Chorizo and Cream

Ingredients

  • 450g penne pasta
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 700g fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • sugar, pinch of
  • 175-225g chorizo
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 125-175ml cream
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped flatleaf parsley
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan, to serve (optional)

Method

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan on the simmering plate, add the chopped rosemary and diced tomatoes
  • Season with salt, pepper and sugar
  • Cook in the simmering oven until the tomatoes have just begun to soften into a sauce
  • Chop the chorizo into small chunks, say 5x5mm, and add to the pan with the chilli flakes
  • Add the cream and two tablespoons of the parsley, and allow to bubble for 3-4 minutes on the simmering plate, stirring frequently until the cream has reduced by half.  Keep this warm in the simmering oven
  • Cook the pasta (on the boiling plate) until al dente, drain and stir into the sauce
  • Sprinkle with the remaining parsley

We also ate some of the Bordeaux Quay focaccia I’d bought at Whiteladies Road Market in the morning, which probably made the meal somewhat carb heavy but hey, it was Saturday night and we thought we’d live a little.  We drank a glass or two of Rioja too!