My plan for today was to tell you about the most delicious veal ragù I’d made but I’m afraid it was disappointing and I can’t quite work out what went wrong. I guess you win some and you lose some. I won’t give up though and when I get it right, I will let you know. Meanwhile, there’s my trusty old favourite ragù which I wrote about here.
So instead I want to tell you about an apple cake recipe I’ve recently fallen in love with. Forgive me for giving you another apple cake recipe but this one is too good to ignore. You probably aren’t surprised though, because I believe I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much I love apple cake.
There’s something about the slightly caramel flavour of this one that reminds me of the plum torte I wrote about here; the soft brown sugar is probably responsible. I came across the recipe on the Spectator website.
Spiced Apple Cake
- 1 large cooking apple
- 1 eating apple
- 200g unsalted butter, melted (by placing it in a bowl on top of the Aga at the back)
- 225g light brown sugar
- 225g self-raising flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- Lightly grease and line a 9″/23cm cake tin with bake-o-glide
- Place the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl and rub between your fingers to get rid of any lumps in the sugar
- Briefly whisk the eggs in a small bowl using a fork and then add them and the melted butter to the dry ingredients, quickly mixing the whole lot together with a spatula
- Peel and core the apples and cut each into 12 wedges
- Pour three quarters of the mixture into your prepared tin and arrange the apple slices in a circle, alternating cooking and eating apples and starting from the outside. Place any spare segments in the centre of the circle
- Spoon the rest of the mixture into the middle of the cake and don’t try to spread it to the sides. Sprinkle over the caster sugar
- Bake for about 50 minutes until the top is golden brown and taught. Leave in the tin to cool for 10 minutes
Can be served warm or cold. I love serving any apple cake with whipped cream, but it’s up to you.
Baked pasta is comfort food and this particular baked pasta dish is more comforting than most. It is no less delicious and perfectly flavoured than I would expect from Simon Hopkinson. I found the recipe on the BBC website. I seem to remember watching him make it in his TV series, “The Good Cook”, a few years ago. I never got around to buying the accompanying book of the same name but am seriously considering doing so now.
This is so simple to make; simple recipes often are the best. I never thought I’d be regularly cooking recipes for only two people but the truth is it’s often just my husband and I at the kitchen table these days, and if my elderly mother-in-law isn’t up to cooking, there’s always enough to take a small portion of whatever we’re having downstairs to her. Don’t look at the quantity of pasta and worry that it’s not enough; I promise you it is. This is a filling dish. It’s also good for you: I recently read that mushrooms, especially porcini, are the best food source of two anti-ageing antioxidants. So that’s a bonus.
Pappardelle with Porcini and Pancetta
- 500ml milk
- 20g dried porcini mushrooms
- 40g butter
- 25g plain flour
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 100g pappardelle
- 50g pancetta, cut into small cubes
- 2 tbsps grated parmesan cheese
- Bring the milk up to simmering point in a pan on the simmering plate
- Add the porcini mushrooms and remove from the heat
- After 10 minutes or so drain the milk through a sieve into a bowl, pressing out as much liquid from the mushrooms as you can
- Melt the butter in a clean saucepan on the simmering plate. Add the flour and stir for a couple of minutes with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth roux
- Pour in the porcini flavoured milk in one go and whisk vigorously until smooth and starting to thicken. Season, cover and place in the simmering oven for at least 10 minutes (can be longer: as ever where the simmering oven is concerned, it will come to no harm) while you cook the pappardelle according to the packet instructions until it’s al dente. (I bring a large pan of water to a boil on the boiling plate and add salt before adding the pasta.)
- Drain the pasta and then in a large bowl mix it with the porcini, pancetta and sauce. Tip this into a lightly buttered oven-proof dish and sprinkle over the parmesan
- Place in the middle of the Aga roasting oven for about 25 minutes until it’s bubbling and golden brown
- Serve with a green salad and you might want some extra cheese too
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.
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.
- 3 x San Marzano tomatoes (or other plum tomatoes)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 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
- (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
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
- 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
- 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
Pre-race chat at the boat tents
Can you tell I’m freezing cold?
Time to put the boat in the water
Time to head down to the start
Umpire’s boat: the great Sir Matthew Pinsent is there somewhere
Nearly at the finish
View from the stand
Husband holds my umbrella so I can take this photo
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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:
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.