What frightening and difficult times we live in. I hope you are coping with the lockdown and that you and your loved ones are staying safe and well. There are four of us here. My youngest son is home from university, possibly until the Autumn; this is lovely for my husband and me. We took the decision to dispense with the services of the carers who were coming in every day to look after my frail and demented 95 year old mother-in-law. We just felt the risk of the virus being brought into the house was too high. It means there is even more for us to do but of course we are here and have the time to do it.
We are trying hard not to go to the shops and have been lucky enough to get a couple of online supermarket orders delivered. Our excellent local butcher, Ruby and White, has also set up an online delivery service. This means I have not (yet) been unable to cook my chosen dish for want of the necessary ingredients.
I have turned more than once recently to Diana Henry’s most recent book, From the Oven to the Table. You will remember I cooked this chicken with sherry and torn sourdough recipe from it a while ago. Last week I made the Sausages and Lentils with Herb Relish, which I want to recommend to you. I have begun to feel uncomfortable about writing out someone else’s recipes in full. After all, food writers like Diana Henry, have spent months working on their cookbooks, devising recipes, cooking them probably several times, tweaking them and then writing them up for the likes of us. So from now on I will continue to point you in the direction of good recipes and tell you how I adapted them for Aga cooking, but unless they are my own, I will not write them out in full.
Until now, my most successful attempt at a sausages and lentils dish was the one I wrote about here. This one is similar but in my opinion, even better.
Diana Henry’s Sausages & Lentils with Herb Relish
My tips for adapting it for the Aga are as follows:
When browning the sausages, heat the oil in the sauté pan on the simmering plate, add the sausages and then place the pan on the floor of the roasting oven. Shake the pan after about five minutes, or take it out and turn the sausages over one by one before returning the pan to the roasting oven floor, to ensure they’re brown all over
When you’ve taken the sausages out of the pan and added the vegetables and pancetta, you can return it to the floor of the roasting oven to cook them quickly, but you must keep checking them; it’s hot in there and you don’t want to burn the onions. Alternatively, if you have enough time, you can cook them in the simmering oven
Once you’ve added the garlic and lentils and the stock mixture and returned the sausages to the pan, put it uncovered in the baking oven for about fifteen minutes before adding the remaining liquid if you think it needs it. Remember, you will get less evaporation in an Aga
At this point you can continue to cook the dish in the baking oven (for about 25 minutes) until the lentils are soft and the liquid has been absorbed, but you could also put it in the simmering oven and forget about it for a while. It all depends on how early you started cooking and when you want to eat
Do make the herb relish; it’s a delicious accompaniment to this dish. The only herb I had in my fridge was flatleaf parsley but combined with the capers, garlic, mustard and lemon, it worked perfectly.
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.
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
400ml chicken or beef stock
1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
1 tbsp plain flour
200g sour cream
3 tbsps chopped fresh dill
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
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.
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
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.)
For me Christmas is not the time for trying out new recipes so our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals don’t change much from year to year. When I was growing up (in England) with my Norwegian mother and English father we celebrated Christmas the Norwegian way on Christmas Eve and the English way on Christmas Day. This meant my brother and I could open our presents on Christmas Eve and our friends were rather jealous. The evening would begin with dinner and then we’d sit round the Christmas tree for the present opening. I’ve never opened presents on Christmas Day so I don’t know what it’s like but I can tell you there is something magical about doing it by candlelight when it’s dark outside.
When I married my husband I was fully expecting to leave the Norwegian Christmas Eve behind but he loved this way of doing it with all the cosiness and candles and insisted we kept the tradition going. I’m so glad we did because our children have always loved it, partly because it makes their Christmas a little bit different from their friends’.
Christmas Eve: Herrings
Our Christmas Eve meal always starts with Norwegian pickled herrings. We buy them from the Christmas Bazaar held every November in the The Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Rotherhithe, London. When she was younger, my mother used to spend a couple of days with friends in London helping to prepare these for sale at the bazaar. She doesn’t do that anymore so my sons have accepted the mission of going along on the Saturday of the bazaar and purchasing a few jars of this most delicious food. I haven’t managed to join them yet but intend to go along one year, if only for the waffles, cake and coffee on offer inside the church! We eat the herrings on rye bread accompanied by ice cold Linie Aquavit straight from the freezer and cold lager. So delicious.
Our Norwegian Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve: Spiced Pork Belly
There is more than one traditional Christmas Eve meal in Norway. On the West coast they have cod cooked in a special way. It is bought very fresh, cut into steaks, put in salted water overnight to tighten the flesh and then poached. It is served with melted butter and lots of chopped parsley and plain boiled carrots and potatoes. Perhaps surprisingly, Norwegians always drink red wine and not white with this dish. My mother’s family always had reindeer for their Christmas Eve meal but spiced pork belly, popular as a Christmas dish on the south coast of Norway where my grandfather was from, would also form part of their festive fare. We have made pork belly our traditional Hardy family Christmas Eve dish. I make it according to my grandmother’s recipe, passed to me by my mother, who has given me permission to share it with you here.
You will need:
Pork belly (you decide how much, depending on how many people you are feeding, but remember, it tastes just as good cold so any leftovers will not go to waste) with the skin removed (I get my butcher to do this) but the fat – very important this – left on
Ground ginger, salt, mustard powder and white pepper. I’m not giving you quantities except to say: be generous
The day before you want to serve the belly score the layer of fat with a sharp knife and rub lots of white pepper, ground ginger, mustard powder and salt into it on both sides and wrap it in clingfilm
Place it in the fridge fat side down for at least 24 hours
On Christmas Eve in the morning take the belly out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature
Sprinkle on some more salt
Choose a roasting tin (I always use the large Aga roasting tin because I tend to cook a whole belly), remove the clingfilm and place the meat in the tin, fat side down
Add about a cupful of water and cover with foil
Hang the tin on the second or third set of runners of the roasting oven, taking care that the foil doesn’t tear as you slide it in
After twenty minutes take it out, remove the foil, turn the pork over and add a little more water if it looks dry
Slide the tin onto the floor of the simmering oven and leave it there for the rest of the day, checking the water level every now and then. It will be cooked and delicious after five hours but even better and falling off the bone after eight or nine
I serve it with spiced red cabbage and roast potatoes, having made a divinely spicy and gingery gravy by adding some wine and sour cream to the meat juices.
My sons gave me two cookery books for my birthday. My daugher-in-law looked a bit sceptical and asked if I was sure they were what I wanted (I do have quite a few already), but I assured her it was. I had dropped a few (many) hints in the run-up to my birthday. One of the books was Diana Henry’s new one, How to Eat a Peach, which is a beautiful collection of menus rather than recipes; it’s also a sort of memoir, an account of the places she’s travelled to since she was a teenager, and where she discovered all the dishes she loves to cook and eat. I have already cooked a few of the recipes from the book, although I haven’t yet put together a whole menu. The first thing I made was this braised pork, which I pounced on because I knew it would be perfect for the AGA simmering oven. I adjusted the quantities because there were only four of us eating and off I went.
Braised Pork with Ginger and Star Anise
For the pork
About 1tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
1kg pork shoulder, cut into 3cm cubes
200g shallots, sliced
20g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
5 garlic cloves, finely grated or crushed
5 tbsps kecap manis
3 tbsps light soy sauce
11/2 tbsps tamarind paste
400ml chicken stock
1 star anise
2 medium-hot chillies, halved, deseeded and finely chopped
2 birds’ eye chillies, left whole
For the crispy fried shallots
Groundnut or vegetable oil
100g shallots, finely sliced
Sea salt flakes
Spread the pork out on a large baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide and drizzle with the oil
Place on the top rung or on the floor of the roasting oven for 10 minutes, then remove it, turn the meat over and return the tray to the roasting oven for about 5 minutes. Your aim is to have golden brown pieces of pork; you’re not trying to turn it dark brown
Meanwhileget on with your shallots. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in the casserole you want to braise your pork in. Do this on the simmering plate. Add the shallots, turn them over in the oil, put the lid on and transfer the casserole to the simmering oven for about 15 minutes until they are soft and golden
Stir the garlic and ginger in and return the pork to the pan along with the kecap manis, soy sauce, tamarind and stock
Bring to the boil on the boiling or simmering plate, add the star anise and all the chillies and place your casserole, uncovered, in the simmering oven for about 3 hours but, as I’m sure you know, when slow cooking in the Aga simmering oven the timing is not crucial as long as you end up with meltingly tender meat
Remove the star anise and the whole chillies
Meanwhile make the crispy fried shallots by heating about 2cm of oil in a small pan on the simmering plate. Add the shallots and fry, moving them around, until they are crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a sheet of kitchen towel on a plate and sprinkle with salt
If the liquid around the pork is not thick and glossy and seems a bit thin, remove the pork with a slotted spoon to a dish and keep it warm in the simmering oven. Boil the liquid for a while on the boiling or simmering plate until it’s reduced and then return the pork to the pan to heat through
Serve the pork with the crispy fried shallots sprinkled over. We ate ours with rice and stir-fried pak choi