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.
Blood oranges are available in the shops at the moment, and at the time of writing Covid-19 has not caused us to panic buy them. They are delicious eaten on their own as one of our five-a-day or baked in a tart or cake, but why not try using them in savoury recipes too?
In this all-in-one-tin dish, the chicken acquires a delicious crisp, caramelised skin and its juices combine with all the other ingredients to make a wonderfully flavourful supper.
I got the idea from a Sainsbury’s recipe by Sarah Randell, but there were quite a few stages to it and in adapting it for the Aga, I realised the process could be made much simpler.
Chicken, fennel and blood orange traybake
- 4 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
- 1 red onion
- 1 fennel bulb
- 2 blood oranges
- 350g Charlotte potatoes (or any waxy type)
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 6 unpeeled garlic cloves
- 6 small rosemary sprigs
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
- 2 tbsps clear honey
- 100ml Madeira or Marsala
- 35g pistachios
- Quarter the potatoes lengthways
- Peel the onion, halve it and then cut each half into four wedges
- Trim the fennel and slice into thin wedges
- Place the potatoes, onion, fennel, cinnamon, garlic and rosemary in the small Aga roasting tin, season and toss everything in the olive oil
- Season the chicken thighs and tuck them in among everything else in the roasting tin
- Mix the juice of one of the oranges with the honey and stir in the Madeira/Marsala
- Pour about half of this over everything and slide the tin onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven for 15 minutes
- After this time pour over the remaining juice/honey/Madeira mixture and return the tin to the roasting oven for about 25 minutes, but check it after 15
- Quarter the other orange and then chop each quarter in half and add these to the roasting tin for the final 10 minutes or so of cooking
- If you want to slow things down you can place the tin in the simmering oven once the chicken has a good colour, after about 30 minutes, and leave it there until you’re ready to eat
- Meanwhile put the pistachios on the small Aga baking tray and bake in the baking oven for 4-5 minutes until nicely toasted. Leave to cool and then chop roughly. Sprinkle over the finished dish
I served this straight from the tin since it was just the two of us, but you could of course transfer everything to a nice serving dish or platter. Don’t waste any of the delicious juices in the tin and spoon some over each serving. Serve with a green vegetable or salad.
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
- 20g butter
- 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
All my favourites in one dish: Diana Henry; a new one tin recipe; chicken thighs; sourdough. This is one of those perfect for the Aga one tin dishes which has the added bonus of using up some of the sourdough I have been making. My sourdough is improving and everyone seems to enjoy eating it but this new pastime has brought out the perfectionist in me and I haven’t yet achieved my ideal loaf. I am beginning to understand what drives people to keep baking sourdough. Part of the enjoyment is reading books about it and watching video demonstrations. I am aspiring to make Chad Robertson’s “basic country bread” as described in his wonderful book “Tartine“. I am reading it avidly and am grateful to my youngest son for leaving it at home when he returned to university this week. The other sourdough book I’m finding invaluable is James Morton’s “Super Sourdough” which my sons gave me for Christmas.
Anyway, back to the chicken recipe. It’s from Diana Henry’s latest wonderful book “From the Oven to the Table” and I hope you find it as delicious, interesting and distinctive as we did. The great thing is it’s very easy to up the quantities, using an additional roasting tin, without much extra work. You would need to allow some extra time in the oven and swap the tins round halfway through to make sure all the chicken pieces achieved that golden brown crispiness.
- 175g sourdough bread, torn into pieces roughly 5cm square
- 450g small waxy potatoes, cut into chunks
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into wedges
- 6 thyme sprigs
- 1-2 tsps (according to preference) chilli flakes
- 1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
- 150g pancetta or bacon, ideally in one piece cut into chunks, but I used rashers which I chopped up
- 8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
- 2 tbsps sherry vinegar
- 220ml amontillado sherry
- 5 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- 150g spring onions, trimmed
- 50g raisins
- 100g bitter salad leaves such as radicchio or chicory
- 25g toasted pine nuts
- Put the bread, onion, potatoes, thyme, chilli and garlic cloves in the large Aga roasting tin
- Add the pancetta or bacon and the chicken thighs
- Pour on the sherry vinegar, 70ml of the sherry and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil
- Season and toss everything round with your hands, finishing with the chicken thighs skin side up. Make sure the bread isn’t too exposed, or lying at the edges, or it will become too dark
- Slide onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven and roast for 25 minutes, tossing the ingredients round and turning the tin round once. Keep the chicken skin side up
- Mix the spring onions with the last tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl and lay them on top of the tin, adding another 50ml sherry
- Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes
- Pour the remaining sherry into a small pan with the raisins and bring to just under the boil on the boiling plate. Leave these to sit, then add them to the roasting tin for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time
- For us this was a kitchen supper so I served it from the tin and placed a salad bowl of red chicory dressed with balsamic and olive oil on the table. Alternatively, you could transfer everything to a large serving dish and mix in the leaves
- Throw on the pine nuts and serve
I may have mentioned before how much I love recipes where everything is cooked in one tin or pot. The great thing is, Agas are particularly suited to this sort of cooking. At the shop of the beautiful National Trust property Trerice in Cornwall in the summer, I bought Rukmini Iyer’s books The Roasting Tin and The Green Roasting Tin, which are excellent and inspiring. Last night though I had specific ingredients I needed to use up for supper so I made up my own one tin recipe, taking ideas from those books, Jamie Oliver and Meera Sodha.
Cauliflower, Chicken and Potato Traybake
- 1 large cauliflower
- 500g potatoes (I used Charlotte but any waxy potato would be fine)
- 1kg chicken wings
- 6 tbsps rapeseed oil
- 30g bunch coriander
- 2 tsps cumin seeds
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- 1 ¼ tsp salt
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Chop the potatoes into 3cm chunks
- Separate out the cauliflower into smallish florets, about the same size as your potato pieces
- Finely chop the coriander stalks, placing the leafy sprigs in a bowl of cold water to keep them fresh until needed
- Place all of the above in your large Aga roasting tin
- Grind the cumin seeds and mix with the salt, chilli powder, turmeric and rapeseed oil and pour all this over your vegetables in the tin making sure everything is coated in oil. Add a little more oil if you think it’s required
- Slide your roasting tin onto the second set of runners of the roasting oven and roast for 15 minutes
- Season your chicken wings and add them to the tin, nestling them in between your vegetables but if you run out of space just rest them on top
- Return the tin to the roasting oven, this time on the top set of runners for about half an hour but check after 15 minutes and turn everything round a bit so that everything is cooked and some edges are a little charred
- Before serving pour over the lemon juice and garnish with the coriander sprigs
NB You could use chicken thighs for this but then I would add them at the beginning because they need a longer cooking time.
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. My 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.
(Sorry, not sure how many people this large quantity will serve, but I’d say at least 10)
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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
I recently took part in a fun Twitter challenge. Jenny Linford (@jennylinford) invited her followers every day for a week to name their seven favourite cookbooks. As well as making my choices, which wasn’t easy, I so enjoyed browsing the hashtag #7favouritecookbooks. Of course many of the books mentioned were my own favourites too while some I’d heard about but never owned (and now want to!) and some I’d never come across but now want to explore. The books in my selection were well used by me, obviously, and in several cases constituted just one example of work by my favourite cookery writers like Delia Smith and Diana Henry.
Recently for friends I made the roasted vegetable couscous dish in Delia’s Summer Collection, one of my seven choices. They all remarked how the dish had stood the test of time and that it reminded them what an excellent book it is. We agreed on what an impact it had had and how it had changed the way we cooked: suddenly we were needing fresh coriander and limes all the time and as for roasting vegetables as an alternative to boiling or frying them, this was a revelation.
I make this type of roasted ratatouille all the time now, sometimes with the harissa dressing and couscous, but mostly to serve with roasted or barbecued meat. Leftovers are delicious warm or cold with a dollop of hummus. This summer I’ve been making a similar dish which particularly complements fish, but also goes well with meat; it’s the Sicilian caponata. The authentic way of making it is to fry each vegetable separately but the other day I thought I’d try roasting them all together in the same way I’d do the roasted ratatouille; this seemed to me to be the ideal Aga way. Only the tomatoes are prepared separately and then added at the end.
I was guided by the caponata recipe in Xanthe Clay’s lovely book “The Contented Cook”.
- 1 large aubergine, cubed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, cut into 10 or 12 wedges
- 1 fat garlic clove, crushed
- 2 red peppers, deseeded and thickly sliced
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced (save the frondy tops)
- 2-3 large, ripe tomatoes (I used plum; you could use tinned if you don’t have any fresh ones)
- 1/2 glass red wine
- 2 tbsps red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- Handful of green olives
- 2 tbsps capers
- Basil leaves (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Place the aubergine, onion, garlic, peppers and fennel in the small Aga roasting tin
- Season and stir in about 3 tbsps of olive oil, coating everything
- Slide the tin onto the top set of runners in the roasting oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are soft and slightly charred in places
- Meanwhile put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave for a couple of minutes, then drain under cold water and peel off the skins and deseed. Chop the flesh
- Put the wine, wine vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil on the simmering plate. Add the chopped tomato and cook in the simmering oven until the mixture has reduced to a thick sauce. Season and stir it into the cooked vegetables.
- Leave to cool to room temperature before mixing in the olives, capers and the basil or fennel fronds
- Check the seasoning and serve