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
When we had our Aga installed in our new kitchen twelve years ago, we considered making space for a conventional hob and oven so that we could turn the Aga off during the summer months as many Aga owners do. We decided against it though, partly because the kitchen lay-out didn’t really allow for it and partly because I felt that if I was going to be an Aga cook it should be the whole year round. I have not regretted this decision. Until this summer that is. I have found myself occasionally cursing the Aga while melting into a puddle on the kitchen floor. It has just been so hot that the last thing I want to do is stand near the Aga, let alone open its doors and place things in it! If it weren’t for the ability to open wide the large sash windows of our Victorian house, I might have left home by now!
That was a rather long-winded way of explaining that the reason I haven’t posted any Aga recipes lately is because I haven’t been cooking many. Mind you, I don’t think it’s only Aga owners like me who’ve not felt much like cooking during this heatwave. I get the impression we’ve all been making salads and barbecuing. But at some point last week it cooled down a little and even rained. Last Sunday dawned wet and windy: normal summer had returned and I was perfectly happy pottering about in the kitchen “around the Aga” making lunch. I opted to make an old favourite from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection book which was hugely popular when it came out in 1993. All my friends seemed to be cooking from it, whether it was Piedmont Roasted Peppers, Thai Salmon Filo Parcels or Pesto Rice Salad. Some of the ingredients in the recipes (fresh coriander, lemongrass, pesto, chillies, couscous) were new to us or at least not part of our daily repertoire and not always easy to get hold of. The Chicken with Sherry Vinegar and Tarragon recipe is Delia’s Spanish take on the classic French Poulet au Vinaigre, and I’ve adapted it slightly for the Aga.
Chicken with Sherry Vinegar and Tarragon
- 8 chicken thighs or a whole chicken jointed into 8 pieces
- 150ml sherry vinegar
- 425ml medium-dry Amontillado sherry*
- 12 shallots, peeled and left whole
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 2 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves
- 1 heaped tbsp crème fraîche
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- A few more sprigs of tarragon to garnish
- Season the chicken pieces and brush with a little of the oil
- Heat a large frying pan or sauté pan on the simmering plate and add the chicken, skin side down, to brown it. You can do this by leaving the pan on the simmering plate, but to stop your Aga losing heat (remember the 80/20 rule which says you should do 80% of your cooking in the ovens and no more than 20% on the hot plates), you can place the pan on the floor of the roasting oven to do this. Once golden brown, turn the chicken pieces over to do the same on the other side
- Remove the chicken to a plate, return the pan to the simmering plate and add the remaining oil followed by the shallots to brown them a little
- Add the garlic cloves to colour them slightly
- Return the chicken pieces to the pan, scatter the tarragon leaves over, then pour in the vinegar and sherry
- Bring it up to simmering point and transfer it to the simmering oven to braise slowly. You know the drill: it will not come to any harm in there. Probably needs about an hour so here so if you want it to cook more quickly I suggest you put it in a hotter oven (baking oven if you have one) for 30 minutes or so. Halfway through the cooking time turn the chicken pieces over
- When you’re nearly ready to eat remove the chicken pieces, shallots and garlic from the pan while you whisk in the crème fraîche. The sauce should be thick by now but you might want to bring it to the boil on the simmering plate to reduce it a little further
- Check the seasoning and then either return the chicken and shallots to the pan (if it’s nice enough to serve it in) or pour the sauce over the chicken in a suitable serving dish
- Garnish with the tarragon sprigs
* As you know, with Aga cooking there is less evaporation meaning that less liquid is required. I have given Delia’s quantities here but in all honestly there was a lot of sauce and I think I could have used about 100ml less sherry.
The first lemon and ricotta cake I made was not a success. It was a Jamie Oliver recipe and didn’t really work, producing a rather dense cake. It may of course be entirely my fault and I might try it again one day. On the other hand, I’m not sure why I’d bother because yesterday I made a Diana Henry version from her book Simple and it was light and moist and delicious.
This cake works as an afternoon tea cake but also as a dessert served perhaps with some berries and crème fraîche or whipped cream. It’s best eaten slightly warm. It’s the ricotta that makes the cake moist but it also means it doesn’t keep that well. Don’t do what I did and make it on a day when hardly anyone’s around to share it with you because it really is best eaten on the day it’s made. If you do have some left, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate it. This is what I did and the next day I gave it a blast (a minute or two at high heat) in the microwave to warm it up a little and it freshened up beautifully. I was thrilled when our Italian friend, who is very particular about the food of his homeland and whose late wife was the most wonderful cook, gave it his approval.
Lemon and Ricotta Cake
Serves 8 (depending on hunger/greed)
You will need a 20cm springform tin, lightly greased and base-lined (with bake-o-glide)
- 175g unsalted butter, softened
- 175g golden caster sugar
- Finely grated zest of 4 unwaxed lemons and the juice of 3
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 250g fresh ricotta, drained in a sieve
- 100g self-raising flour, sifted
- 25g ground almonds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Icing sugar to serve
- Beat the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy
- Lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork and gradually add them, beating well after each addition
- Stir the lemon zest and drained ricotta into the batter
- Whisk the egg whites until they form medium peaks
- Stir the lemon juice into the batter, then fold in the flour, almonds and baking powder
- Fold two big spoonfuls of the egg whites into the batter to loosen it, then fold in the rest
- Scrape the batter into the prepared tin
- Put it in the baking oven and bake for 45-50 minutes; a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean once it’s cooked
- Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then remove the springform ring and let it continue to cool, although as I mentioned above it’s delicious served slightly warm
- Dust with icing sugar to serve
As we Aga cooks all know, cooking a quiche in an Aga couldn’t be easier because there is no blind baking required. You just have to add the filling to your pastry-lined tin and place the whole thing on the floor of the roasting oven to bake for 30 minutes or less. The pastry will cook from underneath avoiding a “soggy bottom”, as Mary Berry would tell you. The top will be golden brown.
The classic quiche is Quiche Lorraine made with bacon and Gruyère cheese, but there are so many variations you could try. For example, Diana Henry’s delicious salmon and crab tart with Thai flavours which I wrote about here.
Yesterday I made a simple smoked salmon quiche based on a Delia Smith recipe from her Complete Cookery Course. It was for a picnic for my husband and two friends who have been spending today salmon and trout fishing on the Usk. They also took with them roast asparagus dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, some mini pork pies (not homemade, I’m afraid), strawberries, rock cakes (my own), cinnamon buns (our favourite ones from Hart’s Bakery) and flasks of tea and coffee. They will not starve. I think I spotted a bottle of wine in the picnic basket too.
Smoked Salmon Quiche
Quantities here are for a 20cm fluted quiche tin, ideally with a loose bottom. Yesterday I doubled the quantities and used a 28cm tin.
For the pastry:
- 110g plain flour
- 25g lard
- 25g butter
- a pinch of salt
- cold water, to mix
For the filling:
- 175 smoked salmon, chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 275ml double cream
- freshly grated nutmeg
- a dash of cayenne pepper
- Salt and black pepper
- Lightly grease your tin
- Make up the pastry by rubbing the fats into the flour and salt with your fingertips and adding a little cold water to combine. Rest it in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm for at least half an hour. Alternatively, use shop-bought pastry; I don’t mind one bit
- Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line your tin with it
- Arrange the smoked salmon over the pastry base in the tin
- Beat the eggs with the cream and add salt, pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg to taste
- Pour the filling into the tin and sprinkle over a little cayenne pepper
- Carefully slide the tin onto the floor of the roasting oven and bake for 20-30 minutes. Check it at 20 minutes and turn it round. When the pastry is golden and the filling is firm and golden brown, it is ready
Or is it pilaf? I believe the words are synonymous, but perhaps it depends if your dish is Middle Eastern (pilaf) or Indian (pilau). This one is a pilau because it’s based on one of Meera Sodha’s from her wonderful book Fresh India, which I mentioned here and a copy of which I now own.
A pilau is made with long grain rice and is a great way of using up leftover ingredients, which is what I was doing the other night when I made it. I added asparagus because at this time of year during the British asparagus season, hardly a day goes by when it isn’t on our menu at home.
A couple more points: first, I don’t always have fresh ginger in my fridge, but I do make sure I keep a bag of Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients chopped ginger in my freezer, also useful when I’m in a hurry; secondly, when a recipe requires vegetable stock I almost always make it with Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon powder, which I thoroughly recommend.
For two servings
- 110g/4oz white basmati rice
- 175ml/6 floz vegetable stock (see above)
- 1 onion, sliced
- 5cm piece of cinnamon stick
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 1 green chilli, sliced (deseeded if you want less heat)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- Lump of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (or some of the frozen stuff: see above)
- 100g broad beans, cooked and then slipped out of their skins
- 200g courgettes, roughly chopped
- 100g asparagus
- 100g green beans
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped fresh herbs: dill, coriander, parsley, mint…whatever you have to hand
- First, cook the rice the Aga way in the simmering oven, except using the vegetable stock instead of water. It will wait happily in the simmering oven until you’re ready to add it to the vegetables
- Meanwhile heat the oil in a saucepan and add the cinnamon stick and cumin seeds
- After a minute add the onion and stir to coat the slices in the oil
- Put a lid on and transfer to the simmering oven until the onion is soft and translucent
- Add the chilli, garlic and ginger and return to the simmering oven
- Cook the green beans in boiling water and drain them, pouring over lots of cold water so they retain their greenness
- Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and discard. Slice the spears, reserving the tips
- After 5-10 minutes add the courgettes to the pan, stir to coat in the oil and add a little water
- Replace the lid and return to the simmering oven. 10 minutes or so later, do the same with the sliced asparagus and add the tips about 5 minutes after that
- Finally add the broad beans, green beans and some seasoning. When these are hot and the other vegetables are tender, fold in the rice
- Sprinkle over the herbs and serve with lemon wedges
It is so ridiculously easy to cook rice in an Aga that I thought I’d tell you how I do it, in case you haven’t discovered this method. It’s the absorption method; nothing new there, you might say, but doing it in the Aga simmering oven takes simplicity to a whole new level. I discovered it in the original Mary Berry “The Aga Book” (now out of print) which came with my brand new Aga twelve years ago. I still use this book a great deal but some of the recipes are somewhat dated and I suspect that nowadays new owners get her updated “The Complete Aga Cookbook”, which also includes the rice instructions.
Once you have learnt how to cook rice this way, you will not look back. I always use basmati and my favourite brand is Tilda but this method is for any long grain rice.
For 4 servings
- 225g/8oz white basmati rice
- 350ml/12 fl oz water
- 225/8oz brown basmati rice
- 420ml/14 fl oz water
- Wash the rice by rinsing it in a few changes of water until the water runs clear
- Tip the rice into a saucepan with the water and 1 tsp salt
- Bring to the boil on the boiling plate
- Give it a single stir, put the lid on and place in the simmering oven for about 20 minutes (for white) and 40-45 minutes (for brown) until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, but in both cases it will not come to any harm if left in the simmering oven for twice as long
- Fork through the rice before serving
This is a recipe passed to me years ago by my 93 year old mother-in-law. She used to knock up these biscuits for my boys when they came home from school, or make a batch to go with fruit and ice-cream for our Sunday dessert.
I made them today to accompany strawberries and whipped cream. I know it’s only April and the temperature outside makes it feel more like March, but the strawberries in Waitrose looked so beautifully red and plump, I couldn’t resist buying them. They did not disappoint.
These biscuits are buttery, short and light and couldn’t be easier to make.
For about 16 biscuits
- 225g self-raising flour
- 50g caster sugar
- 175g butter, softened
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and mix until combined in a soft dough
- Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out to a thickness of approx 5mm
- Cut out into rounds, using a 7cm cutter
- Slide a metal spatula or a large palette knife under each (rather delicate) round and place on the full size Aga baking tray lined with Bake-O-Glide. You will need to do bake these in two batches
- Place the tray on the third rung from the top of the baking oven for about 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown
- Leave them on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack