Ragù

Ragù

 

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. EE573656-7F71-4B7F-9A1D-F427DB65EDE4My 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.

Mum’s Ragù 

(Sorry, not sure how many people this large quantity will serve, but I’d say at least 10)

Ingredients

  • 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
  • Seasoning

Method

  • 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

Son’s Ragù

(serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 405 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)

Method

  • 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

The combination of pasta and tomato sauce is one of my favourite things, and I make it a lot. I probably make Felicity Cloake’s “perfect” sauce the most but not every time. Another favourite is the one I told you about here.

Whenever we eat this I’m transported back to when my boys were young. I would make it for them at least once a week; clean plates were guaranteed. Of course one could easily pick up a tub of sauce from the supermarket, and sometimes on busy days I would do this, but in truth it doesn’t take long to prepare your own. I’d like to think that’s what Italians would do. In fact I happened to be chatting on the phone to an Italian friend when making tomato sauce yesterday, and he gave me a few tips. You see I had bought some fresh San Marzano plum tomatoes in my local Waitrose IMG_3587 and wanted to make my sauce with these instead of the usual tinned tomatoes. I’m sure in Italy this sauce is made with fresh tomatoes a lot of the time, but until relatively recently we couldn’t even buy fresh plum tomatoes here so we all use tinned. I knew the San Marzano was considered to be a superior tomato and a quick Google search revealed that it’s also sweeter and less acidic than other plum tomatoes. I normally add a little sugar when cooking tomatoes but didn’t in this case: they were sweet enough.

My friend Antonio said there was no need even to cook them: I could just chop them up, add a little olive oil, basil and seasoning, and add them to hot pasta. I will do that next time but I had already chopped an onion which was softening in some olive oil in the simmering oven. His next tip was to slightly undercook the spaghetti, drain it and then finishing cooking it in the sauce. He also said to add some grated parmesan at the same time as adding the pasta. I will describe everything I did below.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 700g fresh San Marzano plum tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • About three basil stalks, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • A handful of basil leaves
  • Grated parmesan, to taste

Method

  • Add the olive oil and chopped onion to a sauté pan or wide saucepan and heat gently on the simmering plate
  • Cover and place in the simmering oven until the onion is soft
  • Add the basil stalks and garlic and cook for a minute on the simmering plate before stirring in the tomatoes, red wine vinegar and some salt and pepper
  • Place the pan in the simmering oven for about an hour but it could well be ready before that and will not come to any harm if you leave it for longer than that. I covered my pan for part of the time but am not sure it makes much difference
  • Meanwhile cook your spaghetti according to packet instructions but for 1 or 2 minutes less than prescribed
  • Drain and add it immediately, with some of the cooking water still clinging to it, to your sauce
  • Add some grated parmesan to the pan
  • Toss it all together for a couple of minutes with the pan on the simmering plate; the pasta will absorb a little of the sauce and finishing cooking
  • To serve, add the basil leaves, shredded if large, and have some more grated Parmesan on the table for whoever wants it

Rocket dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper is the perfect accompaniment, as is this bottle of Valpolicella.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pappardelle with Porcini and Pancetta

Pappardelle with Porcini and Pancetta

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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

 

fullsizeoutput_2fc9

Aga Oven Rice

Aga Oven Rice

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

or

  • 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

 

 

Navarin of Lamb

Navarin of Lamb

The Country Wives were kind enough to publish this recipe on their website recently.

When cooler temperatures and rain put paid to our barbecue plans on Sunday, I decided to make Navarin of Lamb, a delicious braise which uses a variety of spring vegetables. I didn’t have in my kitchen any of the baby turnips or carrots which are traditional but knew I could make the dish with what I did have, and the recipe below is the result. Use any good veg you can find, with this recipe as a guide.

Navarin of Lamb

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 600g lamb neck fillet cut into large dice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil and a knob of butter
  • 1 small onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • I clove garlic, bruised
  • Sprig or two of thyme
  • Sprig of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 100ml white wine
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 225g baby new potatoes
  • 100g carrots (baby carrots left whole or “old” carrots peeled and cut into thick batons)
  • 150g frozen baby broad beans
  • 150g frozen petits pois

Method

  • Heat the oil and butter in a shallow, heavy-bottomed casserole on the boiling plate and add the onions, celery and pieces of lamb
  • Stir for a few minutes to brown the lamb before moving the casserole to the simmering plate and adding some seasoning, the tomato purée and white wine. Let this bubble for a couple of minutes and then add the garlic, bay leaf, herbs and stock
  • Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, cover and place in the simmering oven for 1½ hours but longer would be fine: in an Aga nothing dries out
  • About half an hour before you want to eat, place the potatoes and carrots in a saucepan with a little salt, a teaspoon of caster sugar, a knob of butter and 100ml of water. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, cover and transfer to the simmering oven
  • Cook the peas, drain and rinse in cold water so they retain their colour
  • Cook the broad beans, drain and rinse in cold water and slip off the skins
  • Remove the lamb from the casserole to a plate, discard the garlic, herbs and bay leaf and bring the broth to the boil on the simmering plate to reduce it a little
  • Return the lamb to the casserole and, having checked they’re tender, add the potatoes and carrots and finally the peas and broad beans
  • Taste for seasoning, sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve

 

Braised Pork with Ginger and Star Anise

Braised Pork with Ginger and Star Anise

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 71ztiybGwmLcollection 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

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Method

  • 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
  • Meanwhile  get 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

Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin

Following on from my boeuf bourgignon post, here’s another classic recipe. Coq au Vin is in fact just boeuf bourgignon but with chicken. Discuss. Seriously, sometimes I wonder why we keep looking for new ideas when the classic, tried and tested recipes are so good; I mean, there’s a reason they’ve been around for so long. It has not escaped my notice, by the way, that the two I mention here are French.

If you Google “Coq au Vin” you will find many different ways of making it but the ingredients don’t vary much. I based mine on Delia’s recipe. Good old Delia: she provides clear instructions and retains all the essential elements without sacrificing flavour. And because we are Aga cooks, we can be relaxed about the cooking time and leave our dish bubbling gently in the simmering oven for longer than the 40 minutes – 1 hour most recipes recommend. Chatting about this in my “I love my Aga” Facebook group, there was discussion about how to thicken the sauce. You could dust the chicken pieces with flour first, but I rather like the method I give here which is to whisk in a butter and flour paste at the end.

I don’t know if anyone uses the cock bird to make this dish anymore. In fact, I don’t know if it would be possible to get hold of one. A chicken, jointed into 8 pieces has become traditional here and I confess that when I made this recently, I just used good quality chicken thighs I bought from Waitrose.

Coq au Vin

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • A 2kg chicken jointed into 8 pieces or 8 good quality, large chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter and olive oil
  • 225g unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped
  • Button onions or shallots, 2-3 per person, peeled and left whole
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Approx. 500ml red wine
  • 225g mushrooms, sliced thickly
  • A butter and flour paste (beurre manié) made by mashing 1tbsp soft butter with 1tbsp plain flour
  • A handful of chopped, fresh parsley

Method

  • Season the chicken pieces
  • Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan on the simmering plate and add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Transfer to the floor of the roasting oven for 5-10 minutes to brown
  • Take it out, turn the chicken pieces over and return to the roasting oven floor for a further 5 minutes or so
  • Remove the chicken and put it in a casserole that has a lid
  • Add the onions and bacon to the frying pan making sure they’re coated in the fat and fry until coloured (on the roasting oven floor again)
  • Tip the onions and bacon into the casserole and add the garlic, thyme, bay and red wine, which should not cover the chicken completely
  • Bring this to simmering point on the boiling plate and then put the lid on the casserole and place it in the simmering oven for two to three hours, turning the chicken pieces over halfway through. If you want it to cook more quickly, I reckon you could put it in the baking oven or maybe even the roasting oven, but I did not try this so I can’t vouch for it
  • About 30 minutes before you want to eat, add the mushrooms
  • Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and keep them warm
  • Place the casserole on the simmering plate and when the wine is bubbling, whisk in the beurre manié and let it simmer until the sauce is thick and glossy. Taste for seasoning
  • Return everything to the sauce, sprinkle over the parsley and serve