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 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
- 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
- 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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
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.
Before you all shout “it’s much too early to think about Christmas”, I agree with you. Except when it comes to cooking. There are things you can prepare to get ahead and things you simply must make weeks, or even months, beforehand.
For me the Christmas/New Year period is not really a time for trying out new recipes. It gets so busy with the house full and lots of comings and goings that I prefer to stick to tried and tested recipes. We all have our traditions and my family is no exception; our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals do not vary much from year to year. Then for a few days after that most meals comprise leftovers in some form or other. During the whole Christmas period last year there were never fewer than 5 of us in the house and most days we were 7 or 8 with a maximum of 12 of us sitting round the table for the Christmas turkey. In recent years we’ve also stayed at home on New Year’s Eve instead of going to a party and I’ve cooked a special dinner. One year I splashed out on a whole beef fillet which was so popular it has now become our traditional New Year’s Eve meal.
Last year I told you about my Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and I wrote a post about the Norwegian apple cake we always have on Christmas Eve. In the coming weeks I plan to write up a few more of my Christmas recipes and tell you how I’ve adapted them for Aga cooking. I’m starting with braised red cabbage because it’s a delicious accompaniment to many winter dishes and there’s no reason you shouldn’t cook and enjoy it right now. It also freezes brilliantly: I nearly always do this and then defrost it and zap it in the microwave on the day I plan to serve it. This recipe is based on one by Delia Smith.
Braised Red Cabbage
(Pre-heat conventional oven to 150ºC)
- 1 red cabbage
- 1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- About ¼ of a whole nutmeg, grated
- About ¼ tsp ground cinnammon (optional)
- About ¼ tsp ground cloves (optional)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 10 g butter
- Salt and pepper
- Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage, quarter it and remove the hard stalk
- Shred each quarter but not too finely
- Place the cabbage in a casserole and mix in the apple, onion, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper, nutmeg and other spices if using.
- Pour over the wine vinegar and dot with the butter
- Cover with a lid and place it in the simmering oven for at least four hours; as ever though, it will come to no harm in your Aga if left for longer than that. (Conventional oven: 1½ to 2 hours.)
- Take it out and give it a stir every now and then. It is done when it is tender
Take one red cabbage
And a cooking apple, garlic, onion, nutmeg…
Cut in half then quarter
Add spices, seasoning, apple, onion, garlic, sugar, red wine vinegar
Dot with butter
Four hours later…
My husband was in London recently and on a whim, bought a black truffle that had just arrived in a new Italian Deli on the King’s Road and brought it home; he adores truffle. It was expensive (about £7) but you don’t need very much and can make it last for several meals. I wasn’t sure I could do it justice at first but the beauty of this small black nugget of earthy flavour is that you don’t actually have to do anything to it for it to enhance a meal. What made it really expensive was the Affetta Tartufi I bought (see photo below)! I’m always interested in quality when buying for my kitchen.
I made mushroom risotto one night: my husband acted the Italian waiter and with “pennacchio” shaved some of the truffle onto our bowls: delicious.
Then last night I cooked chicken forestière and again, we shaved truffle onto the finished dish. We don’t cook as seasonally as we used to, do we? But I do like to try. For example, I wouldn’t dream of using strawberries in December, even if they were available to buy in the supermarket. I also only cook asparagus when the British version is in season in May/June.
Chicken forestière, with its wild and chestnut mushrooms, feels like the perfect autumnal supper so I’m going to tell you how to make it here (adapted from a Diana Henry – who else? – recipe from her book A Bird in the Hand for my AGA):
- 8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken legs, skin on, bone in
- 20g dried wild mushrooms
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, halved and sliced
- 75ml Madeira (or if you don’t have any, sherry would work)
- A couple of carrots, cut into batons
- 175ml of chicken stock
- 150ml double cream
- 150g whole button or quartered chestnut mushrooms
- 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour over 50ml boiling water. Leave to soak for about 20 minutes
- Meanwhile, season the chicken and heat a sauté pan on the simmering plate and place the chicken in it in a single layer. No need to add oil at this stage.
- Brown the chicken on both sides, taking care not turn the pieces over until they can easily be moved, or the skin will tear
- Remove the chicken from the pan and put it in a dish
- Pour the chicken fat into a frying pan and put this to one side
- Add the tablespoon of oil to the sauté pan and cook the onions (slowly in the simmering oven if you like) until soft
- Deglaze the pan with the madeira and add the carrots, stock, wild mushrooms and their soaking liquor
- Bring to the boil, cover and cook for 10 minutes on the simmering plate or if you have time for 30 minutes in the simmering oven
- Return the chicken to the pan with any juices that have run out of it. Cover and cook, choosing the simmering oven if you have plenty of time (an hour or more) or a hotter oven if you are in a hurry. I wouldn’t leave it in the roasting oven for more than 15 minutes. You could start if off there and then finish it off in the simmering oven
- Stir in the cream and return to the simmering oven for at least 10 minutes with the lid off
- Now place your frying pan on the boiling plate to heat the chicken fat and cook the mushrooms briskly until they are golden brown. Season and add to the chicken, stirring gently to combine everything
- Taste for seasoning and scatter over the chopped parsley
- The addition of the shaved truffle to individual servings is recommended but not essential
We had ours with steamed new potatoes, broccoli and green beans.