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
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.
Pre-race chat at the boat tents
Can you tell I’m freezing cold?
Time to put the boat in the water
Time to head down to the start
Umpire’s boat: the great Sir Matthew Pinsent is there somewhere
Nearly at the finish
View from the stand
Husband holds my umbrella so I can take this photo
This blog has been much neglected in recent weeks. Sometimes life simply doesn’t offer up the moments of calm needed to sit down and concentrate on writing. For one thing, I’ve been totally absorbed in the political upheaval this country has been undergoing since the EU referendum result was announced on 24 June; and then we’ve also been busy (!) catching up with old friends at a couple of wonderful events. First was Henley Royal Regatta two weeks ago; we try to attend most years. My husband and I are both from that part of the world and I used to watch him row there when we first met. In recent years our son W has been a competitor and it’s been wonderful to go along and support his crew. We usually meet up with old friends and make a day of it and this year was no different. The weather was absolutely awful: windy, cool and pouring with rain much of the time. Only in Britain would you choose to put on a summer dress and spend the day in a field by the river in such atrocious conditions! Hope the photos above give you a flavour. There was respite to be found, of course, in the Pimms tent first and later in the lunch marquee. We sat in the grandstand after lunch to watch some of the races and then at last, at ten past seven in the evening, it was time to watch our son’s race. It had stopped raining by then and the sky had brightened slightly. I broadcast the latter part of the race on Periscope but, luckily for you, I haven’t yet set up my blog to play videos so you can’t watch it and hear me screaming as his crew overtook their opponents and won.
The weekend after that we met up with the same friends at mutual friends’ daughter’s 21st birthday party, which was amazing. We danced the night away, literally. When dawn broke at about 4.30am we decided it was time for bed but our hosts kept going until 7.30.
So, back to cooking. Unusually for me on a weekday, I cooked lunch on a Wednesday recently.
It was Jamie Oliver’s spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, balsamic and basil and brilliantly quick and easy to make. I needed to use up the tomatoes in a jar I’d opened a few weeks earlier. It says to consume them within 7 days of opening but I rarely achieve this and don’t think I’ve poisoned anyone yet.
Anyway, here is what you do:
Jamie Oliver’s Spaghetti with Red Onions, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Balsamic Vinegar and Basil
- 450g dried spaghetti
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped or sliced
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 handfuls of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
- 3 tbsps balsamic vinegar
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 handfuls of basil, torn
- Parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated, to serve
- Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente
- While doing this, slowly fry the onion in a couple of lugs (Jamie’s word) for a few minutes (in the simmering oven if you like) until soft and tender
- Stir in the tomatoes and balsamic and throw in your drained pasta
- Season and toss together with the basil
- Serve with the grated cheese
I adore fresh basil and at this time of year I keep a pot of it, bought from the supermarket, on my kitchen window sill and it does very well, as long as I keep it watered.
Salad can be many different things: a side dish or a main meal; vegetarian or containing meat; cold or warm. This delicious pasta salad works both as a (vegetarian) meal in itself and as an accompaniment to barbecued meats. Youngest son and I had it for supper the other night when my husband was at a meeting. We nearly didn’t have any supper at all. Just as we were sitting down to eat I dropped my glass of water on the granite work surface and it shattered into millions of pieces. I was still finding tiny shards of glass the next day, including in my sandal, even though I had vacuumed and swept very thoroughly. Fortunately though, I’d moved the bowl of salad to the table before dropping the glass so we were able to eat our supper without tearing our insides to shreds.
We ate this with some roasted asparagus spears. At this time of year, my kitchen is hardly ever without British asparagus. You have to make the most of the short season.
Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Basil and Black Olives
- 175g dried pasta
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and sliced
- 225g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4-6 spring onions, sliced
- 8-12 black olives, pitted and halved
- 8-12 fresh basil leaves, torn
- 2 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
- 2 tbsp oil (from the sun-dried tomato jar)
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 1 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
- pinch of sugar
- sea salt and black pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Basil leaves to garnish
- Cook pasta until al dente, drain and refresh with cold water. Turn into a large bowl and toss with the oil
- Add sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, olives and basil. Toss
- Make dressing: put sun-dried tomatoes, oils, vinegar, garlic and tomato paste in a blender (I used my mini food processor) with the sugar, salt and pepper and blitz until fairly smooth
Mini food processor
- Pour dressing over the pasta and toss well. Ideally leave it for 1-2 hours for the flavours to infuse
- Garnish with basil
To roast asparagus:
Snap off the bottoms and lay the spears in rows on a roasting tray. Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on some sea salt. Put the tray in a hot oven (near the top of the Aga roasting oven) for 10 minutes, giving it a bit of a wiggle after 5 to move the spears around a little. You can eat them hot like this, or let them cool then add a little lemon juice and black pepper, and maybe some shavings of parmesan to make another delicious salad.