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
- 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)
- 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
Before she became a TV celebrity Mary Berry was known as an Aga cook who ran courses on how to get the most out of your Aga as well as for writing The Aga Book which I believe is still given to every new Aga owner when their new oven is installed. My mother-in-law, who has owned a few Agas in her time, learned how to make this stew on one of Mary Berry’s courses and wrote it out for me many years ago because she thought it was so simple yet so delicious. I never got round to making it then but when I found a jar of sun-dried tomatoes which needed using up in my fridge recently, the recipe sprang to mind and I dug it out.
You can make this the day before, refrigerate it overnight and reheat it gently in the simmering oven the next day. I have never worked out why but casseroles are often better when made a day ahead.
The quantities of wine and stock given here are approximate because, as we Aga cooks know, you tend to need less liquid in an Aga. I start with the wine and stop pouring when the meat is almost but not completely covered. You can always add stock later on if you think it needs it.
Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew
(Serves 4 generously)
- 800g braising beef, cubed
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp flour
- Approx. 250ml red wine
- (Approx. 250ml beef stock: see above)
- 10-12 sun-dried tomatoes, halved
- 10g dried mushrooms (I used porcini)
- 1 red or yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 tbsp apricot jam
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- First you need to brown the meat. To avoid splashing oil everywhere you can do this in the roasting oven, as I did when I made boeuf bourgignon
- Spread the beef out on your large baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide if you like, drizzle it with olive oil and season
- Slide the tray onto the first runner and leave it there for 5 minutes before moving it to the floor of the oven for a further 5 minutes, by which time your beef should be browned
- (You can of course brown your meat the conventional way, in batches in olive oil on the boiling plate)
- Meanwhile in a large casserole gently fry your onion and pepper slices in a tablespoon or two of olive oil (if your sun-dried tomatoes come from a jar you can use some of the oil from that), starting it off on the simmering plate before covering it and putting it in the simmering oven
- Pour 100ml of hot water onto the mushrooms and put them to one side for 15 minutes
- When the onions and peppers are soft place the casserole on the boiling plate, add the beef and stir the flour into it
- Add the red wine and, if required, the stock and bring to the boil
- Stir in the tomato purée, mushrooms with their soaking water and apricot jam
- Cover and place in the simmering oven for a minimum of three hours until the beef is tender. Add seasoning to taste
This is delicious with mashed potato but I think I prefer it with rice. Serve with a green vegetable too.
Inspired by the success of the lamb ragù in my last post, I decided to try out the “not browning the meat” method once again and made an old favourite: boeuf bourguignon. It was a success, so I thought I’d give you the recipe I used for this classic dish. I adapted it from Delia’s in her Complete Cookery Course. It’s also available online here. I’m probably breaking the rules here but if you don’t have any Burgundy, it would not be a disaster if you use whatever red wine you do happen to have in your kitchen.
Serves 6 generously
- 1kg braising steak (I used chuck), cubed
- Olive oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
- 400ml approx red Burgundy
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, or ½ tsp dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- Approx 12 small onions or shallots, peeled and left whole
- 225g streaky bacon, smoked or green, ideally bought in a piece and then cubed but don’t worry if you only have rashers: just chop them up
- 120g mushrooms, sliced, or small button ones left whole
- Spread the beef out on a large baking sheet which fits on the Aga runners and drizzle with olive oil
- Place the tray on the top runner of the roasting oven for 10-15 minutes to brown the beef
- Meanwhile in a large casserole, sweat the onion in a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the simmering oven until soft and translucent
- Place the casserole on the simmering plate and add the beef to it. Stir in flour to soak up the juices, then gradually pour in the wine until it barely covers the beef, stirring all the time. Don’t use all the wine if you don’t have to; remember that you tend to need less liquid when cooking in an Aga
- Add the crushed garlic, thyme and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper
- Put the lid on and place in the simmering oven for 3 hours or more
- In a frying pan on the simmering plate fry the onions and bacon in a little olive oil until coloured
- Add them to the casserole together with the mushrooms
- Put the lid back on and return to the simmering oven for at least an hour, but longer would not do any harm at all
- Sprinkle with some chopped fresh parsley to serve
Boulangère or dauphinoise potatoes go well with this and so does rice. A green salad and/or green beans are also good accompaniments. As with most casseroles, this one is better on the second day so it’s worth making the day before you want to eat it. I’d maybe not add the mushrooms until reheating it on the second day
I make meatballs fairly regularly: Italian ones with garlic and herbs in tomato sauce, Thai ones with ginger, chilli and lime in a broth and Scandinavian ones with nutmeg and white pepper in a sour cream sauce. These are just the basics; there are so many variations, I feel I could spend my life making delicious meatballs without serving the same ones twice. And I haven’t even mentioned the accompaniments: pasta, noodles, potatoes or bread? I feel a whole series of blog posts coming on.
When a recipe I spotted recently promised to give me Italian-style meatballs like they make in New York, I couldn’t wait to try them. The meatballs proposed by chef Stephen Harris in the Telegraph are, as he says, quick to make and to cook. While they are not the best I’ve made, they’re pretty good and do conjure up that New York/Italian vibe.
For 2 people
- 500g beef mince
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)
- 1 ½ tbsp olive oil and some for drizzling
- 100g baby spinach
- 1 x 400g tin tomatoes
- About 30g parmesan and a squeeze of lemon
- In a bowl mix the mince with about 5 pinches of salt and the thyme leaves if using
- Roll the mince between your palms into 10 x 50g balls
- Heat half a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the meatballs, turning them until they’re brown all over. They will not yet be cooked through to the middle
- Remove the balls to a plate and heat another half tablespoon of oil in the pan and add the spinach leaves, cooking them until wilted
- Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil and stir in a little more salt
- Add the meatballs, turn down to a simmer and cook. If you’re using an Aga, you don’t need to cover them: just place the pan in the simmering oven for about half an hour or longer if you need to. If using a conventional hob, loosely cover the tin (with a lid or some scrunched up foil) and simmer for about 10 minutes
- Drizzle with a little olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon and serve with grilled ciabatta (see below) and a rocket salad
- Split half a ciabatta lengthways
- Take a ridged griddle pan if you have one (or a regular frying pan if you don’t) and pre-heat it in the roasting oven
- Place it on the boiling plate and add your ciabatta slices and toast on both sides
- Rub the pieces of ciabatta with the cut sides of two halved cloves of garlic and drizzle over some olive oil
If I was making these again, I’d add breadcrumbs soaked for half an hour in milk to the meat mixture. I find this makes the meatball texture softer and less rubbery. But that’s for another day. In the meantime, these will do fine.
Spring was definitely in the air last weekend. It was still chilly, especially in the early morning and evening, but when the sun was shining one could actually feel the heat from it. Early Spring blossom has started to appear on the trees in Bristol and the daffodils are very much in flower. So it might seem odd that I chose to cook rather wintry, comfort food dishes, but I thought I’d better get them in before temperatures really do rise.
My husband says I can’t possibly write a post about this meal because we didn’t take a photo of it, but, with apologies for the lack of illustration, I’ve decided to do it anyway. It was a success and the ideal thing to cook last Saturday when I had plenty of time in the morning but wanted to watch England play Wales in a crucial Six Nations rugby match in the afternoon. Honestly, as you will see, this hotpot is more or less just an assembly job. While I was preparing it I managed to keep an eye on the Italy v Ireland match.
For the ingredients, I more or less followed Felicity Cloake again and make no apologies for that. Here is what I did.
- 6 lamb cutlets
- 400g diced lamb shoulder
- Flour, salt and pepper
- 3-4 large, floury potatoes
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 300ml stock (Felicity says lamb stock, but I used a homemade chicken one because that’s what I had in the fridge, and it was fine.)
- 20g melted butter, plus extra to grease.
- Dust the meat with the flour and seasoning. Peel and slice the potatoes thinly.
- Butter a casserole which has a lid.
- Put a layer of overlapping potato slices in the bottom of the casserole, season them and sprinkle with a little thyme.
- Put the meat and bay leaf on top, followed by the onions and some more seasoning.
- Top with the remaining potatoes, overlapping them again. Season these and pour on the stock, which should not come above the topping.
- Brush the potatoes with the melted butter.
- Put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven. Cook for 4-6 hours.
- Thirty minutes before serving, remove the lid and transfer to the roasting oven to brown the potatoes.
I placed it in the oven at about 2pm and then all I had to do when we were ready to eat was steam some carrots (in the simmering oven of course) and cook some cabbage.
By the way, for afternoon tea on the sofa, in front of the England v Wales match, we had buttered slices of this delicious “hot cross” fruit loaf which I’d bought in the morning from the Bordeaux Quay stall at Whiteladies Road Market.
This beef stroganoff, based on Delia Smith’s recipe, has the flavours of “proper” stroganoff but the advantage that it can be made ahead instead of at the last minute; it’s ideally suited to Aga cooking.
(Serves 4 people)
- 700g fairly lean braising beef
- 2 onions, sliced
- 50g butter
- 275 ml dry white wine
- 250g mushrooms, sliced if large
- 250ml sour cream
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and freshly milled black pepper
- Cut the meat into thin strips, about 5mm wide and no more than 6cm long.
- Melt the butter in a casserole and soften the onion in it in the simmering oven for about 15 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.
- Place the casserole on the boiling plate and brown the beef in batches.
- Once the meat is browned, move the casserole to the simmering plate and return the beef and onion to it. Season and pour in the wine.
- Bring to simmering point, put on the lid and let it cook in the simmering oven for 3-4 hours.
- An hour before you want to eat, stir in the mushrooms, cover and return it to the oven.
- Taste to check seasoning, stir in the sour cream with a good grating of nutmeg. Don’t let the cream boil.
- Serve with plain boiled rice and perhaps some broccoli or a green salad.
I could have used a smaller casserole.
This wine was a good accompaniment.
Chopped fresh parsley makes a nice garnish.
Depending on the weather, perhaps my next posts will move on to lighter, fresher dishes.