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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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