What frightening and difficult times we live in. I hope you are coping with the lockdown and that you and your loved ones are staying safe and well. There are four of us here. My youngest son is home from university, possibly until the Autumn; this is lovely for my husband and me. We took the decision to dispense with the services of the carers who were coming in every day to look after my frail and demented 95 year old mother-in-law. We just felt the risk of the virus being brought into the house was too high. It means there is even more for us to do but of course we are here and have the time to do it.
We are trying hard not to go to the shops and have been lucky enough to get a couple of online supermarket orders delivered. Our excellent local butcher, Ruby and White, has also set up an online delivery service. This means I have not (yet) been unable to cook my chosen dish for want of the necessary ingredients.
I have turned more than once recently to Diana Henry’s most recent book, From the Oven to the Table. You will remember I cooked this chicken with sherry and torn sourdough recipe from it a while ago. Last week I made the Sausages and Lentils with Herb Relish, which I want to recommend to you. I have begun to feel uncomfortable about writing out someone else’s recipes in full. After all, food writers like Diana Henry, have spent months working on their cookbooks, devising recipes, cooking them probably several times, tweaking them and then writing them up for the likes of us. So from now on I will continue to point you in the direction of good recipes and tell you how I adapted them for Aga cooking, but unless they are my own, I will not write them out in full.
Until now, my most successful attempt at a sausages and lentils dish was the one I wrote about here. This one is similar but in my opinion, even better.
Diana Henry’s Sausages & Lentils with Herb Relish
My tips for adapting it for the Aga are as follows:
When browning the sausages, heat the oil in the sauté pan on the simmering plate, add the sausages and then place the pan on the floor of the roasting oven. Shake the pan after about five minutes, or take it out and turn the sausages over one by one before returning the pan to the roasting oven floor, to ensure they’re brown all over
When you’ve taken the sausages out of the pan and added the vegetables and pancetta, you can return it to the floor of the roasting oven to cook them quickly, but you must keep checking them; it’s hot in there and you don’t want to burn the onions. Alternatively, if you have enough time, you can cook them in the simmering oven
Once you’ve added the garlic and lentils and the stock mixture and returned the sausages to the pan, put it uncovered in the baking oven for about fifteen minutes before adding the remaining liquid if you think it needs it. Remember, you will get less evaporation in an Aga
At this point you can continue to cook the dish in the baking oven (for about 25 minutes) until the lentils are soft and the liquid has been absorbed, but you could also put it in the simmering oven and forget about it for a while. It all depends on how early you started cooking and when you want to eat
Do make the herb relish; it’s a delicious accompaniment to this dish. The only herb I had in my fridge was flatleaf parsley but combined with the capers, garlic, mustard and lemon, it worked perfectly.
French cuisine hasn’t had a great press in the last few years. I’m not sure how fair that is or how qualified I am to judge given that our last family holiday in France was 8 years ago. We were in the South West near Bordeaux, and while we were surprised to have a couple of disappointing meals we also enjoyed some sublime cuisine. Rick Stein’s recent television series “Secret France” showed that delicious French food is alive and well throughout the country and here in Bristol the fairly new restaurant Little French has been highly praised in the national press and shows that the “unpretentious French food” it offers is beloved by many of us. Following a superb lunch there the other day, during which between us my husband and I enjoyed mackerel tartare, mouclade and frites, queen scallops and hake with clams, I was inspired to make Clothilde’s Beef, a recipe in Diana Henry’s book Food from Plenty. She tells how she first ate it on a French exchange as a teenager when it was cooked by her opposite number, Clothilde. She notes that instead of potatoes, her French family served it with a gratin of macaroni. This immediately took me back to the food I used to eat on my many visits to France as a teenager and later on as a student when I was doing a degree in modern languages. It’s exactly the type of dish the mother of my friend Françoise would make. How powerfully evocative food can be!
1kg silverside of beef
Salt and butter
1 tbsp groundnut oil
2 onions, halved and each half either sliced into crescent moons or cut into three or four wedges
3 garlic cloves, crushed
150ml dry white or red wine
4 carrots, halved lengthways
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
3 thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
150ml chicken or beef stock
Season the beef
Heat the oil in a frying pan on the boiling plate and add the beef
Immediately transfer the pan to the floor of the roasting oven to brown, turning it over after about five minutes
Once brown, transfer the beef to a casserole while you add the onions to the pan, tossing them around in the fat before returning the pan to the floor of the roasting oven to cook the onions until golden. Keep an eye on them; you don’t want them to burn
With the frying pan on the simmering plate add the crushed garlic and cook for a minute or two
Add the wine to the onion and garlic mixture and bring it to boil
Add this mixture to the casserole along with the tomatoes, carrots, thyme and bay
Bring the stock to the boil in the pan on the simmering plate and pour it into the casserole
Season well, put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven for a minimum of four hours. Mine was in there for about six; the vegetables were soft and the meat wonderfully tender and the juice deliciously aromatic
For the macaroni au gratin
a little olive oil
150-200g Gruyère cheese (depends how cheesy you like it), grated
230ml double cream
Cook the macaroni in boiling, salted water on the boiling plate for 5-6 minutes, until barely al dente
Drain in a colander and shake it dry
Spread it out on a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss until coated to keep the macaroni from sticking to one another; leave to cool
In a saucepan on the simmering plate bring the cream and ½ tsp salt to a boil, letting it simmer for a minute; the cream will start to thicken
Add the macaroni and cook for a further minute before gradually adding about ¾ of the cheese, stirring and letting it melt into the sauce
Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle over the remaining cheese
With the rack on the first set of runners place the dish in the roasting oven and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning the dish round halfway through, until it’s sizzling hot with a golden brown crust
I’m calling these “Scandinavian” because I consulted my Norwegian grandmother’s recipe for the meatballs themselves and stole elements of a Diana Henry recipe for Swedish meatballs (in her book “Roast Figs Sugar Snow”) to make the sauce.
Surprisingly, even though my mother gave me her mother’s meatball recipe years ago, I had never used it before. I make meatballs a lot, but usually Italian-style ones in a tomato sauce to serve with spaghetti. It’s good to have a change and these, dare I say it, are just as good or possibly better. If Italian flavours are what you’re after it’s simpler just to make a ragù.
The addition of baking powder to my grandmother’s meatballs is a revelation: it makes them wonderfully light and airy. You can serve these with lingonberry sauce or jam. My son bought me some at SkandiKitchen in London. Ikea sells it too, but if you haven’t got any, cranberry sauce would also go well. I served them with braised, spiced red cabbage and plain boiled potatoes, which struck me as being very Norwegian. I’d like to think my grandmother would approve and that she’d be pleased I served them on her Porsgrund china plates.
500g pork mince
500g beef mince
1 heaped tsp salt
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1 heaped tsp ground white pepper
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
100g breadcrumbs, soaked for about 30 minutes in 150ml milk until all the milk has been absorbed
About 1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
400ml chicken or beef stock
1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
1 tbsp plain flour
200g sour cream
3 tbsps chopped fresh dill
Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs thoroughly in a large bowl. You could do this in a food processor
Using wet hands form the mixture into balls. I’ll leave the size to you
Fry in a little oil until brown. I “fried” them, drizzled with oil, on the large Aga baking tray for five minutes on the floor of the roasting oven before turning them over and frying for a further five minutes or until they were nicely browned. Doing it in the oven like this stops the Aga losing heat and means you don’t get fat splashing over the Aga top
Heat the butter with 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan or sauté pan on the simmering plate. Add the flour and cook, stirring until the flour is golden
Take the pan off the heat and gradually add the stock, stirring well after each addition
Put the pan back on the simmering plate and bring the liquid up to the boil, stirring constantly
Add the sour cream and then the meatballs
Cover and place in the simmering oven for at least 30 minutes (but as you know, they will be fine if left there for much longer than that) until the meatballs are cooked through. (If you are short of time you could cook them for about 15 minutes in the baking oven.)
Taste for seasoning, add the chopped dill and serve
All my favourites in one dish: Diana Henry; a new one tin recipe; chicken thighs; sourdough. This is one of those perfect for the Aga one tin dishes which has the added bonus of using up some of the sourdough I have been making. My sourdough is improving and everyone seems to enjoy eating it but this new pastime has brought out the perfectionist in me and I haven’t yet achieved my ideal loaf. I am beginning to understand what drives people to keep baking sourdough. Part of the enjoyment is reading books about it and watching video demonstrations. I am aspiring to make Chad Robertson’s “basic country bread” as described in his wonderful book “Tartine“. I am reading it avidly and am grateful to my youngest son for leaving it at home when he returned to university this week. The other sourdough book I’m finding invaluable is James Morton’s “Super Sourdough” which my sons gave me for Christmas.
Anyway, back to the chicken recipe. It’s from Diana Henry’s latest wonderful book “From the Oven to the Table” and I hope you find it as delicious, interesting and distinctive as we did. The great thing is it’s very easy to up the quantities, using an additional roasting tin, without much extra work. You would need to allow some extra time in the oven and swap the tins round halfway through to make sure all the chicken pieces achieved that golden brown crispiness.
175g sourdough bread, torn into pieces roughly 5cm square
450g small waxy potatoes, cut into chunks
1 large onion, peeled and cut into wedges
6 thyme sprigs
1-2 tsps (according to preference) chilli flakes
1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
150g pancetta or bacon, ideally in one piece cut into chunks, but I used rashers which I chopped up
8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
2 tbsps sherry vinegar
220ml amontillado sherry
5 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
150g spring onions, trimmed
100g bitter salad leaves such as radicchio or chicory
25g toasted pine nuts
Put the bread, onion, potatoes, thyme, chilli and garlic cloves in the large Aga roasting tin
Add the pancetta or bacon and the chicken thighs
Pour on the sherry vinegar, 70ml of the sherry and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil
Season and toss everything round with your hands, finishing with the chicken thighs skin side up. Make sure the bread isn’t too exposed, or lying at the edges, or it will become too dark
Slide onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven and roast for 25 minutes, tossing the ingredients round and turning the tin round once. Keep the chicken skin side up
Mix the spring onions with the last tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl and lay them on top of the tin, adding another 50ml sherry
Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes
Pour the remaining sherry into a small pan with the raisins and bring to just under the boil on the boiling plate. Leave these to sit, then add them to the roasting tin for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time
For us this was a kitchen supper so I served it from the tin and placed a salad bowl of red chicory dressed with balsamic and olive oil on the table. Alternatively, you could transfer everything to a large serving dish and mix in the leaves
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
Yesterday I made the lightest and most delicious scones I’ve ever eaten. They are “Lily’s Scones” from Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess” book and I can’t think why I hadn’t tried them until now. You probably all already know about them but here’s the recipe, just in case. Oh, and I served them with Diana Henry’s “nearly” strawberry jam which I made the other day; it’s a quick way of making jam and perfect for this time of year when strawberries are in abundance. It’s a fairly runny jam (just like my Norwegian grandmother used to make, actually) and deliciously fresh-tasting.
Diana Henry’s “Nearly” Strawberry Jam
350g strawberries, hulled and gently wiped clean
75g granulated sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Quarter the large strawberries and leave the small ones whole
Place them in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice
Set on the simmering plate and stir a little until the sugar dissolves
Roughly mash the fruit with a fork or potato masher. You want to end up with a mixture which is part purée, part chunks of fruit
Remove to the simmering oven for about an hour until it’s thickened somewhat, but remember, this is a runny jam
Pour into a bowl and leave to cool or into a lidded jar for storing in the refrigerator where it will keep for at least four days
Diana Henry says you could make a larger batch and freeze some.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know how fond I am of baking with raspberries. I’ve made this raspberry yoghurt cake twice now, once with regular flour and once with spelt and can honestly say there was no noticeable difference. The recipe is by Diana Henry – no surprises there! – and is from her book Simple. I love that the recipe was inspired by a cake she ate at a café in Nettlebed, a village in Oxfordshire, which holds many happy memories for me.
On the day Theresa May resigned I announced on Twitter that I was about to make this cake as a break from all the political drama, and there was quite a bit of interest, which is why I’m writing up the recipe for you today. The yoghurt doesn’t give the cake a yoghurt-y taste, if you know what I mean, but I think it gives it a lightness and makes it deliciously moist. It’s a perfect summer cake, but if you keep raspberries in your freezer, there’s nothing to stop you making it at other times of the year.
Having consumed during the Christmas period one massive turkey, a Norwegian spiced pork belly, a baked ham and a venison casserole, we are craving vegetables in this house. Sprouts, red cabbage, salads and lots of fruit also featured heavily on the menu but meat predominated. I’m not saying we’re going in for Veganuaray or any other New Year trend; it’s about needing to reset our dietary priorities. This month I’m going to cook without meat during the week but we’ll continue to have a roast or other meat dish on Sundays.
With this in mind I was delighted to pore over one of my Christmas presents from my sons: Joe Trivelli’s book, The Modern Italian Cook. I confess I was not familiar with Trivelli, who is head chef of the River Café, but I am glad to have been introduced. And Diana Henry, whose recipes you know I love, gave it a mention in her Telegraph column. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
It’s a beautiful book and I want to make everything in it but so far I’ve only got as far as making one of the dishes twice, first as a starter on New Year’s Eve and then last night we had it as our main meal with some fresh bread to mop up the juices. The recipe works well in the Aga.
Jerusalem artichokes with fennel and peas
Serves 4 (or 6 as a starter)
500g Jerusalem artichokes
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
½ large or 1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500g frozen peas
10 mint leaves
2 parsley sprigs or a handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil
Peel the artichokes and cut into wedges. Keep under water to stop them discolouring.
Remove any stringy-looking outer parts of the fennel and cut into thin wedges. Toss in some lemon juice to prevent them discolouring
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy-based, wide pan with a lid and sweat the onion with a pinch of salt. You could place the pan in the simmering oven at this point
Once the onion is soft add the garlic and a minute or two later the fennel. Stew with the lid on for five minutes (or longer if you put it in the simmering oven)
Add the Jerusalem artichokes, peas and some black pepper and continue to stew. Trivelli says to do this for 10 minutes over a low heat but my artichokes needed a lot longer than this (in the simmering oven) before they were soft. In fact, to try to speed things up I put the pan in the baking oven for a while. And Trivelli is right to say that Jerusalem artichokes cook unevenly: I found that when some wedges were soft and tender, others were still hard. But your patience will be rewarded, I promise you
Once your artichokes are cooked, check the seasoning, add your herbs and stir them through with some extra virgin olive oil
The first lemon and ricotta cake I made was not a success. It was a Jamie Oliver recipe and didn’t really work, producing a rather dense cake. It may of course be entirely my fault and I might try it again one day. On the other hand, I’m not sure why I’d bother because yesterday I made a Diana Henry version from her book Simple and it was light and moist and delicious.
This cake works as an afternoon tea cake but also as a dessert served perhaps with some berries and crème fraîche or whipped cream. It’s best eaten slightly warm. It’s the ricotta that makes the cake moist but it also means it doesn’t keep that well. Don’t do what I did and make it on a day when hardly anyone’s around to share it with you because it really is best eaten on the day it’s made. If you do have some left, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate it. This is what I did and the next day I gave it a blast (a minute or two at high heat) in the microwave to warm it up a little and it freshened up beautifully. I was thrilled when our Italian friend, who is very particular about the food of his homeland and whose late wife was the most wonderful cook, gave it his approval.
Lemon and Ricotta Cake
Serves 8 (depending on hunger/greed)
You will need a 20cm springform tin, lightly greased and base-lined (with bake-o-glide)
175g unsalted butter, softened
175g golden caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 4 unwaxed lemons and the juice of 3
3 large eggs, separated
250g fresh ricotta, drained in a sieve
100g self-raising flour, sifted
25g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
Icing sugar to serve
Beat the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy
Lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork and gradually add them, beating well after each addition
Stir the lemon zest and drained ricotta into the batter
Whisk the egg whites until they form medium peaks
Stir the lemon juice into the batter, then fold in the flour, almonds and baking powder
Fold two big spoonfuls of the egg whites into the batter to loosen it, then fold in the rest
Scrape the batter into the prepared tin
Put it in the baking oven and bake for 45-50 minutes; a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean once it’s cooked
Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then remove the springform ring and let it continue to cool, although as I mentioned above it’s delicious served slightly warm
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