You know when you read a recipe about char-grilling vegetables like peppers or aubergines which tells you to hold the vegetable over a gas flame and keep turning it until the skin is blackened and you think “I cannot do this because I have an Aga”? Well, I have discovered (you probably all knew this already) that placing the vegetable on a rack in a hot oven, ie the Aga roasting oven, has the same effect. I did it last night with red peppers and have done it with aubergines, as you can see in this recipe.
I wanted to make a pasta sauce using roasted peppers and cream, because I think they work very well together. So this is what I did.
(serves 2-3 people)
3 red peppers (the Romano type would also work, possibly better, but you might need a couple more)
2 tbsps olive oil
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of chilli flakes
5 or 6 tbsps double cream
Fresh basil leaves
200g of spaghetti or pasta of your choice
Position the rack on the third set of runners in the roasting oven and place the whole peppers on it
Roast them for about 25 minutes, turning them halfway through (I used tongs)
Once they are nicely charred in places and soft place them in a dish or on a plate and cover with clingfilm; after half an hour or so it should be easy to remove the skins and deseed the peppers
Keep back half of one of the deseeded peppers, slice the rest and place them in a saucepan or sauté pan large enough to hold the pasta when it’s cooked
Cover and keep warm in the warming or simmering oven
Warm the olive oil in a small pan on the simmering plate and add the crushed garlic, taking care not to burn it, followed by the chilli flakes and cream; bring to the boil then remove
Combine the cream mixture and reserved half pepper in a blender or food processor, season and then add this sauce to the sliced peppers
Cook your pasta according to the packet instructions
Drain, reserving a ladleful of the cooking water, and add to the pepper mixture, loosening with the cooking water if you feel it needs it
Toss everything together with the basil leaves and serve
Blood oranges are available in the shops at the moment, and at the time of writing Covid-19 has not caused us to panic buy them. They are delicious eaten on their own as one of our five-a-day or baked in a tart or cake, but why not try using them in savoury recipes too?
In this all-in-one-tin dish, the chicken acquires a delicious crisp, caramelised skin and its juices combine with all the other ingredients to make a wonderfully flavourful supper.
I got the idea from a Sainsbury’s recipe by Sarah Randell, but there were quite a few stages to it and in adapting it for the Aga, I realised the process could be made much simpler.
Chicken, fennel and blood orange traybake
4 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
1 red onion
1 fennel bulb
2 blood oranges
350g Charlotte potatoes (or any waxy type)
2 tbsps olive oil
6 unpeeled garlic cloves
6 small rosemary sprigs
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 tbsps clear honey
100ml Madeira or Marsala
Quarter the potatoes lengthways
Peel the onion, halve it and then cut each half into four wedges
Trim the fennel and slice into thin wedges
Place the potatoes, onion, fennel, cinnamon, garlic and rosemary in the small Aga roasting tin, season and toss everything in the olive oil
Season the chicken thighs and tuck them in among everything else in the roasting tin
Mix the juice of one of the oranges with the honey and stir in the Madeira/Marsala
Pour about half of this over everything and slide the tin onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven for 15 minutes
After this time pour over the remaining juice/honey/Madeira mixture and return the tin to the roasting oven for about 25 minutes, but check it after 15
Quarter the other orange and then chop each quarter in half and add these to the roasting tin for the final 10 minutes or so of cooking
If you want to slow things down you can place the tin in the simmering oven once the chicken has a good colour, after about 30 minutes, and leave it there until you’re ready to eat
Meanwhile put the pistachios on the small Aga baking tray and bake in the baking oven for 4-5 minutes until nicely toasted. Leave to cool and then chop roughly. Sprinkle over the finished dish
I served this straight from the tin since it was just the two of us, but you could of course transfer everything to a nice serving dish or platter. Don’t waste any of the delicious juices in the tin and spoon some over each serving. Serve with a green vegetable or salad.
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
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.
Many years ago my sister-in-law gave me The Silver Palate Cookbook for my birthday. It was written by two American women who had opened a shop in New York selling various foodstuffs and gourmet take-away dishes which they prepared themselves. The shop was a huge success as was this book of its recipes, which gave the owner the sense they were cooking restaurant food in their own homes, but without too much hassle. It felt cool to own this book.
When my children were young I used the book mainly for its baking recipes. There was a period when almost weekly I made the chocolate chip cookies as an after school treat for my sons and their friends. I still make the glazed lemon cake, at his request, for my eldest son’s birthday (he’s 31!)
I don’t think I’m unusual in that I sometimes forget about the cookbooks I own. It doesn’t mean I no longer like them and nor do I ever get rid of books (I’m looking at you, Marie Kondo). I love returning to old favourites and it only takes a newspaper food column or blog post to jog my memory and renew my fondness for a book or recipe.
Which is exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago when Debora Robertson wrote a post on her website entitled “You should make Chicken Marbella, you know” and I was prompted to get my Silver Palate book out again. The recipe in the book uses four small chickens (weighing 2 1/2 lbs each), quartered, giving 16 sixteen pieces. This was too much for my purposes (a small family supper) so I scaled down. I could have jointed a chicken but decided to use eight free-range chicken thighs (skin on, bone in) instead. This is what I did:
(This dish involves marinating so start it several hours ahead or even better: the night before)
8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tsps dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 tbsps red wine vinegar
4-5 tbsps olive oil
10-12 pitted prunes
16 pitted green olives
2 tbsps capers with a bit of juice
3 bay leaves
2 tbsps brown sugar
100ml white wine
2 tbsps (approx) chopped flatleaf parsley
In a large bowl or dish combine the chicken thighs, garlic, oregano, seasoning, vinegar, oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice and bay leaves. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight
To bring it up to room temperature, take the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it
Arrange the chicken and other ingredients in the small Aga roasting tin (or any tin measuring approx 32 x 21 cms) spooning the marinade around and over the chicken
Sprinkle over the sugar and pour in the white wine
Bake in the roasting oven for about 45 minutes. Or, if you have time, start it off in there for 15-20 minutes and then move to the simmering oven to finishing cooking slowly, allowing the chicken to become supremely tender and sticky and the flavours to develop, until you’re ready to eat
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley to serve
We ate ours with wholegrain basmati rice and green beans. Broccoli or a green salad would also go well.
I could be wrong but I get the impression fewer people are doing a roast on Sundays these days. Some of my emptynester friends say they only bother when their offspring return home or if they have guests. Even after my youngest went off to university last year I continued to cook a Sunday roast, partly because it’s the one occasion each week when we haul my frail and elderly mother-in-law upstairs from her flat below to join us and partly because, well, it’s delicious. My children tell me they’ve always enjoyed the weekly ritual and this pleases me because it means it’s worth the (not necessarily huge) effort. When I was pottering about in my kitchen, one recent Sunday morning, it struck me that one doesn’t have to spend very long preparing the roast and that simple does not have to mean dull. And of course if you are too busy during the day pursuing the leisure activity of your choice, you and your family can have this meal in the evening rather than try to fit it in at lunchtime.
So this post is about proving that it needn’t be hugely time-consuming or arduous and outlining how I made roast chicken and apple crumble in two hours flat. It is also to show you that not all Aga cooking is long and slow, which is not to say that slow roasting isn’t an excellent way of making the most of an Aga: you can put your joint of meat in the simmering oven before bed on Saturday night or bright and early on Sunday morning and have meltingly tender meat for lunch or supper on Sunday. I did this recently with a pork belly and it was one of the best roasts we’ve ever had.
On this particular Sunday I took the bird out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to cook it, to let it come up to room temperature, and then, having popped out to buy the Sunday papers, I started on the lunch preparation. I roasted the potatoes around the chicken. They absorbed the buttery garlicky juices and the flavour and texture were superb. I love them done this way (and it saves time and washing-up) but they were not crisp. If you want crisp, you’ll have to par-boil them for 5 minutes and then roast them in very hot duck or goose fat in a tin on the floor of the roasting oven for about thirty minutes.
1 whole free-range chicken weighing about 1.5kg
Several (quantity up to you but a minimum of 8) garlic cloves, unpeeled
Potatoes: one or two per person, peeled and chopped into large chunks. I used these red potatoes on this occasion but any variety will do. In the summer I use new potatoes: just halve the larger ones and there’s no need to peel them
Place your chicken in a roasting tin with enough room around it for the potatoes
Spread butter generously all over the bird and sprinkle with the herb sea salt or if you don’t have any, just salt and pepper
Place one garlic clove and one bay leaf in the cavity
Slide the tin onto the second rung of the roasting oven and leave it there for 20 minutes before removing it, basting it with the buttery juices and placing the potatoes and remaining garlic cloves and bay leaves around it, turning them to coat them in the butter too
Return the tin to the roasting oven, this time on the fourth rung, for about an hour. Half way through, turn the potatoes and give the chicken another baste
The chicken is done when a thigh is pierced with a sharp knife and the juices run clear
Remove the bird to a large plate or board, keeping it near the Aga and maybe covering it with a clean tea-towel. Discard the garlic and bay leaves and place the potatoes in a serving dish in the simmering oven to keep warm while you make some gravy
All I do for this is deglaze the roasting tin with some white wine on the simmering plate and then pour all of this through a sieve into a small pan to bubble away for a few minutes, adding more wine or some stock and whatever else you fancy: for example, you could whisk in a little crème fraîche. Decant this into a small jug and keep it warm on the back of the Aga while you get everyone to the table and find someone to carve your bird
I will leave the choice of accompanying vegetables to you but the other day I served ours with steamed Savoy cabbage tossed with a little butter and lots of black pepper added
You can be making this while the chicken is roasting. This is the basic recipe; feel free to add cinnamon and/or some raisins to the apples; or reduce the amount of apple by 25 per cent and replace with blackberries when in season.
4-5 cooking apples
110g/4oz unsalted butter
110g/4oz plain flour
110g/4oz ground almonds
110g/4oz golden caster sugar plus an extra heaped tablespoon
A heaped dessert spoon of demerara
First make the crumble by placing the butter, flour, almonds and sugar in a large bowl and using your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor
Peel and slice the apples, putting the slices straight into the dish you want to bake the crumble in. Add some lemon juice to stop the apples from turning brown
Sprinkle the crumble mixture on top, smooth it over and then press it down with the back of a spoon
To finish, run a fork lightly over the surface and sprinkle over the demerara
Bake in the baking oven, with the rack on the fourth rung, for about half an hour until golden brown on top and the apples feel soft when a knife is inserted into them
Or is it pilaf? I believe the words are synonymous, but perhaps it depends if your dish is Middle Eastern (pilaf) or Indian (pilau). This one is a pilau because it’s based on one of Meera Sodha’s from her wonderful book Fresh India, which I mentioned here and a copy of which I now own.
A pilau is made with long grain rice and is a great way of using up leftover ingredients, which is what I was doing the other night when I made it. I added asparagus because at this time of year during the British asparagus season, hardly a day goes by when it isn’t on our menu at home.
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, sliced
1 tbsp tomato purée
I clove garlic, bruised
Sprig or two of thyme
Sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
100ml white wine (or red if that’s what you have)
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 simmering plate and add the onions, celery and pieces of lamb
Stir to coat everything in the fat and then move the casserole to the floor of the roasting oven for a few minutes to brown the lamb
Return it to the simmering plate and add some seasoning, the tomato purée and wine. Let this bubble for a couple of minutes and then add the garlic, bay leaf, herbs and stock
Bring to the boil, 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
My sons gave me two cookery books for my birthday. My daugher-in-law looked a bit sceptical and asked if I was sure they were what I wanted (I do have quite a few already), but I assured her it was. I had dropped a few (many) hints in the run-up to my birthday. One of the books was Diana Henry’s new one, How to Eat a Peach, which is a beautiful collection of menus rather than recipes; it’s also a sort of memoir, an account of the places she’s travelled to since she was a teenager, and where she discovered all the dishes she loves to cook and eat. I have already cooked a few of the recipes from the book, although I haven’t yet put together a whole menu. The first thing I made was this braised pork, which I pounced on because I knew it would be perfect for the AGA simmering oven. I adjusted the quantities because there were only four of us eating and off I went.
Braised Pork with Ginger and Star Anise
For the pork
About 1tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
1kg pork shoulder, cut into 3cm cubes
200g shallots, sliced
20g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
5 garlic cloves, finely grated or crushed
5 tbsps kecap manis
3 tbsps light soy sauce
11/2 tbsps tamarind paste
400ml chicken stock
1 star anise
2 medium-hot chillies, halved, deseeded and finely chopped
2 birds’ eye chillies, left whole
For the crispy fried shallots
Groundnut or vegetable oil
100g shallots, finely sliced
Sea salt flakes
Spread the pork out on a large baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide and drizzle with the oil
Place on the top rung or on the floor of the roasting oven for 10 minutes, then remove it, turn the meat over and return the tray to the roasting oven for about 5 minutes. Your aim is to have golden brown pieces of pork; you’re not trying to turn it dark brown
Meanwhileget on with your shallots. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in the casserole you want to braise your pork in. Do this on the simmering plate. Add the shallots, turn them over in the oil, put the lid on and transfer the casserole to the simmering oven for about 15 minutes until they are soft and golden
Stir the garlic and ginger in and return the pork to the pan along with the kecap manis, soy sauce, tamarind and stock
Bring to the boil on the boiling or simmering plate, add the star anise and all the chillies and place your casserole, uncovered, in the simmering oven for about 3 hours but, as I’m sure you know, when slow cooking in the Aga simmering oven the timing is not crucial as long as you end up with meltingly tender meat
Remove the star anise and the whole chillies
Meanwhile make the crispy fried shallots by heating about 2cm of oil in a small pan on the simmering plate. Add the shallots and fry, moving them around, until they are crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a sheet of kitchen towel on a plate and sprinkle with salt
If the liquid around the pork is not thick and glossy and seems a bit thin, remove the pork with a slotted spoon to a dish and keep it warm in the simmering oven. Boil the liquid for a while on the boiling or simmering plate until it’s reduced and then return the pork to the pan to heat through
Serve the pork with the crispy fried shallots sprinkled over. We ate ours with rice and stir-fried pak choi
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