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.
Who doesn’t love a meal which can be cooked in just one tray or tin? With this one by the great Ottolenghi, flavour and texture are not sacrificed for simplicity. The recipe was in his Guardian column (third recipe down) recently and I couldn’t wait to make it. I’ve already made it twice and am certain it’s going to become a staple in this house.
I have made one-pot pasta dishes before, where the pasta and the sauce ingredients are all cooked together in water in a large pan on the hob, so I was delighted to find this one because cooking everything, including the pasta itself, together in one roasting tin in the oven seemed so perfectly suited to Aga cooking. Even the rocket is stirred in rather than served separately. There is also a scrumptious salsa and I would urge you to take the extra few minutes to make this.
I found it slightly trickier than usual to decide which Aga oven(s) to use for this dish. Ottolenghi’s instructions for a conventional oven are 240ºC for the initial meat-browning stage and to turn it down to 200ºC after that. I found that if I put it in the roasting oven for both stages the pasta browned too quickly, even if I did as instructed and turned it in the sauce a couple of times to keep as much of it as possible submerged. I’ve shown at 7. below what worked for me. You might find a different oven permutation suits you better.
If you can’t find paccheri, Ottolenghi suggests using rigatoni or tortiglioni. I bought my paccheri from Ocado.
1 litre chicken stock
30g dried porcini mushrooms
750g minced pork
350g Cumberland sausages, casings removed
2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsps tomato paste
⅓ tsp chilli flakes (how precise Ottolenghi is!)
1 tbsp fennel seeds
15g sage leaves, roughly chopped (I used a little less than this because we’re not keen on a strong sage flavour)
75ml olive oil
60g Parmesan, grated
Salt and pepper
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
500g oyster mushrooms, left whole or roughly torn into large pieces
100ml double cream
70g rocket leaves
35g capers, roughly chopped
15g parsley, finely chopped
1 lemon, zested: add the zest and juice to taste
3 tbsps olive oil
Add the porcini mushrooms to the chicken stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil on the boiling plate. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly
Place the mince, sausage meat, Worchestershire sauce, tomato paste, chilli flakes, fennel seeds, sage, 3 tbsps of the olive oil, half the Parmesan, 1 3/4 tsps salt and some ground black pepper in the full size Aga roasting tin
Blitz the celery, onion and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped and add to the roasting tin and mix it all together
Bake in the middle (with the tin hanging from the third rung from the top) of the roasting oven for 30 minutes until brown and sizzling
Using a fork, break up the meat to get rid of any clumps, then stir in the porcini mushrooms and stock, the oyster mushrooms, pasta, cream and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil
Make sure to stir in the pasta very thoroughly and that it is mostly submerged in the sauce
Return to the Aga but this time to the baking oven to cook for about 45 minutes. Take it out a couple of times to stir the pasta in the sauce. Alternatively, if you have time, place it in the roasting oven or baking oven for 10-15 minutes before transferring it to the simmering oven for an hour or more (depending on when you wish to eat). As we Aga owners know, it will not come to any harm
Meanwhile make the salsa by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and adding a grinding of black pepper
Stir in the rocket and remaining Parmesan before serving. You could also sprinkle over some extra Parmesan shavings
Ottolenghi says to pour the salsa over the whole thing but I chose to serve it in a bowl to be passed round the table.
(The first time I made it there were only three of us so I roughly halved the quantities and used the half size Aga roasting tin, which is the one you can see in these photos.)
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 made a few mince pies this week. They’re now in the freezer but I might get them out this weekend as my youngest son is returning home from university and I think he’ll appreciate them. Apart from that and the Christmas cake, I haven’t done a huge amount of Christmas preparation but now that it’s December I will be getting my act together. I have had to postpone my plan to write up some of my Christmas recipes because I don’t have any decent photos to accompany them. I will aim to take lots of photos during this Christmas period so that I can write up the recipes in good time for Christmas 2018.
Meanwhile the Sunday roast continues to happen in our house and last Sunday it was gigot boulangère. If ever there was a dish that lends itself perfectly to Aga cooking, this is the one. If you love lamb and love boulangère potatoes, then this is one for you. On Sunday morning, after a cup of tea in bed with the papers on my iPad, I got up at 8 to prepare this dish. My neighbours may have caught a glimpse of me fetching some rosemary and nearly catching my death in my garden in my dressing gown. In less than an hour though lunch was in the oven, to be more or less ignored until we were ready to eat it at 2pm.
1 leg of lamb weighing about 2.4kg
2 onions, peeled and sliced
2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
100ml white wine
Pound the peeled garlic with 1 tsp salt flakes (I use Maldon sea salt) in a pestle and mortar until you have a rough paste
Add 1 tbsp olive oil and about 1 tbsp chopped rosemary to this
Give it a stir and season
Drizzle some olive oil into the bottom of your large Aga roasting tin, which you have lined with bake-o-glide
Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. At this point many cooks would tell you to use a mandolin, but I don’t possess one so I use a nice sharp knife
Cover the base of the tin with a layer of potatoes followed by the onion slices, chopped rosemary and some seasoning and then the remaining potato slices
Pour over the white wine
Stab the leg of lamb all over with the point of a sharp knife and then rub in the garlic and rosemary paste you made at the start, massaging it into the slits you’ve made
Lay the lamb on top of the potatoes and hang the roasting tin on the third set of runners in the roasting oven and cook for 45 minutes
Transfer to the simmering oven for at least 4 hours but, as always, longer is fine, if not better
To serve, place the lamb on a large dish or board for carving, and the potatoes in a dish with all the juices. I put a bowl of redcurrant jelly on the table. Some mint sauce would have been nice too
Pound garlic with salt and add chopped rosemary, olive oil and pepper to make a rough paste
Layer slide potatoes with sliced onions, chopped rosemary and seasoning
Rub the paste into the lamb and place it on top of the potatoes
The cooked boulangère potatoes
Conventional cooking: pre-heat the oven to 200ºC and cook the potatoes for about an hour before placing the lamb on top and roasting it for about 15 minutes per 500g depending on how you like it done.
There were only three of us for lunch on Sunday so I asked my butcher, Ruby and White, to give me just half a leg of lamb, as you will see in the above photos. I halved the quantities of the other ingredients and used the small Aga roasting tin.