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.
I was guided by the caponata recipe in Xanthe Clay’s lovely book “The Contented Cook”.
- 1 large aubergine, cubed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, cut into 10 or 12 wedges
- 1 fat garlic clove, crushed
- 2 red peppers, deseeded and thickly sliced
- 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
- Check the seasoning and serve
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.
Paella might be my favourite dish. For me it’s one of the most delicious things you can eat.
It’s made all year round but changes with the seasons. I wonder if it’s one of those dishes like ragù in Italy where there are as many recipes for it as there are cooks. Felicity Cloake quotes Valencian chef (Valencia being where paella originated) Llorenç Millo as saying that there are as many recipes as there are villages.
We haven’t had a holiday in Spain for many years but we used to go to Nerja to stay in a friend’s appartment. It was within easy walking distance of the beach along which there were several great restaurants. Our favourite was the one where a man made paella over an open fire in the biggest paella dish you’ve ever seen. The first time I saw this I watched him, enthralled, as he gradually added all the elements. By the time he’d finished quite a crowd had gathered round to watch and then, finally, to eat.
He used to make what I consider to be be a traditional paella comprising chicken and seafood, but apparently paella didn’t start out as a fish or seafood dish at all. Over the years I’ve made various permutations, the latest being this haddock one, based on a recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis. Hers used monkfish but there was none available when I was shopping and the haddock loin was a good alternative, in my view; I’m sure any firm white fish would work. I’ve read that paella always contains some sort of pig meat (bacon, chorizo or pork) but I don’t think it’s essential. My haddock one doesn’t and in fact I don’t remember the beach one containing any either. Perhaps in future posts I’ll give you the recipe for my chicken and chorizo paella or Ottolenghi’s vegetable one, which is quite superb. And I really ought to try Felicity Cloake’s “perfect” paella too.
You don’t have to have a paella pan. I’m thrilled with the one pictured, a recent purchase, but before I had it, I used either a large, deepish frying pan or a wide but shallow casserole.
Paella with haddock, saffron and peppers
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 500g haddock loin, skinned and cut into 2-3cm cubes
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 green peppers, halved, seeded and finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 500ml (approx) of good quality fish stock (I bought mine)
- a good pinch of saffron
- 225g bomba (sometimes called Calasparra) rice
- A glass of white wine or fino sherry
- 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
- salt and pepper
- About 200g mussels, prawns or squid or if you prefer, any combination of these. I used a packet of frozen, cooked mixed seafood, defrosted first.
- 225g piquillo peppers, torn in strips
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in your pan on the simmering plate. Add the haddock and stir-fry for a couple of minutes until slightly underdone.
- Tip the fish into a dish with its juices, wipe the pan clean with kitchen paper and return to the simmering plate. Add the remaining oil and then the onion and green pepper. Give them a stir, coating everything in the oil and move to the simmering oven to cook for about 20 minutes until soft, adding the garlic and fennel for the last 5 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan on the boiling plate and infuse the saffron in it off the heat.
- Add the rice to the paella pan on the simmering plate and stir to ensure every grain is coated in the oil.
- Add the wine or sherry, followed by most but not all of the saffron-infused stock, half the parsley and the paprika and season with salt and pepper. Do not stir from this point.
- Once this is simmering, place it either near the bottom of the baking oven or in the simmering oven, uncovered, until there is very little liquid left. Difficult to give precise timings because I find it varies (and as you know, timings are not usually crucial in an Aga) but maybe 30 minutes in the baking oven and 15 in the simmering oven. If it looks dry and the rice is still not tender, add the rest of the stock.
- When there’s still a little liquid left above the rice add the fish and seafood, pushing it down into the stock and return to the simmering oven until heated through. It wouldn’t do any harm to leave it for half an hour like this, if you’re not quite ready to eat, but try not to leave it too long if you’ve added prawns, because they go tough and rubbery when overcooked. Place the strips of piquillo peppers on top.
- Let the rice sit for a few minutes on the warming plate before serving. Finally, decorate with lemon wedges and the remaining chopped parsley.
Paella with haddock and saffron