For the first time in the eleven years I’ve owned an Aga, the engineer who came to service mine last week was not able to carry out the work. It was my fault: Aga advises owners to turn it off 24 hours before the service but I in my infinite wisdom thought the evening before would be soon enough, forgetting that this year’s appointment was at the early hour of 8am. I did not realise that it would not have cooled down enough by then for the engineer to work on. I am telling you this so that you can learn from my mistake. Another tip is to lift up the lids and open all the doors to help it cool down more quickly.
If like me you have no other oven, you have to plan cold meals for when your Aga is switched off. (Mine takes about 5 hours to come back to full temperature; newer ones might be quicker; older ones possibly much slower.) I have the perfect recipe for such times, especially if it’s summer: ceviche. Ceviche is a South American dish of marinated raw fish or seafood. This one is ceviche de sierra by Diana Henry and is packed full of all the Mexican flavours I love, including chillies, lime and coriander.
Ceviche de Sierra
- 4 fillets extremely fresh mackerel, bream or sea bass, skin removed
- 3 limes
- 1 shallot, very finely sliced
- 1 large, ripe avocado
- 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 red and 1 green chilli, halved, deseeded and finely chopped
- 10g bunch coriander, leaves only, roughly chopped
- 3-4 tbsp pomegranate seeds
- Slice the fish into broad strips
- Put them into a dish with the juice of two limes and the shallot
- Halve the avocado, remove the stone and slice the flesh
- Peel the skin from each slice, then put them into a shallow serving bowl or on a plate
- Season and toss in the juice of the third lime
- Add the fish and shallot, oil, chilli and coriander and toss gently together
- Sprinkle on the pomegranate seeds and serve
There is nothing sadder than an Aga which isn’t on. Today my Aga has been cold and consequently – I know it’s silly, especially since it’s summer, allegedly – my kitchen seemed a rather uninviting place. The Aga was turned off last night to give it a chance to cool down before its annual service today. It’s just been switched back on and with a bit of luck will have enough heat for me to cook supper on it tonight.
Some Aga owners (sensibly) turn theirs off during the summer months and use their alternative oven. The trouble is, I don’t have an alternative oven. It was a deliberate decision when we had the Aga installed in our new kitchen ten years ago to be a full-time Aga cook and also not to use up space unnecessarily; instead, I have plenty of cupboards! Admittedly it can feel too hot if ever we have a spell of proper summer weather (ie not often) but our Victorian house has large sash windows which can be opened wide, and also, the Aga can be turned down and still be used.
It’s a pity the Aga service hasn’t coincided with some really hot weather like we had a couple of weeks ago, when it would have been a relief to have a cooler kitchen. It’s grey and wet out there but mild: it’s definitely summer rain we’re experiencing.
Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t tell you a little about what I’ve been making in the kitchen lately. It’s the season for salad and soft fruit, neither of which necessarily requires cooking.
A delicious salad in my new favourite book, Honey and Co., is fatoush. As far as I can tell, there exist many versions of it, but this is the first one I’ve come across which includes pomegranate. If I was making it today I’d have to add the pitta without toasting it, because I don’t have an electric toaster.
- 1 pitta, cut in half to make two thin pieces
- olive oil
- 1 head of Little Gem lettuce
- 250g mixed tomatoes
- 150g feta
- 2 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves picked (if you don’t have any fresh, use a little dried oregano in the dressing)
- 2 tsp za’atar
- 2 heaped tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- a little freshly ground black pepper
- Peel the garlic, place it on a chopping board and press down on it with the back of a knife until it’s crushed but still in one piece. Mix it together with the other dressing ingredients in the bowl you want to serve the salad in, and leave to infuse for about an hour at room temperature
- Brush the pitta pieces with a little oil, place them on a baking tray at the top of the roasting oven for a few minutes until they’re golden and crisp. You can do this under a grill or in a regular toaster too. Break into bite-size pieces
- Separate the lettuce into leaves and cut these into strips
- Cut the tomatoes in two or three different ways (slices, wedges, chunks) to give the salad some texture. Crumble the feta but not too much
- When you are ready to serve, remove the garlic clove from the dressing (it was only there to add a hint of flavour) and add all the salad ingredients to the bowl and toss them gently together
At the 21st birthday party we went to recently, our hostess served this strawberry dessert which was absolutely delicious. This is not a precise recipe; I’ll leave you to adjust quantities to your liking.
Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar with a Mascarpaone, Fromage Frais and Vanilla Cream
- Hull and halve or quarter your strawberries, depending on size, and place in a bowl with some sugar and balsamic vinegar. I used a couple of tablespoons of balsamic and just a sprinkling of caster sugar for about 600g strawberries. Leave these to infuse for a couple of hours.
- Serve with the cream made up of 50% mascarpone and 50% fat free fromage frais, and a little vanilla extract and some caster sugar to taste
- Serve the strawberries in individual bowls with large dollops of the cream on top
Apologies for not having a photo of this dessert but here are some strawberries anyway.
Pomegranates have been featuring regularly in our meals at home recently and this week I read this about their possible anti-ageing properties, which was interesting and encouraging. And the great Ottolenghi gives us these useful tips about them. I love his books, Plenty and Plenty More, which my sons gave me for Christmas the year before last, but it is true that the recipes are often quite complicated with long lists of ingredients. This is fine if you have time and the inclination but there are days when you have neither but still want to eat well. This is where two other favourite Middle Eastern recipe books of mine come in: Persiana and my newest book, Honey & Co. I have cooked quite a few things from the latter in the last few weeks and every single one has been a gem and just right for summer (such as it is) eating.
I commend one to you in particular which is so good I made it twice in a week. It’s:
Pomegranate Molasses Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad
- 8 skinless, boneless chicken thigh fillets
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced
- 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
- 200g bulgar wheat
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 200ml boiling water
- 50g shelled pistachios, roasted and coarsely chopped (half reserved to sprinkle on top)
- 75g currants
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 50g fresh pomegranate seeds (1 tbsp reserved to sprinkle over the top)
- 1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped
- 1 small bunch flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
- Mix the marinade ingredients together and use to coat the chicken all over. Cover and keep in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours to marinate. You can do this overnight.
- Preheat conventional oven to 200ºc/180ºc fan
- Place the bulgar wheat in a large serving bowl/dish with the salt and oil, pour over the boiling water and cover with cling film for 5 minutes
- Uncover and fluff up the bulgar using a fork
- Add all the remaining ingredients except those you have reserved to use as garnish, and stir well
- Place the chicken thighs on a large roasting tray lined with bake-o-glide and season with salt and pepper (non Aga users: fry on the hob for a few minutes each side and finish off in the oven)
- Roast near the top of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through
- Serve the chicken on top of the salad and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios and pomegranate seeds