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
- 50g raisins
- 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
- Throw on the pine nuts and serve
Hello, it’s been a while. Rest assured I’ve been cooking and have plenty to share with you, but somehow I have not got around to doing it yet. My youngest son has got me into sourdough baking, which I am enjoying far more than I ever expected. It’s challenging though and while my loaves are improving, I’m not ready to write about it yet.
Today I want to tell you about ragù: I’ve been experimenting a little with it lately. Ragù simply means meat sauce and I suspect in Italy it’s one of those dishes for which there are as many recipes as there are cooks. Here we tend to call it “bolognese sauce”, “spaghetti bolognese” being one of this country’s most popular dishes, despite the fact that in Bologna they always serve their ragù with tagliatelle and never spaghetti.
I’m sure you all have your favourite ragù/bolognese recipe. I wrote about mine here, as it’s used to make Tamasin Day-Lewis’s lasagne, but recently I’ve made some adjustments to it to make it work better in the Aga. I felt the finished sauce contained a little too much liquid; one of the best Aga tips I’ve been given is to use less liquid than a recipe prescribes because in an Aga there’s no evaporation. It’s why Aga dishes are always so deliciously succulent and moist. The result of my tweaks is a thicker sauce and I’m very pleased with it. I’ve also been making another ragù recipe which my eldest son recommended to me; it’s incredibly simple and delicious and comes from The Silver Spoon, the English edition of the bestselling Italian cookbook, Il Cucchiaio D’Argento. I own the Italian version, a Christmas present from my sons, but for some reason it doesn’t contain this specific recipe. You will see that the addition of garlic to this recipe is optional. I used to think garlic was essential to ragù but it turns out Italians often don’t add it. I urge you to try this recipe without; I was surprised at how flavourful it was. The wine is also optional but I confess I have only ever made this version with wine.
I have only used minced beef in these two recipes but you can use half beef/half pork or veal. Ragù is also delicious with the addition of a little crumbled up Italian sausage. It must be a proper Italian one though, for reasons of both flavour and texture.
Anyway, here are the two ragù recipes for you, with quantities adjusted to make them work well in the Aga.
(Sorry, not sure how many people this large quantity will serve, but I’d say at least 10)
- 1 kg minced beef (not extra lean: you need the fat for flavour)
- 2 onions, chopped
- 3 carrots, diced
- 2 sticks celery, chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 25g butter
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 100ml milk
- 100ml white wine
- 200ml passata
- Take a large casserole or saucepan and heat the oil and butter in it on the simmering plate
- Add the onions and stir until coated in the oil and butter
- Cover and place in the simmering oven for 10 minutes or so before stirring in the carrots and celery and returning to the simmering oven until all the vegetables (the soffritto) are soft
- Place the pan on the boiling plate, stir in the crushed garlic and add the mince and some salt and pepper
- Stir it in while breaking it up with your wooden spoon. You could also use a fork
- Once the meat is brown all over move the pan to the simmering plate
- Add the tomato purée, bay leaves and milk and simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the wine
- After another 5 minutes of simmering, stir in the passata, cover and place in the simmering oven and cook for a minimum of 3 hours. You can always add a little water if it looks dry but it probably won’t. I sometimes uncover it for an hour or so towards the end
- Serve with tagliatelle (or spaghetti as in my photo above), which has been tossed with the ragù in the pan, and lots of grated parmesan
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 40g butter
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery stick, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
- 250g minced beef
- 1 tbsp concentrated tomato purée
- 120ml dry white wine (optional)
- Gently heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy based saucepan on the simmering plate and add the onion. Cover and cook in the simmering oven for 10-15 minutes until translucent
- Add the carrot and celery and cover and cook for a further 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft
- Stir in the crushed garlic, if using, and then add the steak, with your pan on the boiling plate, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and perhaps a fork too
- Cook for a few minutes until all the pinkness of the meat has gone
- Remove to the simmering plate and stir in the tomato purée
- Stir in the wine, if using. If not, stir in the equivalent quantity (120ml) of water
- Season with salt and pepper and bring it up to the boil and if it’s looking dry add some more water: perhaps another 100ml
- Cover and transfer to the simmering oven and cook for a minimum of three hours, adding more water if you think it needs it. This also applies if you added wine initially
- Serve as above
Casseroles are perfect winter food: they require long, slow cooking and are warming and comforting. They are also ideal if you are cooking for a large number of people because the quantities can easily be increased. Furthermore, if you are entertaining you can make your casserole ahead so that on the day it only requires reheating and you can concentrate on spending time with your guests.
Despite knowing all of this, for me there’s a problem: I hate making casseroles because I hate the meat-browning stage of the process. My kitchen is always left with a film of grease on every surface and my hair looks like I’ve spent the day working at the local chippy.
Browning the meat for a casserole, we are told, seals in the juices and assures flavour, so it probably isn’t a stage we should skip. But what if we could? One of my Aga recipe books suggests browning the meat for a casserole in the roasting tin in the roasting oven, which seems to me to be the answer. After all, you need a high temperature and the Aga roasting oven is hotter than the highest setting of most conventional ovens.
Then the other day this recipe for roasted lamb ragù caught my eye in the Waitrose Food Magazine under the heading “A Genius New Way to Cook”; you roast literally everything together in the oven, including the meat. Waitrose says you can try it with other combinations of meat, spices and herbs, and I’m thinking of trying to make one of my favourites – boeuf bourguignon – in this way. Anyway, this ragù was absolutely delicious and I will definitely be making it again and using the same method for other combinations of ingredients. (She says, with a flick of her ungreasy hair.)
Roasted Lamb Ragù
(Pre-heat conventional oven to 200ºC)
- 2 leeks, halved lengthways and finely sliced
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 clove
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 2 bay leaves
- A few thyme sprigs
- 1 tsp honey
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 900g lamb neck fillets
- 250ml red wine
- 250ml chicken stock
- 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
- Toss the leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, spices, herbs, honey and anchoivies in the large Aga roasting tin. Season
- Season the lamb neck fillets and lay on top
- Place the tin on the third set of rungs in the roasting oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning everything at least once. You want the meat to be browned and the vegetables soft and turning golden
- Stir in the wine, stock and tomatoes and place in the simmering oven for 2 or 3 hours. You know the drill: no harm will come to it if left for longer. Mine was in the oven all afternoon
- (Or turn a conventional oven down to 160ºC, cover the tin loosely with foil and roast for one hour and 30 minutes.)
- Roughly shred the meat, turning it in the juices and put the tin back in the roasting oven for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until the meat is browned in places and the ragù is glossy and thick
- (Or turn the conventional oven back up to 200ºC, remove the foil, shred the meat as above and roast for a further 30 minutes.)
We had ours with delicious sourdough bread, purchased that day from the wonderful Hart’s Bakery in Bristol, and a green salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If we hadn’t had delicious, fresh bread to hand, I’d have served the ragù with pasta. Tagliatelle would be perfect.
Some of our favourite bread comes from Bordeaux Quay. Luckily, if I don’t want to go all the way down to the harbour, I can buy it either at the butcher’s Ruby and White or at Whiteladies Road market which takes place every Saturday and is a few minutes’ walk from my house.
We were there yesterday morning, stocking up on sourdough, pain de campagne and granary bread, which I shall save for toasting. As you can see, we should have gone a little earlier; the tables were becoming rather bare.
Arrived a bit late. Thank goodness there’s still some bread at Bordeaux Quay
Pains de campagne and mixed sourdough starter loaves.
So much is written and said about food allergies these days and about wheat in particular. Every other person one knows seems to have a wheat intolerance. There is a case for eating good quality bread, instead of some of the factory-baked stuff and this article on sourdough bread which I read recently explains why.
Which brings me on to toast (sort of). I wrote on my tumblr about my old-fashioned way of making toast on an Aga , and explained that naturally, the quality of the bread used to make the toast is a factor, but everything being equal, Aga toast is still the best. Here are a couple of toasting tips for Aga owners who may not have tried doing it this way:
- Put the Aga toaster on the hot plate for a few minutes first to let it get very hot. This prevents the bread from sticking.
- If some bread does stick, put the toaster back on the hotplate when you’ve finished. This burns off any stuck bits.
- Use the wire brush that came with your Aga to scrape away all the burnt crumbs from the hotplate.
Heat up the Aga toaster
Have good bread ready
Place bread in here and close the lid
Some crumbs might stick but are easily burned off
Don’t even think about reverting to a “normal” toaster. Why would you? You get better toast this way and you are making the most of your Aga. The same applies to kettles. Once you have an Aga you don’t need an electric one. Think how much work surface you gain by not having either a toaster or a kettle taking up space on it, and of course how much electricity you save.