Ragù

Ragù

 

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. EE573656-7F71-4B7F-9A1D-F427DB65EDE4My 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.

Mum’s Ragù 

(Sorry, not sure how many people this large quantity will serve, but I’d say at least 10)

Ingredients

  • 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
  • Seasoning

Method

  • 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

Son’s Ragù

(serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 405 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)

Method

  • 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

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 IMG_3587 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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Tomato Sauce for Pasta

We’re slowly adjusting to being empty nesters. Mind you, university terms are not that long and our youngest will be home for the Christmas holidays in just a few weeks. One thing I’m struggling with though, is reducing the amount of food I buy: I keep overestimating how much we’ll need. I imagine that just when I’ve got it right, it will be time to step up the quantities again for the family returning home for Christmas. And so it is that yesterday I suddenly remembered the San Marzano plum tomatoes I’d bought and not used. I don’t keep tomatoes in the fridge because they lose their flavour. This means they need to be used within a few days of purchase. My tomatoes were fine but starting to feel a bit squidgy; it was time to make a pasta sauce. Pasta with a really good homemade tomato sauce is one of my favourite dishes to eat. We probably had it at least once a week when my children were growing up and I still make it often. I have tried lots of different recipes over the years. The one I probably make the most is this one by Felicity Cloake. But sometimes I just make it up as I go along according to what I have in the cupboard and yesterday I decided to make a sauce using roast tomatoes, based on my friend Kate Percy’s from her book Go Faster Food (you don’t have to be an endurance athlete to enjoy her recipes: I’m certainly not one).  Roasting tomatoes is a great way to use them up when they’re past their best and it also intensifies the flavour of disappointingly insipid ones.

Ingredients

  • 3 x San Marzano tomatoes (or other plum tomatoes)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 250ml passata
  • Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Glug of red wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp dried basil (or a couple of stalks of fresh basil if you have it)
  • 250g spaghetti or pasta of your choice

Method

  • (Pre-heat conventional (fan) oven to 140ºC or 170º if you’re in a hurry)
  • Place the tomatoes on a baking tray lined with bake-o-glide
  • Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle lightly with sugar
  • Place in the simmering oven for 3-4 hours until shrivelled and the aroma is intense
  • Tip the roasted tomatoes and all the residual juices from the tray into a saucepan or small casserole
  • Squash the tomatoes down a bit with a wooden spoon, add the passata, garlic, bay leaf, chilli flakes, a little more olive oil, red wine vinegar and basil
  • Bring to simmering point on the simmering plate and transfer to the simmering oven for an hour or two for the flavours to meld and the sauce to thicken. You can leave it uncovered if you want it to thicken in less time than that
  • (Or simmer covered on a conventional hob at low temperature for half an hour to an hour, removing the lid towards the end if you feel it’s not thick enough)
  • Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until it’s al dente
  • Check the sauce for seasoning and toss the drained pasta in it
  • Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan