What frightening and difficult times we live in. I hope you are coping with the lockdown and that you and your loved ones are staying safe and well. There are four of us here. My youngest son is home from university, possibly until the Autumn; this is lovely for my husband and me. We took the decision to dispense with the services of the carers who were coming in every day to look after my frail and demented 95 year old mother-in-law. We just felt the risk of the virus being brought into the house was too high. It means there is even more for us to do but of course we are here and have the time to do it.
We are trying hard not to go to the shops and have been lucky enough to get a couple of online supermarket orders delivered. Our excellent local butcher, Ruby and White, has also set up an online delivery service. This means I have not (yet) been unable to cook my chosen dish for want of the necessary ingredients.
I have turned more than once recently to Diana Henry’s most recent book, From the Oven to the Table. You will remember I cooked this chicken with sherry and torn sourdough recipe from it a while ago. Last week I made the Sausages and Lentils with Herb Relish, which I want to recommend to you. I have begun to feel uncomfortable about writing out someone else’s recipes in full. After all, food writers like Diana Henry, have spent months working on their cookbooks, devising recipes, cooking them probably several times, tweaking them and then writing them up for the likes of us. So from now on I will continue to point you in the direction of good recipes and tell you how I adapted them for Aga cooking, but unless they are my own, I will not write them out in full.
Until now, my most successful attempt at a sausages and lentils dish was the one I wrote about here. This one is similar but in my opinion, even better.
Diana Henry’s Sausages & Lentils with Herb Relish
My tips for adapting it for the Aga are as follows:
- When browning the sausages, heat the oil in the sauté pan on the simmering plate, add the sausages and then place the pan on the floor of the roasting oven. Shake the pan after about five minutes, or take it out and turn the sausages over one by one before returning the pan to the roasting oven floor, to ensure they’re brown all over
- When you’ve taken the sausages out of the pan and added the vegetables and pancetta, you can return it to the floor of the roasting oven to cook them quickly, but you must keep checking them; it’s hot in there and you don’t want to burn the onions. Alternatively, if you have enough time, you can cook them in the simmering oven
- Once you’ve added the garlic and lentils and the stock mixture and returned the sausages to the pan, put it uncovered in the baking oven for about fifteen minutes before adding the remaining liquid if you think it needs it. Remember, you will get less evaporation in an Aga
- At this point you can continue to cook the dish in the baking oven (for about 25 minutes) until the lentils are soft and the liquid has been absorbed, but you could also put it in the simmering oven and forget about it for a while. It all depends on how early you started cooking and when you want to eat
- Do make the herb relish; it’s a delicious accompaniment to this dish. The only herb I had in my fridge was flatleaf parsley but combined with the capers, garlic, mustard and lemon, it worked perfectly.
Blood oranges are available in the shops at the moment, and at the time of writing Covid-19 has not caused us to panic buy them. They are delicious eaten on their own as one of our five-a-day or baked in a tart or cake, but why not try using them in savoury recipes too?
In this all-in-one-tin dish, the chicken acquires a delicious crisp, caramelised skin and its juices combine with all the other ingredients to make a wonderfully flavourful supper.
I got the idea from a Sainsbury’s recipe by Sarah Randell, but there were quite a few stages to it and in adapting it for the Aga, I realised the process could be made much simpler.
Chicken, fennel and blood orange traybake
- 4 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
- 1 red onion
- 1 fennel bulb
- 2 blood oranges
- 350g Charlotte potatoes (or any waxy type)
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 6 unpeeled garlic cloves
- 6 small rosemary sprigs
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
- 2 tbsps clear honey
- 100ml Madeira or Marsala
- 35g pistachios
- Quarter the potatoes lengthways
- Peel the onion, halve it and then cut each half into four wedges
- Trim the fennel and slice into thin wedges
- Place the potatoes, onion, fennel, cinnamon, garlic and rosemary in the small Aga roasting tin, season and toss everything in the olive oil
- Season the chicken thighs and tuck them in among everything else in the roasting tin
- Mix the juice of one of the oranges with the honey and stir in the Madeira/Marsala
- Pour about half of this over everything and slide the tin onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven for 15 minutes
- After this time pour over the remaining juice/honey/Madeira mixture and return the tin to the roasting oven for about 25 minutes, but check it after 15
- Quarter the other orange and then chop each quarter in half and add these to the roasting tin for the final 10 minutes or so of cooking
- If you want to slow things down you can place the tin in the simmering oven once the chicken has a good colour, after about 30 minutes, and leave it there until you’re ready to eat
- Meanwhile put the pistachios on the small Aga baking tray and bake in the baking oven for 4-5 minutes until nicely toasted. Leave to cool and then chop roughly. Sprinkle over the finished dish
I served this straight from the tin since it was just the two of us, but you could of course transfer everything to a nice serving dish or platter. Don’t waste any of the delicious juices in the tin and spoon some over each serving. Serve with a green vegetable or salad.
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
I’ve been enjoying January so far. After the pressures of December, taking life at a slower pace is fine by me. I don’t mind the weather either, as long as my house is warm, and when I’m outdoors, being half-Norwegian I know that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. I relish the changes of seasons that we have in this country. Last weekend we went to stay with friends in the Scottish Borders. We were only away three days but it felt longer and was a lovely break. It was grey and cold but we had packed waterproofs and lots of layers and strode out across the beautiful countryside.
Without having to sacrifice my desire for comfort food during this long, cold month I have more or less stuck to my plan not to cook meat during the week. There was a blip last Monday when I made a chicken pie because I wanted to use up the remains of the roast chicken we’d had the day before. First I made stock with the carcass, and then made the pie filling using some mushrooms, bacon and thyme and of course the chicken and stock. I took Nigella’s advice and added a tablespoon of Marsala too: delicious. I topped the pie with some good quality shop-bought puff pastry. The rest of the time we’ve been eating dals and rice, pasta with tomato-based sauces and vegetable curries.
This week I made a stew with some squash, sweet potato and chickpeas and that’s the recipe I’m going to give you in this post. It’s ridiculously easy to make* and can be adapted to whatever you have in your kitchen. It’s basically an Angela Hartnett recipe which was in her Sunday Telegraph column last weekend, the theme being one-pot meals. She used pumpkin but said it would work with any root vegetables and/or gourds. She accompanied it with toasted pitta bread; I served ours with rice.
*Angela instructs us to throw everything into the pot at the same time, even the onion, but the onion didn’t soften to my satisfaction (I had a feeling it wouldn’t) even though I cooked my stew for longer than the prescribed 30-35 minutes, so I’m suggesting softening the onion in a little olive oil before adding all the other ingredients.
Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew
- About 350g diced butternut squash and sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1 x 400g tin chickpeas in water
- 1 x 400g tin cherry tomatoes, including the juice
- Juice and zest of 1 orange
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- ¼ tsp each of ground coriander, cumin and chilli flakes
- Plain yoghurt, seasoned
- Chopped coriander
- Gentle heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof saucepan or sauté pan on the simmering plate and add the onion slices
- Stir and cook until softened (as you know, the best way to do this is to cover the pan and place it in the simmering oven for 15 minutes or so)
- Add all the remaining ingredients except for the yoghurt and coriander. Season and mix well
- Put the lid back on and place the pan in the roasting oven (with the rack on the third rung from the top) and cook for 30-35 minutes or maybe longer if your squash is still hard, as mine was. If you’ve started it in good time, you could just remove it to the simmering oven now and leave it there until it’s time to eat
- Scatter over the coriander and serve with rice or toasted pitta bread. Put the yoghurt in a bowl on the table for people to help themselves.
Turkey, ham, Norwegian spiced pork belly, bacon, cold leftover turkey, turkey soup, ham sandwiches, Jamie’s Asian-style turkey salad, cold pork, more ham, beef fillet, Thai green turkey curry…and so it went on over the Christmas period, to the point where we said we never wanted to eat meat again. Except that we didn’t mean it. We love it of course and after a couple of days of eating mainly vegetables and pasta, we were ready to be carnivores again and I made lamb shawarma for the first time.
Since there were only going to be three of us, I bought a half shoulder of lamb instead of a whole one. At the last minute we invited a friend to join us but there was still plenty for four people. The recipe is one by Honey & Co like the pomegranate molasses chicken I did a while ago. I adapted it for slow Aga cooking for a change (joke) and I was very pleased with the result.
We ate ours in wraps with the white cabbage and pomegranate salad suggested in the Honey & Co. book, and a dollop of yoghurt. Delicious.
- 4 onions, peeled
- 1 shoulder of lamb, on the bone
- 3 tbsps ras el hanout
- 2 tsps salt
For the salad:
- ½ white cabbage, shredded
- ½ tsp salt
- juice of 1 lemon
- Small bunch parsley, chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
- Seeds from 1 pomegranate
- Purée two of the onions with the ras el hanout, salt and pepper in a food processor
- Slice the other two onions and place them in a roasting tin
- Pat the purée all over the lamb and lay it on the bed of onions
- Place the roasting tin uncovered in the roasting oven for 20 minutes, by which time it will have started to colour and brown
- Pour in a glass of water and cover the tin with foil
- Place in the simmering oven for several hours; I’d say a minimum of four but after seven or eight it will be even more meltingly gorgeous. You should baste it every so often and maybe add some more water, but only if it’s drying out
- It’s done when the meat falls easily off the bone
- (Conventional oven owners: start it in a very hot oven for 30 minutes and then turn it down, after adding water and covering the tin, to 200ºC/180ºC fan, and roast for a further hour. Repeat the process and turn the oven down to 180ºC/160ºC fan for a couple more hours, basting halfway)
- For the salad, sprinkle salt on the shredded cabbage in a bowl, mix and allow to sit for 15 minutes until it starts to soften. Add the lemon juice, parsley and vegetable oil and mix well. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, reserving a few to sprinkle over the lamb
I make meatballs fairly regularly: Italian ones with garlic and herbs in tomato sauce, Thai ones with ginger, chilli and lime in a broth and Scandinavian ones with nutmeg and white pepper in a sour cream sauce. These are just the basics; there are so many variations, I feel I could spend my life making delicious meatballs without serving the same ones twice. And I haven’t even mentioned the accompaniments: pasta, noodles, potatoes or bread? I feel a whole series of blog posts coming on.
When a recipe I spotted recently promised to give me Italian-style meatballs like they make in New York, I couldn’t wait to try them. The meatballs proposed by chef Stephen Harris in the Telegraph are, as he says, quick to make and to cook. While they are not the best I’ve made, they’re pretty good and do conjure up that New York/Italian vibe.
For 2 people
- 500g beef mince
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)
- 1 ½ tbsp olive oil and some for drizzling
- 100g baby spinach
- 1 x 400g tin tomatoes
- About 30g parmesan and a squeeze of lemon
- In a bowl mix the mince with about 5 pinches of salt and the thyme leaves if using
- Roll the mince between your palms into 10 x 50g balls
- Heat half a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the meatballs, turning them until they’re brown all over. They will not yet be cooked through to the middle
- Remove the balls to a plate and heat another half tablespoon of oil in the pan and add the spinach leaves, cooking them until wilted
- Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil and stir in a little more salt
- Add the meatballs, turn down to a simmer and cook. If you’re using an Aga, you don’t need to cover them: just place the pan in the simmering oven for about half an hour or longer if you need to. If using a conventional hob, loosely cover the tin (with a lid or some scrunched up foil) and simmer for about 10 minutes
- Drizzle with a little olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon and serve with grilled ciabatta (see below) and a rocket salad
- Split half a ciabatta lengthways
- Take a ridged griddle pan if you have one (or a regular frying pan if you don’t) and pre-heat it in the roasting oven
- Place it on the boiling plate and add your ciabatta slices and toast on both sides
- Rub the pieces of ciabatta with the cut sides of two halved cloves of garlic and drizzle over some olive oil
If I was making these again, I’d add breadcrumbs soaked for half an hour in milk to the meat mixture. I find this makes the meatball texture softer and less rubbery. But that’s for another day. In the meantime, these will do fine.
A friend came to supper the other day who said he had exactly the same Aga as mine. He confessed he didn’t think he and his wife made the best use of theirs and proceeded to ask me some questions. I was surprised to find they didn’t even know what the ovens were for: they only used the roasting and baking ovens (although they didn’t know this is what they’re called) and the simmering oven for warming plates. They didn’t use the warming oven at all! I told him they needed to buy an Aga book and that I’d read my Mary Berry one, which came free with my Aga, from cover to cover. He said they had the book but hadn’t bothered to read it. In their defence, they “inherited” their Aga when moving into their house whereas I made a deliberate choice to become an Aga owner and cook and saw it as a kind of project. It made me realise there are people out there who didn’t choose to have an Aga but have got one by default and that they might find blogs like mine useful.
I was sorry therefore that the supper I cooked for our friend and his parents, old friends of my husband’s family, was not one of my best. I wanted to use up the pheasant breasts I still had in my freezer and found this recipe. It looked and smelled delicious and tasted good, but the meat was a little rubbery and dry. I find this happens with chicken breasts too and I don’t know what the answer is. What is more, I chose the recipe because it was a slow braise, which in my opinion ought to have ensured tender, succulent meat. On reflection, I think breasts, whether of the pheasant or chicken variety, should not be cooked for very long, so my suggestion for adapting this recipe for the Aga would be only to cook it (in the simmering oven of course) for the initial 45 minutes.
Legs and thighs, on the other hand, lend themselves to slower cooking. The dish in the photo above is braised chicken pappardelle. I got the recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Guardian column, and you will see he provides two further slow-cooked chicken recipes. I pounced on the article when I saw it, as I always do when I see the words “slow-cooked”; I immediately think “Aga simmering oven”. I have now made all three recipes and they’re all superb, but today I’m going to tell you how I made the one above in the Aga.
Braised Chicken Pappardelle
- 4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 carrots, cut into 1.5cm chunks
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 5g thyme sprigs
- 500g vegetable stock
- 50g anchovies in oil, drained and finely chopped
- 400g pappardelle (I used a good quality dried one)
- 40g rocket leaves
- Put the chicken in a bowl and toss with the oil, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of black pepper
- Put a large, heavy-based casserole for which you have a lid on the simmering plate. Sear the legs for ten minutes, turning them once, until the skin is dark golden brown, then remove from the pan.
- Add the carrots, onion, bay leaves and thyme to the pan and cook until softened. You could do this in the simmering oven of course. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute
- Return the chicken to the pan and add the stock, anchovies and a good grind of black pepper. Cover and cook in the simmering oven for at least an hour but two would be better
- Lift out the chicken from the pot and bring everything to the boil on either the simmering or boiling plate and cook until the liquid is reduced to about 300ml
- Meanwhile pull all the meat off the chicken bones in chunks or, as I prefer, shreds, and discard the bones and the thyme
- Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until al dente and drain
- Add the chicken and pasta to the reduced sauce and vegetables and mix well
- Divide between four plates or pasta bowls, layering with rocket leaves as you go
- Drizzle with olive oil and serve