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 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
- 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
- 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.
This is a recipe passed to me years ago by my 93 year old mother-in-law. She used to knock up these biscuits for my boys when they came home from school, or make a batch to go with fruit and ice-cream for our Sunday dessert.
I made them today to accompany strawberries and whipped cream. I know it’s only April and the temperature outside makes it feel more like March, but the strawberries in Waitrose looked so beautifully red and plump, I couldn’t resist buying them. They did not disappoint.
These biscuits are buttery, short and light and couldn’t be easier to make.
For about 16 biscuits
- 225g self-raising flour
- 50g caster sugar
- 175g butter, softened
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and mix until combined in a soft dough
- Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out to a thickness of approx 5mm
- Cut out into rounds, using a 7cm cutter
- Slide a metal spatula or a large palette knife under each (rather delicate) round and place on the full size Aga baking tray lined with Bake-O-Glide. You will need to do bake these in two batches
- Place the tray on the third rung from the top of the baking oven for about 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown
- Leave them on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack
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.
This post is not about telling you how to make mince pies. To be perfectly honest, as I may have mentioned before, I don’t rate my pastry-making skills and would not presume to pass on any tips, because you are probably all much better at it than me.
That is not to say that I don’t enjoy having a go. What is more, there’s nothing like making mince pies for getting into the festive spirit and family and friends do appreciate homemade ones. One of the reasons I’ve made a few in the last week is that I found a big jar of Waitrose mincemeat in my cupboard with a “best before” date of December 2016. You see? I don’t even make my own mincemeat!
For the pastry I use this excellent Xanthe Clay recipe. Sometimes I make “closed” pies (see above) and sometimes I cut out pastry stars to place on top (see below). I always brush with egg and sprinkle with caster sugar. I fancy making some with an almond crumble topping one day. I bought some like that at Bristol’s wonderful Hart’s Bakery yesterday and would love to try to emulate them. But that’s for another day.
In the Aga
Mince pies bake very quickly in the Aga roasting oven. Place your tray of pies on the grid shelf on the fourth rung of the oven. They will be done in 15 minutes at the most. The oven is hotter at the back and on the side nearest the centre, so I turn the tray round halfway through the cooking time.
Cut out stars to place on top
Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with caster sugar
Bake until golden brown