Tagliatelle al ragu

As a student I perfected my own version of spag bol – who doesn’t! It came to mind as I had another of those dinners coming up when I couldn’t really be away from my guests before or during the meal and needed something hot and delicious in a pot to plonk in the middle of the kitchen table. Spag bol seemed like a good option but given my recent cooking escapades it seemed appropriate to search for a ‘proper’ spaghetti bolognese recipe. And that is how I came across tagliatelle al ragu, which is apparently how the real Italians do it. One of the surprises was the amount of vegetables that went into the pot – I was doing 4 times the recipe below. Another surprise was the subtlety of the flavours and juiciness of the meat. This is no spag bol!

The recipe that appealed to me most was from Gustoso:

Italy’s most loved but misinterpreted dish has to be tagliatelle al ragu. When it left Italy’s shores it somehow become spaghetti bolognese. The real bolognese dish is made by tossing a little rich, slow-cooked ragu (a meat sauce, usually veal and pork) through fresh egg noodles.

There’s a number of tricks to an outstanding ragu sauce. First you really need to let it simmer for a good 3 hours to allow all the flavours to meld together and fill your house with divine smells. A dash of milk is added to the ragu sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and wine.

My own trick for browning minced meat is to do it in red wine instead of using oil. The flavour is noticeably richer and arguably healthier – substituting fat with alcohol…

Ingredients:
Serves 4

30g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped or grated
90g pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
220g minced ground veal or beef (I used half pork/half beef mince)
220g minced ground pork
2 sprigs of oregano, chopped or 1/4 tsp dried oregano
pinch of nutmeg
½ cup dry white wine
3/4 cup milk, or soy milk
400g tin chopped tomatoes or fresh (I used tinned ones)
250ml beef stock (I didn’t use stock, there was plenty of liquid).
400g tagliatelle
grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion, celery, carrot and pancetta. Cook over a moderate heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the minced beef, pork and oregano to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and the nutmeg. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mince has browned slightly.

Pour in the wine, increase the heat and boil over high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the wine has been absorbed. Stir in the milk and reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tomato and half the stock, partially cover the pan and leave to simmer gently over very low heat for 3 hours. Add more of the stock as it is needed to keep the sauce moist.

Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the tageliatelle, toss with the sauce and serve with grated Parmesan.

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Quick chicken stir-fry with peppers, water chesnuts and onion

This is truly one of the improvised quick dishes. I was going to make chicken with okra Louisiana style but discovered that the okra has gone bad. So I had to regroup and stir-fry was the easiest (and fastest) option:

Ingredients:
Takes 10-15 mins (if you are fast chopper!)

groundnut oil
2 chicken breasts diced
2 garlic cloves
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger finally chopped
1 fresh green chilli finely chopped, use whole, do not deseed if you want a bit of kick
1 medium sized red onion chopped into slices so they retain shape and crispness
1 bell pepper cut into square pieces
1 can of water chestnuts
handful of cashews
packet of Amoy Teryiaki sauce

In a wok heat 1-2 tbsp of oil, fry the garlic, chilli and ginger. Throw in the cashews so they fry in the oil before everything else goes in. Add the chicken and fry for 3-4 mins depending on the size of the cubes. Add the water chestnuts cook for a minute, then add the pepper and onion and stir fry for 3 minutes. Add the sauce, turn down the heat and stir for about a minute. Serve immediately.

Hot and sour prawn soup

This is one of my favourite soups but I always thought it would be too complicated to make at home. I love the fragrant broth with galangal and lemongrass and a kick of bird’s eye chilli.

Ingredients:
Serves 4, Ready in 30 minutes

25g tamarind pulp (I used tamarind paste from waitrose, it seemed to work but will try to get pulp next time to see if it makes any difference)
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp palm sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 litre fish stock
2 lemongrass stalks, outer layer discarded and finely sliced
5cm piece galangal, sliced
2 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves
1 red bird’s eye chilli, sliced
250g raw king prawns, peeled, deveined with tail shells left on
Juice of ½ lime
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1 spring onion, sliced
Handful fresh coriander leaves

  1. Put the tamarind pulp into a bowl and pour over 125ml hot water. Set aside for 10 minutes. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the palm sugar and garlic. Stir-fry for 1 minute.

    Tip To freeze: Freeze at the end of step 2 for up to 2 months. Thaw and complete the recipe to serve.

  2. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Strain the tamarind liquid into the pan and add the lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves and chilli. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the prawns and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until pink and cooked through. Stir in the lime juice, fish sauce, spring onion and coriander. Serve straightaway.

Quick lamb, orange and fennel stew

This recipe works for a light, one-pot family supper. I made it last Friday for six people, because I didn’t want to spend much time in the kitchen in the run up to dinner. I tried to do it in two stages, adding potatoes later. Though the stew was tasty, I suspect it would have been better if I hadn’t done that – the fennel might have stayed crunchier. Will make again, as this is an interesting variety of lamb stew – no brown flavour and orange and fennel combination produce amazingly subtle flavours for a stew! I am not sure this is anywhere near Morrocan cuisine but people commented on the combination as being typical for it.

Ingredients:
Serves 4, Ready in 45 minutes

600g cubed lamb (as the number of guests increased, I added about as much of pork shoulder diced. Wasn’t noticeable in all the lamb juicy goodness.)
2 tbsp plain flour, seasoned
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
300ml fresh chicken stock, hot
500g baby new potatoes (I didn’t have any new ones, so chopped bigger potatoes too big chunks at first, had to halve them as they have to cook in the stew)
1 large fennel bulb, roughly chopped
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

  1. In a bowl, coat the lamb in the seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Add the lamb, in batches, and brown for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

    Tip: Lamb is young and always tender, which is why this stew can be cooked so quickly. Use ready-cubed lamb or cut up your own choice of cut – for lean meat, choose leg; if you like it slightly fattier, try neck fillet.

  2. Add the onion, garlic and fennel seeds to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden.
  3. Stir in the orange zest and juice, the chicken stock, potatoes, fennel and browned lamb. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  4. Stir in the vinegar and parsley and adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve in warmed bowls with steamed spinach or spring greens. I had to add quite a bit of salt at the end as I am scared of over-salting, but the meat and potatoes can take quite a bit of salt to get the flavours stand out as they should.

Note: Nutritional Information per serving:
422kcals, 19g fat (6.3g saturated), 37.2g protein, 28.9g carbs, 7.3g sugar
Ingredients

Chicken tikka masala

I made this last week on a weekday and must say it was the best Indian dish I have had outside the Painted Heron. It is not from an Indian source but from Gordon Ramsay. The rice is wonderful too, cardamom and star anise working its fragrant magic.

Ingredients:
Serves 4

Groundnut oil
1 large onion, peeled
2 fresh green chillies
1″ piece of ginger, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
½ tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp tomato puree
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
4 boneless chicken breasts (approx 150g each), cubed
10 dried curry leaves
4-6 tbsp natural yoghurt
Handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped

For the steamed rice
400g basmati rice, rinsed
600ml cold water
Salt and pepper
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 star anise

  1. Heat two tablespoons of groundnut oil in a pan. Slice the onion and fry in the oil. Meanwhile, deseed and chop the chilli, chop the ginger and add to the hot pan, crush in the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes to soften.
  2. Add the chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala and sugar and cook for 1-2 minutes. Next, add the tomato puree and chopped tomatoes to the pan and allow them to cook for a further few minutes.
  3. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and blend until smooth (I transfered into a deepest pyrex ball I had and used a hand blender. This seems unnecessary as the sauce already look good, but it is an essential step to make the dish really creamy and make all the flavours blend.
  4. Add a tablespoon of fresh groundnut oil into the pan and fry the chicken pieces until lightly coloured (watch the video from Gordon on how to joint a chicken). Pour in the blended sauce and add the curry leaves. Simmer gently for 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. Place the rice in a saucepan, add the cold water and season with salt and pepper (watch the video from Gordon on how to cook rice). Lightly crush the cardamom pods with your fingers and add to the pan with the star anise. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the rice to steam for a further 5 minutes. Remove the cardamom and star anise. Fluff up the rice with a fork and set aside.
  6. Stir in the yoghurt to the chicken curry along with half the chopped coriander. Serve with the steamed rice and garnish with the remaining coriander.

Pan fried calf’s liver

Prepared the French way, calf’s liver is one of my favourite quick and fairly posh dinners. I ask the butcher to cut not too large but rather thick slices, at least 1 inch, preferrably more, 1 1/2 even 2inch is best. I discovered this having the dish at Cafe Boheme (scroll down to the Mains), which has the perfect way of preparing it.

Heat heavy-bottomed pan as hot as you can (I always use Le Creuset gridle) with just enough oil to stop the liver sticking to it too much. Cook for 3-4 minutes depending on how rare you like the meat in the middle. Remember these times apply to thicker slices. After 3 minutes on each side check the meat by making a small incision to see the center and make a decision depending on your preference. Season and serve with horse-radish or mustard potato mash, fried onions in winter and wilted fresh spinach in summer.

Cold calf’s liver is wonderful with bread the next day.

Note: Never salt liver before cooking, it’ll go hard and chewy.

Roast duck dinner

Last weekend I decided to roast a (german) duck I had in the freezer (and to free up the space for another one!). I still had some red cabbage, parsnips and pears in the larder from the Christmas break, so I bought some brussels sprouts for a partial re-enactment of the highly succcessful Christmas dinner. Here are some photos of the lavish affair:

IMG_7680 by alecmuffett IMG_7682 by alecmuffett IMG_7684 by alecmuffett IMG_7689 by alecmuffett IMG_7690 by alecmuffett IMG_7695 by alecmuffett IMG_7698 by alecmuffett IMG_7702 by alecmuffett IMG_7711 by alecmuffett IMG_7713 by alecmuffett

I used Delia’s roast duck recipe which worked really well, even in my thermostat-busted oven. I took it out almost an hour before it was due according to the recipe and the duck was cooked to perfection – crispy skin but juicy meat. Will test in new oven and report on timing again.

Ingredients

1 oven -ready duck weighing 2.25kg (5lb) to 2.7kg (6lb)
salt flakes
freshly milled black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC, 425ºF gas mark 7. Prepare the duck by wiping it as dry as possible with kitchen paper. Then, using a small skewer, prick the fatty bits of the skin, particularly between the legs and the breast. Now either place it on the roasting rack in the tin or make a rack yourself by crumpling the kitchen foil and placing it in the bottom of the roasting tin. Season with salt flakes and freshly milled black pepper, using quite a lot of salt, as this encourages crunchiness. Now place the tin on a highish shelf of the pre-heated oven.

After 20 minutes turn the heat down to gas mark 4. 180ºC / 350ºF / gas mark 4, then basically that’s all you have to do is leave it alone for 2½ hours (or 30 minutes longer for a 2.7 kg bird). During the cooking time, using an oven glove to protect your hands, remove the tin from the oven and drain the fat from the corner of the tin – do this about 3 times (the fat is brilliant for roast potatoes, so don’t throw it away).

When the cooking time is up the duck skin should sound crisp when it is tapped with a knife; if it’s not, pop it back in the oven for a bit longer, then when it’s cooked allow the duck to rest for 5 minutes or so, then divide it into portions: all you need to do is cut the bird in half lengthways (ie, along the length of the breast then either side of the backbone) with a sharp knife, then cut the halves into quarters, leaving any escaped pieces of bone behind. (You may need some help with some kitchen scissors here.) Serve with the sauce poured around so as not to lose the crispness of the skin.

Featured side-dishes:
Red cabbage with apples & juniper berries
Brussels sprouts with parmesan & almonds
Roast parsnips and pears with thyme