Italian comfort food and the easiest cake in history

ragu

Winter doesn’t seem to be shifting quite as quickly as we’d like. The problem is that I always forget about February. January I’m prepared for; I protect myself from the hideous post-Christmas-blues and the financial hardship that accompany them by making sure I’m as busy as possible. You don’t mind the fact that it’s colder than December and November put together because January is still ‘proper winter’. But really my patience runs out at about this time of year when it’s still showing only TWO DEGREES (feels like -12) on my Met Office app.

This weather calls for comfort food; something slow cooked and delicious and hopefully cheap (because let’s face it – the financial hardship almost always continues into February). For this particular Sunday lunch I decided to cook a Beef Ragu with Pappardelle. I scouted round for a recipe online and predictably settled on a Jamie Oliver that I think comes from the original book Jamie’s Kitchen. The recipe said serves 4 but we found it more than enough for 6 (with seconds)!

  • One 28-ounce piece braising meat (beef/venison)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 handful each of fresh rosemary and thyme, stems discarded and leaves finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, finely chopped
  • 2 wineglasses Chianti
  • 2 tins of plum tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons pearl barley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pappardelle
  • Unsalted butter
  • 2 handfuls grated Parmesan (plus extra to serve)

Season the meat with salt and pepper and cut into 2-inch chunks. In a hot casserole-type pan, fry your meat in a little olive oil until golden brown on all sides. Add your herbs, onions, garlic, carrot and celery. Turn down the heat and continue to cook for 5mins until the vegetables have softened.

Add your red wine and continue to simmer until the liquid has almost cooked away but left you with a fantastic colour and fragrance.

Add the plum tomatoes, pearl barley and just enough water to cover the meat by 1/2 inch. Make yourself a cartouche (cut out a piece of baking parchment to the size of your pan). Wet it with a little water, rub it with a little olive oil, and place it over the pan. Put a lid on the pan as well as this will help retain as much moisture as possible while cooking. Cook over a really low heat for 2-3 hours depending on the tenderness and type of meat. It’s ready when you can literally pull the meat apart in tender strands.

At this point season the braise carefully with salt and pepper to taste and allow to cool slightly before removing the meat from the pan. Using 2 forks, pull apart all the lovely pieces of meat. Skim any fat from the surface of the braising liquid. Put the meat back in the pan over a low heat. (At this point we felt something was still missing – Mr F suggested I stir a teaspoon of Dijon mustard into the sauce and it somehow brought the whole thing together)

It’s now ready to serve so cook your Pappardelle. Once cooked, drain it in a colander, saving some of the cooking liquid in case the sauce needs a little loosening. Remove the pot of stewed meat from the heat and stir in a large knob of butter and the Parmesan with a little cooking water – this will make it juicy and shiny. Serve immediately with the sauce spooned over the pasta and extra Parmesan on top. We put a pot of basil on the table and mixed the torn up leaves in with the sauce. 

Since the recipe had called for Chianti I decided to keep things simple by serving it with just that. This is a great demonstration of one of the basic rules of wine and food matching – that the wines from a particular country often match perfectly with the local cuisine. Chianti is predominantly made from the Sangiovese grape and is naturally quite high in acidity which goes brilliantly with the classic Italian tomato based pasta sauces. This particular one was reduced to £5.99 in Sainsbury’s and not bad at all with straightforward cherry fruit, and smooth tannins.  

I absolutely cannot finish this post without adding in what we had for pudding as it was so brilliantly simple that it’s going to become my staple ‘easy-pud’ of 2013. It came from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries and you could adapt it to whatever fruit you happen to have in the house at the time:

  • butter – 130g
  • unrefined caster sugar – 130g
  • ripe pears – 2
  • eggs – 2 large
  • plain flour – 130g
  • baking powder – a teaspoon
  • blueberries – 250g
  • a little extra sugar

Set the oven at 180 degrees. Line the base of a square cake tin with a piece of baking parchment. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Peel and core the pears and cut them into small chunks. Break the eggs, beat them with a fork, then gradually add them to the butter and sugar. Sift the flour and baking powder together and add them gently into the mixture. Scrape into the lined tin then tip the blueberries and pears on top. Scatter a couple of teaspoons of sugar over the top. Bake for 55mins, then test for doneness with a skewer. Eat warm and serve with cream and/or ice cream.

fruity cake

Recipes taken from Jamie’s Kitchen by Jamie Oliver and The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater.

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One thought on “Italian comfort food and the easiest cake in history

  1. Pingback: Luscious Orange Lobster with Pappardelle | LauraLovingLife

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