A Ragu-gu-gu!

It’s been a funny old year so far, like one of those intense mystery novels with one dizzying plot twist after another.  None of us know what’s going to happen next, the author has gone rogue & the leading characters are all bickering with each other like petulant, hungry teenagers.  When everything seems to be a swirl of stress & stomach dragons are grumbling, never fear – comfort food is here!  A proper dinner helps calm grumbling of all kinds, soothing those pesky stomach dragons & restoring a little peace (albeit briefly).

Preparing a meal is something I truly enjoy.  It’s impossible not to feel relaxed, while creating something so comforting & satisfying.  The whole process requires you to focus on each task & that in itself seems to release any tension.  It’s not as precise or technical as some recipes, but it’s sheer ease brings a sense of peace as you create a meal for your family.  My adoration of Italian food began when I was a teenager & this is a rush-less ragu recipe I’ve been making for my family ever since.  It is at the heart of my homemade meat lasagne, slowly baked between blankets of cheese sauce & sheets of homemade pasta, regularly shared as a Sunday dinner & often accompanied by my Husband’s focaccia (he’s quite a talented baker).  Sometimes I make it with sausages, sometimes beef or both, usually whatever I’ve got in the freezer (I freeze meat in small batches for this very purpose).  

This is a family-sized recipe & will serve at least six people generously (it makes a decent six portion lasagne too, although I have stretched it to eight on occasion).  Keep some handy in the freezer for when you’re short on time (make sure you use fresh beef or sausage if you intend to freeze it though, not previously frozen).  

A ragu is not fast food – to me it means “Relax And Gradually Unwind”, so just take your time & go at your own pace – there’s definitely no rush.  Ready to ragu?  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

200g Minced Beef or 4 Plain Pork Sausages, skins removed (or half beef & pork)
2 medium Carrots, washed, peeled & finely chopped
2 sticks of Celery, washed & finely chopped
1 medium Onion, skin removed, topped, tailed & finely chopped
2 tins of Plum Tomatoes & their juice
1 generous tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 or 2 dried Bay Leaves (if you’re unsure, just use one)
1 sprig fresh Rosemary (approx 6″ long), leaves chopped finely
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped/sliced finely
2 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A splash of Balsamic Vinegar (the good stuff – about a teaspoonful)
Seasoning – Sea Salt & Black Pepper, both freshly ground

What to do:

Firstly, prepare your garlic, carrots, onion & celery.  Make sure you wash the carrots & celery thoroughly to remove any grit or dirt.  Peel the carrots & trim the ends off them & the celery.  Chop finely into mini pieces & set aside on your board.

Next, peel the garlic & onion.  Top & tail the onion, then chop finely as before – you can always use the food processor for this if you prefer.  Here’s a little tip from me: wear sunglasses to help reduce any tears (obviously not dark ones, you need to see).

Chop the garlic finely & then the Rosemary.  Remove the spindly leaves from the stem first – I save these for making mini-tomato & vegetable kebabs.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or deep frying pan on a medium heat.  Add the carrot, celery & onion & fry for a few minutes to soften.  Keep them moving around the pan, so they don’t catch & burn.

Add the meat – squeeze the sausages from the skins straight into the pan if it’s easier.  Break any big chunks into finer pieces (I use tongs for this, but a wooden spoon or spatula is just as good).  Stir fry until the meat is thoroughly coloured & all the pink has disappeared.

Season with a little salt & pepper, sprinkle in the garlic, Rosemary & bay leaves, giving everything a good stir (the scent is fabulous).  I don’t add the garlic at the beginning, because it can burn quite quickly & lose it’s sweetness.

Next, add the tomatoes – I tend to buy the whole plum tomatoes & squish them by hand, evenly over the pan.  Yes, it’s messy but you’ll wash.  Half fill each tin with cold water to swirl out those last little drops of tomato juice into the pan too – we don’t waste anything!

Add the tomato puree & a good splash of balsamic vinegar (even a few drops makes all the difference).  Reduce the heat to low & let it softly simmer for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Give it a taste, then add a little salt & pepper as needed (depending on the sausages you use, you might not need very much).  Using a clean spoon, taste it again to make sure it’s to your liking (seasoning is a personal thing).

Once you’re happy, let it bubble away on a gentle simmer for another 30 minutes or so, until reduced to a rich, thick meaty sauce.  Give your ragu another quick taste to check the seasoning is good & adjust it if you need to.  To test if it’s done, drag the spoon through the middle (the parting of the ragu) – if it leaves a gap & you can see the bottom of the pan, then it’s ready!

Get the family together, grab a fork & get stuck in!  It makes a sumptuously lazy supper generously spooned over spaghetti (with a good scattering of grated Parmesan on top), or stuffed in a variety of pasta parcels & shapes.  This versatile rich meat sauce is especially fabulous layered up in lasagne – here’s the link to my vegetable lasagne recipe, just swap the meat ragu for the vegetable one: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/perfect-pastafication/

When the world gets too fast, slow down the pace & make a little comfort in your own kitchen with a fabulously flavourful ragu – Relax And Gradually Unwind.  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

Chop Chop, Busy Busy, Work Work, Dinner!

After a rather hectic week of baking, caking & bunny making, a form of nice normality has resumed in the Hungry household.  Breakfast bars full of oats & apricots are baking nicely in the oven & their familiar, fruity fragrance is wafting around the house, a seductive scent of apricots & buttery, toasted oats.  The coffee pot is almost empty, but that can be easily rectified!   It’s always a bit of a limbo day after a long weekend & sometimes Tuesday can feel a bit Monday-ish, so the last thing anyone wants to be doing is making a complicated concoction for dinner tonight!

Our weekends are usually a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of affair (if Lamborghini made rollercoasters, that would be about right), so an easy week-night dinner is more than welcome.  Although I love cooking, even I like a night off every now & then, so these sticky pork chops are really easy & one of my “chuck everything in a dish” meals (yay, my fave!).  The hardest thing you will have to do is wait half an hour for everything to cook.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I like to have a selection of sides in the freezer for mid-week meals & I usually have a couple of pots of my lazy, cheesy mashed potatoes for such occasions (really, who has the time or energy to mash spuds after work?!).  If you too want to be prepared like a cooking ninja, here’s the link to pre-prepped enlightenment:   https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/freezing-your-assets/.  The best bit?  You can pop them into little oven-proof dishes to cook alongside your chops – no fuss, just fabulous & faff-free!

So, are you ready for dinner?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

6 Pork Chops (lean & preferably boned – less cleaning up)
Fresh Sage leaves (approx 12)
6 teaspoons Light Muscovado Sugar
Balsamic Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly ground Black Pepper

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.

Drizzle a little of the olive oil in the bottom of a shallow glass dish (I use my lasagne dish).   Please don’t use your best baking tray, because when the sugar caramelises it could possibly ruin it!

Trim the excess fat from the pork chops & just leave a little around the edge.  This will add flavour & you can discard it when they’re cooked (it will just peel off).

Lay the chops fat-side out in the dish & drizzle a few drops of olive oil on top.

Carefully spoon on the sugar, all across the middle of each pork chop.  Muscovado is a moist sugar, so you don’t need much & it gives a light caramel taste.

Top with a couple of Sage leaves on each chop, gently pressing them down flat.

Drizzle a little Balsamic vinegar & then dust with some freshly ground black pepper.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 20-25 minutes, turning them over halfway through – be careful not to splash yourself, as molten sugar will hurt!

Once cooked, they will turn a dark, treacle colour.  Remove the dish from the oven, cover with foil & leave on a cooling rack to rest for five minutes.  Remove the fat around the edge before plating up, along with the Sage leaves if you prefer.

Simply serve these sticky, sweet chops with some of my lazy, cheesy mash or a few crispy roasted potatoes & a heap of steamed veg.  They are filling & flavoursome, go with all sorts of sides including fragrant, fluffy rice & I’ve even served them with chips & a gorgeous green salad.

That’s dinner done, just pop the dishes in the sink to soak while you’re eating!  Any leftovers can be sliced into strips & tossed in twirls of pasta, along with some snipped up sundried tomatoes & a little grated Parmesan – easy lunch for work tomorrow too!

Now, get those feet up, grab a cuppa & have a relaxing evening.  Stay hungry 😉  A x