Tag Archives: pasta

Reworking leftovers – oxtail to ragu

As I have discussed previously, I often cook more of a dish than I need for that meal, so that I have something left over to go into a plastic storage container for another meal in a day or two’s time.  Whether, technically, those are leftovers or the product of strategic planning, is perhaps a topic for discussion around a table of anally-retentive / obsessive-compulsive types who have already had one too many glasses of wine…

Kitty made some oxtail (my father’s warped name for the same dish is “beef bum-wiper stew”) a week or so back, which she served with polenta. It was delicious and, according to her, came the closest that she had ever done to her late mother’s version of the dish.  We ended up with leftovers, for which I already had a cunning plan… I would rework the oxtail into ragu, which could then go over pasta one night.  Another option is to put the de-boned oxtail in ravioli – B had enjoyed just such a dish, which was stunning, at the Ten Bompas restaurant some years back.

The following recipe is based on something B did recently with some oxtail that she had made for me prior to one of her extended trips to Moscow, after she had returned to find the oxtail still lurking in the freezer.  I suspect there is also some influence from her recent Tuscan cooking course.

Reworking oxtail into ragu

The messy part involved deboning the leftover oxtail, separating the already-tender meat from the remaining bones.  The bones went into a stock pot with the leftover herbs, to be boiled a while longer so that I could extract the remaining meat and have some stock to enrich the ragu.

My trusty JamieO / T-Fal deep frying pan went onto the gas hob with a few glugs of olive oil and 1 or 2 sliced garlic cloves.  As I have described previously, I let the oil warm through slowly, extracting a subtle garlic flavour from the sliced cloves, without the potential harshness of crushing the cloves into the sauce.  Once the slices turned golden brown, they came out (once drained of the oil, they make “interesting” nibbles for those who don’t mind garlic taste and breath for an extended period, but I usually just bin them).  Whilst the oil was chatting up the garlic cloves, I had finely chopped some brown portabellini mushrooms – those went into the warm oil along with a knob of butter and a few sprigs of thyme to simmer and soften.

After 5 minutes or so, I added the oxtail meat and leftover gravy to the pan, stirred them into the mushrooms and let things warm up again.  I then added a big dollop of tomato paste (I keep a tube of tomato paste in the fridge for just such flavour-enhancing moments) and a spoonful of whole-grain mustard.  Once those had started to get well-acquainted with the meat-mushroom mix, I poured in some red wine and a glug or two of port.  I left the mixture for a few more minutes, allowing the alcohol to evaporate and the fluids to reduce a little.  I then added a stock cube, which I had dissolved in some boiling water, stirred it all up, and left it simmering slowly until the fluids had reduced and the gravy had thickened up again.  Oh – when I was stirring, I also broke up the larger chunks of meat.

On the neighbouring gas ring, I still had the stock pot going, with the leftover bones.  When that had reduced nicely, I pushed the whole lot through a sieve over a bowl, so that I could extract the stock.  By then, I had run out of time (this was the same afternoon that I made the basic tomato pasta sauce and planned on cooking the Sicilian-style tuna for dinner), so I turned off the ragu, decanted it into one plastic container, put the stock into a separate container, and left both to cool before putting them into the fridge.

The advantage of allowing the stock to cool in the fridge was that, a day or so later, I could easily remove the layer of fat that had settled on top of the rich stock.  The stock and the ragu went back into that famous pan and onto the stove to warm up and reduce a little further.  A word of caution – with all the reducing, based on a dish that had already been seasoned and to which I had added a stock cube, there was no need for any further seasoning.

The ragu would be delicious over some penne or tagliatelle, or as filling in some homemade ravioli (which remind me, at some stage I need to post my pasta dough recipe) – or, even better, as pelmeni filling (pelmeni are Ukrainian or Russian pasta parcels, similar to ravioli – I will post that recipe at some stage, too).  The ragu would even work on a slice of toast, as a real bachelor meal!  This batch of ragu, however, went straight into one of those ubiquitous plastic containers, clearly labelled (I put a strip of masking tape on the lid and write on that with a permanent marker), and into the freezer.  There was enough to make a warming meal for two on a cold winter’s night when I don’t feel like cooking from scratch, or don’t have time.

I have some baby leeks in the fridge, surplus from a chicken pie I made recently.  Later today or tomorrow I am going to use those leeks, with the meat from some pork sausages and some crème fraîche that I found in the freezer, to make yet another pasta sauce – but that is a topic for another posting.

Frozen pasta sauce to the rescue – sooner than planned

Those plastic containers I fill with leftovers or prepared sauces or meals and pop into the fridge or freezer often come in handy – and not just for healthy meals in the office (when I go to one…).  That basic tomato / chilli / chourizo pasta sauce I made and froze just 2 days ago served as the basis for dinner tonight – a little sooner than I had originally planned.

We woke this morning to find the power off (before 8am), so I spent most of the day out.  It was a busy Sunday, running around the shops and doing DIY at Kitty’s house. I eventually got home just before dark to find that there was still no electricity.  There were, however, the siren calls from that pasta sauce in the freezer, along with the remainder of a box of tagliatelle.  I pulled the plastic container out of the freezer and popped it into a sink of water (just up to the lid), which speeds up the defrosting.  I also found a handful of frozen prawn tails taking up far too much room in the freezer, so lobbed those into a ziplock bag and put them into the same sink of water to defrost.

The City of Jo’burg likes to bill itself as a “World Class African City”.  When it comes to potholes, malfunctioning traffic lights (or “robots” as we Saffers call them), corrupt traffic police and regular water and power failures, however, Joburg is almost as bad as many other African and developing world cities.  I’ve not yet sprung for a generator, but I am thankful B and I installed a gas hob and gas fireplace some years back.  I also keep several torches and fluorescent lanterns handy, along with 6 or 7 5-litre bottles of drinking water.  During sustained water outages, the swimming pool can be used to flush toilets and, worst case, provide water to be boiled for washing.

Tonight I was thankful for that gas hob, along with the lanterns and, most useful of all, my son’s Petzl headlamp torch.  It left my hands free to cook and work, whilst providing great lighting just where I needed it.  I’ve been wanting one of those torches for myself for a long time now, and tonight persuaded me that it was definitely past time that I bought one!  A present from me to me…

I started with a salad, which I cobbled together from the veggies in the fridge (which, thankfully, was still cold).  The ice cubes were also still frozen, so my Scotch was the right temperature, too.  I ate the salad before I even started warming the pasta sauce, so that I would have a reasonable idea of my appetite.

The gas hob soon had the pasta water heating nicely.  Once the pasta sauce had defrosted a little, I popped it into that awesome T-Fal / Jamie Oliver frying pan to warm.  I cut the prawn tails in half, as they were quite long, and grated some cheese.  Apart from my usual Grano Padano, I also grated some 5-year-old Cheddar that Kitty and I had bought at the Farmers’ Market in Pretoria on Saturday morning (more on that below).  The Cheddar was hard and crumbly, like mature Parmesan, but with a delightful “twang” on the tongue.

When the pasta water was boiling, I popped the tagliatelle into the salted water, and the prawn tails into the sauce.  The pasta needed only 5 minutes to get to the al dente stage, then I added it to the sauce along with several spoonful’s of the pasta water.  That’s another trick B brought back from her cooking course in Tuscany – finishing the pasta in the sauce, with the cooking water helping to make a beautifully silky pasta.

Finished pasta - prawns, chourizo, chill in a basic tomato sauce (and that frying pan I love so much)

Finished pasta – prawns, chourizo, chill in a basic tomato sauce (and that frying pan I love so much)

The power came on at last during the cooking process – then went off – came on – went off – came on – went off – and, eventually, came on and stayed on (so far).  I got tired of taking that headlamp torch off and on, so simply left it on and just turned it on and off as the lights did their slow-motion disco dance.  The pasta, thanks to the gas hob, was hot and yummy.  There was even enough left over for a second meal – so it went into another of those trusty plastic containers and into the fridge, along with the leftover grated cheese.

I mentioned the Farmers’ Market earlier.  About a week or so back, Kitty put an intriguing appointment into my online calendar:  called “An early morning Autumn adventure”, it booked out my Saturday morning from the frightful hour of 5am to a slightly more pleasant 8am.  The alarm dragged us from sleep just after 4h30 and we were on the road just after 5am.  Our destination, as I eventually discovered, was the Boeremark (Afrikaans for Farmers’ Market), at the Pioneer Park in the East of Pretoria, a city about 50km north of Johannesburg.  I knew that we had crossed the “boerewors curtain” (another “Seffricanism” – boerewors is our local sausage, literally translated it means “farmers’ sausage”) when we were directed in the pitch dark parking area by a young man clad in a t-shirt and shorts, barefoot and sporting impressive facial hair for his tender age – with the outside temperature just above 6 degrees (C not F).  For such an ungodly early hour of the morning, the market was buzzing with people – most of the stallholders had probably slept there overnight, or been going since about 4am.  Lots of fresh produce from farms in the surrounding areas: vegetables, fruit, eggs, honey, meat, preserves; also crafts, hot coffee (thank you!), cheeses and many other interesting and yummy things.  Kitty came away with some vegetables and we both bought some lovely cheese.  We were on the road back to Johannesburg when the sun peeked over the horizon.

Lunch today was sushi at Tsuyu (https://www.facebook.com/tsuyu.za?ref=stream&hc_location=stream), rated by many as the best Japanese restaurant in Johannesburg.  Located in the Pineslopes shopping centre, just across the road from the Monte Casino complex, Sandi and Roger run a bustling little restaurant that has been a favourite of ours for a number of years.  Highly, highly recommended.  We had their new Salmon Tataki dish alongside our regular selection of salmon nigiri (for me) / salmon roses (for Kitty), dumplings and Ika calamari, all washed down with some saki.

Avoiding waste – basic pasta sauce

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of tomato – particularly fresh tomato, which I refused point blank to eat for over 40 years. I eventually changed my mind, but only after discovering the mind-blowingly tasty tomatoes in Russia (where B and I lived for just over 2 years).  That said, I have been cooking with tomatoes (fresh and tinned) for quite some time, and I periodically buy fresh tomatoes for my favourite ladies and my children (who love fresh tomatoes and, thankfully, have not inherited that particular idiosyncrasy of mine – my son eats those little Rosa or cherry tomatoes like sweets).

All of that is a long way of explaining that, by yesterday, I had some tomatoes lurking in the kitchen that were decidedly past their best.  The only solution was to turn them into a pasta sauce, to  be stored in that fantastic plastic in the freezer, ready to be defrosted for a quick ‘n easy simple pasta meal, or to form the basis for a more complex dish (by just adding some de-shelled prawn tails, for example).

It had been a busy week and, by Friday afternoon, I was in the mood for some cooking.  Dinner was going to be that Sicilian-style tuna I posted recently, and I also had some of Kitty’s leftover oxtail from earlier in the week that I wanted to turn into ragu (I’ll post on that later in the weekend).  First, however, I needed to get rid of those sad tomatoes…

Basic tomato pasta sauce

Apart from the tomatoes, you need some good olive oil, some garlic cloves, anchovies, fresh chillies, tomato paste, salt and black pepper.

B taught me a trick that she’d learnt on a cooking course she went on in Tuscany last year – instead of crushing fresh garlic into a sauce, you put the garlic cloves into the cold olive oil, which you heat slowly.  Once the cloves start to brown, remove them and continue with the rest of the recipe.  You get a milder garlic flavour than you do with the addition of crushed garlic.

Warming the garlic slices in the olive oil (from cold)

Warming the garlic slices in the olive oil (from cold)

After removing the garlic slices, add the anchovies and diced chourizo

After removing the garlic slices, add the anchovies and diced chourizo

Chopped red chillies added to the garlic / anchovy / chourizo flavoured oil

Chopped red chillies added to the garlic / anchovy / chourizo flavoured oil

 

Just after adding the tomato purée to the oil mixture

Just after adding the tomato purée to the oil mixture

Of course, I cannot resist trying to improve things, so, instead of lobbing whole cloves into the cold olive oil, I prefer to slice the cloves first: the theory being that more surface area is exposed to impart flavour to the oil.  When it comes to pasta sauces, I love using my Jamie Oliver / T-Fal stainless steel frying pan, which has deep sides and heats evenly.  As already discussed, I started the sauce by slicing a few fresh garlic cloves, added them to a puddle of olive oil in that pan and put it onto a low flame to heat (I do so enjoy cooking on gas!).

I then trimmed the green and white bits from the tomatoes, cut them into chunks and blitzed them (skin, pips, the lot!) to a fine purée in the Moulinex mini-blender (yet another useful kitchen gadget I use often).  Once the garlic slices had browned, I removed them from the hot oil and threw in 2 or 3 anchovies, which I broke up using my trust wooden spatula.  That was followed by some diced slices of chourizo sausage and chopped fresh red chillies.  After I had left that mixture to sizzle quietly for a few minutes, I poured in the liquidised tomatoes and mixed it all up.  The smell of fresh tomatoes quickly filled the kitchen, replacing the anchovy / chourizo / chilli scent of a few minutes before.  To add flavour, I squeezed in some tomato paste from the tube that I keep in the fridge for just such occasions.  I left the whole lot to bubble away quietly until the fluid reduced and it thickened up.  The herb pots outside the kitchen door yielded some fresh basil leaves, which I chopped coarsely and stirred into the sauce towards the end.  The addition of some Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper finished it off (after a taste check).  I left the pan to cool for a while, then poured the sauce into one of those plastic containers I love so much, labelled it (so I know what is in there in 3 months’ time – time and alcohol seem to be playing havoc with my memory…) and popped it into the freezer.

As I said earlier, the sauce will be delicious by itself over some tagliatelle, for a quick ‘n easy meal, or jazzed up with some of the frozen prawn tails I keep handy.

Mmmm – I’m getting peckish again, and I have not made any progress since lunch on those chores, so definitely time to ignore the keyboard for a few hours.