Donal Skehan: 'This slow braised beef ragu will have plates licked clean'
Quick cooking and speedy suppers have been the name of the game for the last couple of years as our family expands and life gets busier.
There's nothing like an incoherent mini dictator sitting in a high-chair calling the shots to force you to get your skates on and make recipes that don't take half the kitchen contents to magic up.
Despite the necessity of all my 'meals in minutes', I do still cherish those weekends when you can take time in the kitchen to slowly coax something magical out of a roasting tin or a big casserole pot. The irony is that these are often, in fact, quick-prep meals in that they take little time to prepare and the oven or the hob does the rest of the work for you.
When it comes to entertaining for family and friends, especially on the weekends, I want easy options that won't have me chained to the kitchen but will deliver the goods to a rousing round of oohs and aahs when the dish eventually gets plonked on the table.
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This week's recipes are all about indulgence and showing that a little prep goes a long way.
A slow braised beef ragu, which I made for my mum's 60th birthday in Italy (sorry Liz, it's out there now!) will have plates licked clean, an unashamedly easy and indulgent tomato confit dish to be devoured with crusty bread, and a sticky toffee banana pudding with cheat's salted caramel to next-level your dessert game. Make time to cook this weekend - you'll be glad you did.
Slow Braised Beef Ragu
Cook time 150mins
A slow-cooked beef ragu should be part of every cook's recipe arsenal - it's unashamedly easy to make and makes you look like a pro. Ideally serve with pappardelle, wide flat pasta; alternatively tagliatelle will do the job.
4 tbsp olive oil
1.5kg braising steak (beef shin or cheek), cut into large pieces
2 tbsp plain flour
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
250ml white wine
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
Squidge of tomato purée
100ml full-fat milk
400g dried pappardelle
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Parmesan, or pecorino shavings, to serve
1. Heat half the oil in a large shallow casserole over a medium-high heat while you season the beef and dust it in the flour. Shake off any excess and add the beef to the casserole in batches, browning it on all sides. Remove from the casserole with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Add the remaining oil to the casserole and fry the onion, carrot and celery for 5-6 minutes until softened, then add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and white wine.
3. Bubble for 2-3 minutes then return the beef to the casserole with the tomatoes, tomato purée and milk. Season well.
4. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 2 hours, adding a splash of water or stock if it starts to look too dry. The beef should be lovely and tender.
5. When the cooking time is almost up, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente then drain and drizzle with the olive oil. Shred the meat into the sauce then serve the ragu on top of the pasta, scattered with lots of shavings of Parmesan or pecorino.
Butter Confit Garlic & Cherry Tomatoes
Cook time 30 mins
Even the most miserable tomatoes can be transformed with time in the oven, particularly if they are bathed in bubbling buttery olive oil. Mound those wobbly toms onto crusty bread doused with their cooking liquor and this is complete indulgence. Even if you don't commit to a big dinner party dish, this served to table by itself is an absolute treat! Cutting a little off the end of each garlic clove makes it easier to pop them out of their skins once cooked.
50ml olive oil
250g cherry tomatoes
10 garlic cloves
2 sprigs thyme
Rustic baguette, to serve
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
2. Add the butter, oil and tomatoes to the ovenproof dish. Cut a little off the bottom of each garlic clove and add to the dish. Tuck the thyme sprigs in around the tomatoes and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Place in the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes until the tomatoes have softened and the garlic is tender. Serve to the table with really good crusty bread for mopping up the sweet tomatoes.
Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with Cheat's Salted Caramel
Cook time 60 mins
Makes 10 mini puddings
Sticky toffee pudding and banana bread are two of my desert-island desserts and in this recipe they are amalgamated to create a next-level sweet treat.
175g stoned dates, chopped
160g butter (plus extra for greasing)
190g soft light brown sugar
2 large free-range eggs
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g self-raising flour
2 bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the salted caramel:
150g soft dark brown sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
150ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Generous pinch of sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Grease 10 small pudding moulds and divide them between two baking sheets.
2. Put the dates and 300ml water in a saucepan and place over a medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to the boil and then simmer for around 20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half and the dates have completely softened.
3. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric hand mixer until light and pale. Add one egg at a time, mixing after each addition, until they are incorporated.
4. Blitz the dates with a hand blender while still hot, until smooth, then stir through the bicarbonate.
5. Fold the date mixture, flour, bananas and vanilla extract into the pudding mixture until you have a smooth batter. Divide the mixture between the six moulds and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
6. To make the salted caramel sauce, place the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil until the sugar is dissolved.
7. Add the cream, vanilla extract and salt and whisk together. Bring to a steady simmer for 3 minutes until the sauce is thick.
8. Insert a metal skewer into the centre of one of the puddings; if it comes out clean, they're ready. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before inverting them onto serving plates. Serve covered in the caramel sauce.
A good start...
A load of crêpe
The classics are called that for a good reason and we recently filmed a recipe video for my YouTube channel for Crêpes Suzette. Flambéed crêpes doused in a sweet, sticky and boozy caramel sauce - I had forgotten just how easy it is! Now officially the winter dessert I will be making on repeat until I've bored everyone with it at ours for dinner!
We're suckers for a good candle in our house. My wife Sofie, having grown up in Sweden, is all about evoking a sense of Scandi hygge around this time of year and our candle of choice at the moment is the Golden State scent from the PF Candle company - a whiff of redwood, palo santo and eucalyptus - sure what else would you be havin'?
A good start...
Our go-to Saturday breakfast spot is a beautiful bakery called Gjusta in Venice. Pastrami cured salmon with pickled brightly coloured vegetables, capers, labneh and grain toast - it's everything I want for a slow start to the weekend.