Milk Braised Ragu With Peas and Beans

One of those dishes that doesn’t sound so appealing, but, it is simple and delicious, and completely unexpected. A great ragu for any “tomato haters”. Or just if you fancy something new and different.
I use a good sized deep saute pan or frying pan to make this ragu.
Serves 3-4


  • Olive oil
  • 50-70g of diced pancetta
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 400-500g minced beef/pork/veal (any one will do, and the beef, surprisingly, really does work well)
  • 2-3 tsp fennel seeds lightly crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 rosemary sprigs, needles removed and chopped
  • 200ml white wine
  • 1 small lemon, zest pared with a vegetable peeler, and juice. If it’s a larger lemon just use half. It depends how lemony you like it.
  • 200ml whole milk
  • 200g peas (frozen are great)
  • 200g small broad beans (frozen, or fresh if you are lucky enough to have them)
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 400-500g rigatoni or similar pasta shape, shells would work


  1. Heat some olive oil in the pan and add the pancetta till it begins to gently brown and renders its fat.
  2. Add the onion and cook it gently till it goes soft
  3. Add the garlic for a couple of minutes to cook it off
  4. Now add the minced meat and cook it a slightly higher heat until the meat is beginning to colour
  5. At the same time add the fennel seeds, rosemary, and bay leaves
  6. Once the meat is really cooking, a couple of minutes, add the wine and let it simmer down to about half
  7. Add the lemon zest and juice, and the milk, don’t worry about it curdling, it will be fine once cooked
  8. Add a little salt and pepper
  9. Simmer gently with a lid for about 30 minutes to gently cook the dish
  10. You can either blanch the peas and beans in a pot of boiling water or just cook them in the ragu, whatever you prefer.
  11. Boil a pot of water and cook your rigatoni
  12. Stir in the grated parmesan to the ragu and let it melt and incorporate
Serve the rigatoni in bowls with the ragu spooned over. Some extra parmesan on the side is useful. A nice olive oil for drizzling might be to some people’s taste. A sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley wouldn’t go amiss….

Tomato and Chorizo Pasta

A good winter warmer. Tomato and Chorizo Pasta is simple and quick to make. Use any pasta shape you like. I think penne or a shell type pasta works best.


  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1-2 fresh chillies to taste, or some chilli flakes
  • 2-4 fresh medium tomatoes, chopped (I don’t skin them but you can)
  • 100ml double cream (more or less to taste)
  • 1 chorizo (cooked), chopped or sliced
  • Some of the pasta cooking water to loosen
  • Basil leaves
  • Parmesan for sprinkling


  1. Put on a big pot of salted boiling water for the pasta.
  2. Put the chopped onions and chilli in some olive oil and soften them gently till the onions are translucent and soft. This can take up to 20 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic once the onions are soft. (Garlic cooks much quicker than the onions and easily burns to the bottom of the pan if put in too early.)
  4. Put the pasta in the boiling water. I use dried pasta and it takes about 10 minutes to cook.
  5. While the pasta cooks add the tomatoes and salt to the onions, chilli and garlic. Let this simmer gently till the tomatoes are soft.
  6. Just before serving add the chorizo and the cream to taste. Warm through but don’t cook (if the chorizos need to be cooked add them alone and a bit earlier).
  7. Stir in some fresh basil and/or parsley.
  8. Drain the penne (keeping the cooking water) when cooked and serve with the sauce. Garnish with pepper and parmesan as your fancy takes you.
I like good smoky Spanish chorizo for the tomato and chorizo pasta. I find six inches of chorizo good for two to three people. I strip any skin or membrane before I cut them up by cutting along one side of the sausage. I find the membrane usually peels off easily.
Using raw chorizo should be equally nice, in which case I might put some fennel seeds in too because it feels right.
Omit the cream if you don’t like or are watching fat.

Ragu (Bolognese Sauce)

This is now my favourite Ragu sauce for pasta. It’s not a traditional Bolognese sauce but this is how I like it.
You can do this with beef, or pork, or a mix of pork and beef. I like the mixed pork & beef mince. You can either get pork and beef and grind it yourself or you can buy it ready minced.
I suggest you make a double batch. Have a fresh egg pasta, ideally tagliatelle, with the sauce. Or Gnocchi is good. Bag up a couple for the freezer. Or make a lasagne. A homemade lasagne with fresh homemade pasta sheets is a bit of work, but a joy.
Serve with grated parmesan or a lovely creamy pecorino if you have.


  • Olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 50-100g of pancetta (it’s even better if you can get proper Italian pancetta)
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in half lengthwise
  • Bouquet Garni – Sprig of rosemary, Sprig of sage, Couple of fresh bay leaves. Chopped basil stalks can be good too if not too woody and just added to the soffrito.
  • Half bottle of drinkable red wine
  • Tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1kg good fresh tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, then chopped. (Alternatively, I frequently use a couple of tins as the fresh ones are often poor)
  • 500g Minced Beef
  • 500g Minced Pork
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Finely chop the carrots, onion, celery. And the pancetta into matchsticks
  2. Put a decent amount of olive oil in a pot and fry off the carrots, onion, celery, with the garlic cloves in a pot and fry them moderately to make the soffritto. Keep stirring and the aim is to sweat them off but not brown them too much.
  3. Fry the pancetta until slightly crispy and add to the soffritto.
  4. In a separate frying pan brown the mince in some oil. Do it in parts. Grey steamed mince is not what we want. This needs a properly hot pan and the mince needs to brown. A slightly golden colour as the mince ever so slightly crisps is the desired outcome. You can actually hear the change in sound from a hiss to a more crackly sound as the mince begins to caramelise. This is what makes the flavour in your ragu. Put the cooked mince in with the vegetables and repeat until you are done. (Tom Kerridge cooks the mince spread thinly on a baking sheet and in a very hot oven until quite golden, I’ve not tried yet but seems like it could be easier and less smoky in the kitchen.)
  5. Now add the herbs in the bouquet garni to the pot, turn the heat up and add the red wine. Stir and cook it off until almost all of the wine is gone.
  6. Add the tomato paste and the tomatoes and stir it in. Bringing back to a gentle simmer.
  7. Put a lid on it and put it in a medium oven for about 90 minutes. Check it every 30 minutes or so. If it’s too wet and sloppy then leave the lid off so it reduces a bit. Don’t be frightened to give it another 30 minutes if it needs it.
  8. When you take it out the sauce should be rich and thick. If it’s not you can put it on the stovetop and reduce it down, but stand over it, stirring all the time or you will burn it.
I bag it up in single and double portions and freeze it so it’s a source of convenient meals. It’s one of those great discoveries in the freezer when you can’t be bothered doing much cooking and you find a leftover bag of ragu. A quick microwave and a boiling of spaghetti produces a delicious emergency dinner.

Oxtail Ragu

Beefy oxtail ragu makes a delicious rich sauce for pasta. Serves 4 as a main or 6-8 as a starter. Takes a few hours to cook, but not much time to prepare. Great to make the day before needed and this also makes it easier to remove the layer of fat from the casserole before serving.


  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 leek if you have it
  • 2 chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg Oxtail
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig sage with 2 large leaves


  1. Pre-heat your oven to 140C fan
  2. Chop the carrot, onion, celery and leek into a fine dice.
  3. Make a soffrito (Heat the olive oil and add the diced veg and the garlic and sweat them off in a casserole pot till cooked but not browned)
  4. While the soffrito is cooking brown the oxtail pieces in a frying pan with some of the olive oil
  5. Add the browned oxtail to the casserole
  6. Add the herbs and pour in the red wine and bring to a simmer
  7. Put the casserole in the oven and cook for 4-5 hours until there is a rich dark sauce and the oxtail is tender
  8. Once cooked take the casserole from the oven and let it cool enough that the oxtail can be removed to a plate to strip the meat from the bones. Collect the meat in a bowl.
  9. Remove the herb stalks
  10. The casserole of ragu will have a decent layer of fat. Either skim this off with a large spoon and discard. Or, chill the sauce in the fridge overnight and the fat will harden and can be easily removed.
  11. To serve, recombine the pieces of oxtail meat with the ragu in a small pot and heat
Best with a chunky pasta like pappardelle. Serve a portion of pasta in a pasta bowl, spoon over some ragu. Serve with a cheese like pecorino or ossau iraty.
  • This would also make a lovely ravioli. Perhaps 3 medium sized ravioli with homemade pasta per person. With a some of the ragu, with only a small amount of sauce, for the filling. Use the rest of the sauce to dress the ravioli. Perhaps some sort of creamy horseradish drizzle would lift it to something pretty special.

Macaroni Cheese

Macaroni Cheese, or Mac Cheese to most, makes a great Saturday evening pasta bowl dinner while catching up with that DVD backlog or the latest “Strictly…”.
This probably serves 3 people or a very hungry couple with some leftovers for supper or the following day’s lunch. (I have to say that microwaved leftover Mac Cheese is definitely a good thing.) Personally, I like Marshall’s small macaroni pasta tubes though some prefer a penne size where more sauce can get into the tube.  Cheese-wise I like the slightly milder Gruyere, though there’s nothing wrong with a cheddar. I like it fairly traditional and simple. If you think pre-seasoning the milk with bay and shallot is a load of old cheffy guff, then don’t. I sometimes put a small amount of thinly sliced tomato on top and then sprinkle the grated cheese, tomato haters won’t. If things like chive are anathema to you then leave ’em out.

  • 60g plain flour
  • 60g butter
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder, or 1-2 tsp of dijon mustard
  • 850ml Milk (I use semi-skimmed but any should do)
  • Bay leaf
  • Nutmeg
  • 250g Macaroni pasta
  • Gruyere cheese 200-300g to taste
  • 1-3 tbsp chopped chives (to taste)
  • Seasoning (salt & pepper)
  • Tomato (optional)
In summary, you make a roux, to make a béchamel sauce. Cook the pasta. Combine with the béchamel (into which you put three-quarters of the grated cheese). Sprinkle with cheese and oven bake for 15-20 minutes. In detail….
  1. Up to an hour before warm the milk with the bay leaf (and some peppercorns, if you like, even a few slices of onion or shallot wouldn’t go amiss) and leave to infuse for 60 minutes. This adds a nice warm bay/savoury flavour to the milk.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C Fan
  3. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil in preparation for the pasta
  4. Melt the butter in a pan, and then whisk in the flour to make the roux. Let it cook off on a low heat for 4-5 minutes. This prevents the béchamel having a floury taste.
  5. Make the béchamel by slowly adding and whisking in about half to two-thirds of the milk. (Making it too milky at the start means the milk might burn on the bottom of the pan. You can add the last of the milk later.)
  6. Simmer the béchamel very gently for about 5 minutes, again this cooks out a flouriness. Add a pinch of salt and a good twist of black pepper. Also, grate in a decent amount of nutmeg. I find about a third of a whole nutmeg is OK. Find what works for you.
  7. Put the pasta on, 10 minutes is fine. Keep stirring the béchamel as it continues to simmer so it doesn’t burn.
  8. Grate the cheese, a coarse grate is Ok, and it’s quicker.
  9. Add the last of the milk to the béchamel to warm up
  10. One minute before the pasta is ready put in about three-quarters of the cheese to the béchamel, so it begins to soften and melt into the sauce, taking the pot off the heat.
  11. Stir in the chopped chives if you are using
  12. Drain the pasta and put in your oven dish
  13. Add the cheesy béchamel and stir gently to mix through
  14. Add tomatoes on top or any other garnish if using. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and a smirr of Nutmeg
  15. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes
  16. If it’s too pale on top turn the heat of the oven up to max for 6-8 minutes to brown the top slightly
Remove it from the oven and let it stand for at least 5-6 minutes to settle and cool slightly. Serve in pasta bowls, which you won’t need to pre-heat as it’s such a hot dish.
  • You could add some browned pancetta to the béchamel sauce
  • Mix some breadcrumbs with parmesan and layer the top with this to form a crunchy texture

Pesto – Classic Italian Pasta Sauce

The subject of a Pesto recipe is a minefield and subject to so much variation. There is no right list of ingredients or method. Many people omit the garlic. Here’s what I prefer. It sounds more work than it is to make. Once you’ve done it a few times it’s pretty quick. You can vary the quantities as you prefer, less cheese, more pine nuts, less garlic. In some recipes, the cheese is pecorino (it’s creamier, sharper, less salty.)
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 clove of garlic (try half or quarter clove if it’s too much)
  • All the leaves (yes, all, but not the stalks) from one of those growing basil plants you can buy in the supermarket
  • About 50g finely grated parmesan (Gran Padano works pretty well and will be cheaper)
  • 100-200ml of nice extra virgin olive oil depending on how “oily” you prefer
Method (Mortar and Pestle)
  1. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan until nicely coloured. Remove them immediately when done (I like a decent bit of dark toasting on the pine nuts) to cool on a plate
  2. Crush and grind the garlic clove to as creamy as paste as you can manage, a few pieces of coarse salt can help this but you don’t want too much as the parmesan is salty.
  3. Now pound the basil leaves and work them till they are a green mush
  4. Add the cooled pine nuts and crush them with the leaves
  5. Begin adding the oil and making a loose paste
  6. Add the parmesan and amalgamate to the paste
  7. Continue to add the oil and stirring it to create a nice a texture you like
If using a blender then just toast and cool the pine nuts, then pretty much everything can go in the blender and get whizzed.
I usually just spoon the Pesto on top of hot spaghetti pulled straight from the cooking pot. Spoon over as much or as little Pesto as you like and mix through with your fork. If you like you can pre-dry some halved cherry tomatoes for about 1 hour in a 100C oven. Sprinkle them over your pasta for extra deliciousness. I also like to keep some of the toasted pine nuts back to sprinkle on top.
It will keep in an airtight Kilner jar in the fridge for a few days as long as there is enough oil in it.

Pasta al Forno, with Tomato, Mozzarella and Parmesan

A very simple dish that we’ve made for about 30 years It’s been a great standby and always seems to hit the spot. Not really authentic Italian but it is Italianesque. Cooked in the oven, al forno.
This quantity is generous for two people.
  • 1-2 tbsp ordinary olive oil
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves crushed, quantity according to taste
  • 1 tsp crushed chillies (optional)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ball of Mozzarella chopped to 1-2cm cubes (we use the stuff in brine and poly bags from the supermarket. It’s going in the oven so we don’t bother with fancy, expensive, buffalo mozzarella. Equally, the hard stuff you can grate is not right for this dish.)
  • a generous handful of freshly grated parmesan (or Gran Padano is just as good). (The dry ready grated stuff you used to get that smelled like vomit cannot be used. It is actually a hanging offence in some parts of Italy.)
  • 20-30 basil leaves
  • 250g dried pasta tubes. Your preference. We use Rigatoni but Penne works fine.
  1. Put on a big pot of water to boil for the pasta, and preheat the oven to 180C fan.
  2. Soften the onion gently for about 20 minutes until it’s soft and translucent
  3. Add the chillies (if you like it hot, angry – “arrabbiata”)
  4. Add the garlic and cook it off for 2 minutes
  5. Add the tomatoes and salt/pepper and simmer very gently for 10-15 minutes (this simmering always seems essential, as something happens with the oil and the tomatoes to take away the metallic “just out of the tin” flavour.)
  6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta. It only needs the minimum time stated as you are going to cook again with the sauce in the oven.
  7. Drain the pasta into a suitable dish or tray with at least 4cm sides
  8. Add the tomato sauce and mix through
  9. Now stir in all the mozzarella, half the parmesan, and the basil leaves torn in half
  10. Finish by sprinkling over the remaining parmesan
  11. Put it in the oven for about 15 minutes. It needs to be long enough to heat through and melt the cheese. The top will crisp slightly, I find this is a love/hate thing depending on the individual.
  • Add some chopped courgette or other vegetables, you just need to make sure they are cooked enough or pre-cooked.
  • Omit the chillies
  • Add more chillies