The power of AGA

27 February 2005

I still remember when I first had this lovely dish more than four years ago. My friend Cheryl – who has wonderful taste and is also a great cook – she and her husband Neil had a lovely cottage in Suffolk and kindly invited us for lunch. That was just after I moved to Britain and the idea of the ‘British country cottage’ wasn’t very familiar to me, I was like ‘Oh!’ ‘Wow!” every time I saw anything ‘country-ish’ in the house (excuse my bad English).

One of the most interesting things I saw among their tasteful décor was their AGA cooker. I don’t know how popular these traditional Swedish cookers are outside the UK; but it seems that you must have one if you live in a typical British country cottage. They said that you have to keep it running all the time because if you turn it off it takes days to heat up again – I was so fascinated!

I noticed the lovely smell when we walked in the kitchen and I asked her what she was cooking. She said they were oven dried tomatoes that she put in the cooker a while ago (I was excited at this stage already). They had a wonderful concentrated flavour and she kindly told me how to make them, fortunately there wasn’t anything complicated involved and I could manage to make them myself. It’s a very versatile and useful dish, that’s definitely one of my favourites since then. I personally like to sprinkle some dried oregano, garlic and a pinch of sugar before the roasting, but it’s totally up to you. It is essential to choose good vine ripened tomatoes – and then just roast them at 120-130 degrees (centigrade!) for 2-3 hours.

I’m quite happy with our oven, but I still believe that anything cooked in this legendary oven tastes better…
 

        22 comments    Permalink

  • hi keiko! aga cookers are associated with british countryside cottages so much that there is a whole section of literature called "aga sagas", which are usually family dramas set in some idyllic british village.somewhere. usually in the writer’s head. i can’t imagine what it would be like to live with an aga, though. having it heating the house all day would be fine if in the cold and damp, but i don’t think they ever get hot enough to do anything remotely like a stir-fry. stir-stew, maybe. they are making gas versions now that look like the traditional aga, but i always thought that its aesthetic appeal was fairly minimal. i think the constant heat comes from the fire actually heating up a mini-rock quarry in the base of the cooker. a friend in london had a neighbour with an aga in her second story flat--they had to reinforce the floors before installing it so it wouldn’t bring the whole house down!

    Posted by santos. | 28 February 2005 #
  • You make me want an Aga stove! And those tomatoes!!! I just want to eat them now. They are inspiring me to make some!

    Posted by rowena | 28 February 2005 #
  • the problem seems to be (as santos points out) that agas are made for slow-cooking (like stew), but useless at producing a proper steak or grilling... the cooking method differs enough to warrant specific cook books and none of the regular recipes will work for an aga - outsmarting themselves there, I guess.

    Posted by | 1 March 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko san! Congratulations on your beautiful blog! I’ve been drooling just looking at the gorgeous photographs! Those tomatoes look so cheery on a winter day. :-D

    Posted by joyce | 1 March 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko! Thank you for commenting in my blog - I’m so happy to have found yours! It’s beautiful!

    Anne in Sweden

    Posted by Anne | 1 March 2005 #
  • RYC: If you were in the area, I’d certainly invite you over for a meal!! But you must know what you have done by posting that yummy photo of the tomatoes up there......I will have to make those soon!! To think that I even thought to buy my next bottle!

    Posted by rowena | 1 March 2005 #
  • I too adore roasted tomatoes. I do mine at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 4-6 hours, with only a bit of ground coriander and some good sea salt. Sooo delicious!

    Your photography is stunning, by the way. Really, really lovely!

    Posted by Molly | 1 March 2005 #
  • Hi Santos - I’m glad I can share this story with somebody in Guam! I’ve seen the gas versions too, I know what you mean though (I quite liked the pink one, have you seen it?). I think your friend’s neighbour is very brave... I’m glad the whole house didn’t come down!

    Hi Rowena - Thank you, I’m already looking forward to the dinner at your place :) About the tomatoes, I’m sure you can get the best varieties there and of course, the best buffalo mozzarella too! Yum!

    Hi Anonymous- Thank you for your comment, it’s really interesting and makes me want one (with AGA cook book!) one day...

    Hi Joyce - Thank you for visiting, I’m glad you had a wonderful time in Japan and I look forward to seeing you in the UK soon :)

    Hi Anne - Thank you, as you can guess, I end up looking at your kitties (like Rowena) every time I visit your site...

    Hi Molly - Thank you for visiting. I said ’2-3 hours’ in the post, but I actually prefer when I leave longer like yours... Ground coriander must go really well with the tomatoes, I’ll definitely try next time! I look forward to your coming posts.

    Posted by keiko | 1 March 2005 #
  • Let me be alone with them for 10 minutes... :-)

    Posted by stef | 3 March 2005 #
  • Hi, Keiko, someone posted a link to your blog at a food forum, noting its glorious photography—makes me want to toss my camera into the ocean. (Of course, the camera is going back to the Canon hospital for the third time since I’ve had it, so I already want to toss it into the ocean.)

    I make tomatoes like these. We call them "tomato crack." I don’t know your specifics, but my technique is to toss the slices into a miniscule amount of EVOO, with scant amounts of kosher flake salt or sea salt, ground black pepper, and a pinch of sugar. (The pinch of sugar is necessary, I feel.) We roast at a very low temperature (200F) for two hours or so. The slower and longer, the softer the tomatoes. If they start to brown too much on the edges, it’s time to remove them. I don’t like them as dried out as commercial sun-dried tomatoes, but exactly as yours are pictured: moist and delectable.

    A favorite use of these tomatoes, if they survive more than the ten minutes, is to use them in an omelet with smoked trout and goat cheese.

    Where I live, on the central coast of California in the little town of Soquel, we have an amazing microclimate at our house that occasionally allows the tomatoes growing under the south eaves to produce fruit throughout the winter. (Call it a ten-month season: from June until the following April.) These late-season tomatoes are intensely sweet, and they make the best oven-dried tomatoes of all.

    I am very excited because we have six seedlings ready to go into the ground this coming weekend. Just thinking about tomatoes makes me happy.

    Congratulations on your lovely photography. You’re an inspiration.

    Posted by Tana Butler | 7 March 2005 #
  • I’ve just discovered your fantastic website, whilst browsing I would like to put the record staight about Agas . They are great for stir fries, and steaks can be seared to perfection in a griddle pan placed in the top oven. In fact I haven’t yet discovered anything that you can’t do in an Aga that you could in a conventional oven. My conventional cookbooks are still as useful and I can even warm my cold feet while waiting for the kettle to boil first thing in the morning!

    Posted by sheelagh | 7 March 2005 #
  • Hi Tana - Thank you for your kind words, your photos are gorgeous! So please don’t toss your Canon into the ocean :)

    I agree with you that these are much nicer than shop-bought sun-dried tomatoes - yours sound so delicious in an omelette with smoked trout and goat cheese! Yum! I can almost imagine the sunshine in California (I wish I lived in such a lovely place...) please put some photos up when your lovely tomatoes are ready!

    Hi sheelagh - Thank you for visiting, I’m jealous that you’ve got an AGA, especially now that I know you can cook anything (and warm your feet) with it! If you have a site, I’d like to see pictures of your AGA.

    Posted by keiko | 9 March 2005 #
  • Hello again, Keiko!

    Today by coincidence I was going through some back-ups of old work, and found a tutorial I’d composed for some friends who begged me to show them how to make Tomato Crack (one of our names for these oven-dried tomatoes, which I also called "Godiva Tomatoes" -- as in "Godiva Chocolates").

    This is not at all a glamourous page, but I posted it here for you to see:

    http://www.tanabutler.com/maters/index.html

    Mine are much flatter than yours, and are not sitting in oil, but I promise they are extremely savory, just the same.

    Anyway, I came back to visit your site and saw you’d answered my question. Thank you much, and keep up your beautiful work.

    Ciao for now!

    Posted by Tana | 17 March 2005 #
  • Hi Tana - thank you for the link on your site, I’m sorry for the late reply.
    I just revisited your site and sent a message. I like the name ’Godiva Tomatoes’, I think they are *that* gorgeous too! I think the way you cut the tomatoes looks prettier, I’ll do that next time. Please let me know when I do another of your favourites!

    Posted by keiko | 25 March 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko, Konnichiwa! I stumbled upon your blog a few days ago and I love it! Your photographs and stories are simply beautiful. I’ve been visiting just about everyday to check out what’s new. Am wondering if you could share with me the recipe for those ’mouth watering tomatoes’ - I’d love to make those! I do love tomatoes and always wanna try to do something different with them. Looking forward to reading more of your culinary adventures. Thanks!

    Elna Smith
    London, England

    P.S. I also studied and lived in Japan for 3 yrs as a graduate student and i do love Japanese a lot! Am looking forward to your Japanese food entry in the future!

    Posted by Elna Smith | 29 March 2005 #
  • Hi Elna - Hajimemashite! Thank you for your kind notes, as I wrote in the post, that’s not really a recipe - just cut the tomatoes in half and place on roasting tray, season with salt and black pepper and sprinkle dried herbs/garlic if you want. Drizzle over olive oil and roast them in a preheated oven (about 120-130 centigrade) for 2-3 hours. However if you prefer them plain, I don’t think you need to put anything on top, even oil. It’s important to use good ripened ones.

    It’s wonderful to hear that you studied in Japan (and that you liked living there), I’ll try to make a post about Japanese food sometime. As you said you live in London, I just thought that you might be interested in joining the food blogger’s get-together which Jeanne of cooksister is planning. Please email me if you’re interested.

    Posted by keiko | 1 April 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko, you know what? I did not read the whole entry for the tomatoes before emailing you. I then re-read the whole thing today and realized it’s all in there. My apologies. Thanks for giving me the specific instructions anyways. You are too kind to repeat the whole process of making them.

    I’d love to go the bloggers get together. Pls let me know the specific date and time and I’ll check my schedule if I am available. Oh and I’d love to meet up with you as well! Thanks a lot!

    Posted by Elna Smith | 2 April 2005 #
  • Hi Elna - could you email me as I’d like to let you know the details of the get-together. Thanks!

    Posted by keiko | 7 April 2005 #
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    Posted by Adipex | 24 February 2006 #
  • Great site.

    I just had to say a word for the AGA. My mum has always cooked on an AGA, having originally a coal fired one which you had to load through the middle of the hot plate and now an oil one and I love them. Like any bit of equipment you have to get used to it and it does somethings better than others, however to say that you can’t do most ordinary recipes with it simply isn’t true. It just suits a certain type of cooking best. It is perfect for simple, authentic flavours that want a bit of time to come into their own.

    Then there is the intangible pleasure of cooking on an AGA which is difficult to describe unless you have it as part of your routine. You learn to adapt to its eccentricities; cook anything needing browning first, have pots half on half off the plates to control the heat or prepare what you can in advance and leaving it sitting in the bottom oven. In fact I think half the pleasure is in getting the best out of it and its simplicity as a tool.

    Okay so admittedly I would want a two ring gas on the side for any serious heat but apart from that I will do pretty much what you ask of it.

    Finally I must add that if you haven’t had a baked potato from an AGA I would suggest you haven’t had one full stop.

    Best wishes. Alex

    Posted by Alex | 4 February 2008 #
  • Has anyone got an AGA 6 – 4 and if so have you had trouble with the ovens. Please post comments if you have. I live in Cheshire, England and have had lots of problems and found AGA customer service dire!

    Posted by JuNE BUCKLEY | 19 November 2008 #
  • In reply to June Buckley, yes we have an Aga 6-4 and all of our ovens have now stopped working. Aga customer service have been absolutely, pitifully useless. Have you determined wahat the problem was with yours? It’s looking like we’ll be having to find an independent repairer to fix ours as Aga say they will usually only service / repair the “traditional” ranges. Hopeless….

    Posted by Gary Jckson | 26 December 2008 #
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