The contents of my freezer never cease to surprise me, and this morning, discovered a packet of 2 duck breast fillets… rather past their best but after defrosting I was able to satisfy myself that even though their quality was no longer the tops, they were safely edible. Purchased at half price as they were close to the use by date and displaying evidence of freezer burn (dryness caused by their contact with air during their time in the freezer) one could be forgiven for ditching the pack; but no, embracing a no waste policy what these fillets required was a slow, moist, flavoursome preparation… perfect for ragu!

Ragu is a rich, bolognaise style sauce for pasta, normally containing carrots, onions and celery. A hearty dish and not one normally associated with the longest day, June 21st. Actually, that’s not strictly true – my first recollection of celebrating this day was fjord-side in Norway… 24 hours of daylight which included a warming supper prior to wandering down to Oslo fjord to see the traditional bonfires which, as well as being for effect, help keep everyone warm!

Now living in France and 2011 being the 30th anniversary of the Fete de la Musique, I celebrate the thought of balmy temperatures to enjoy this special, extended day. Alas, wishful thinking is all it is and following a scorching spring, temperatures have plummeted, rain showers persist and I long for comfort food…

Duck Ragu

Serves 6

Hearty, warming, comfort food - economical too as a little meat goes a long way.

  • Olive oil
  • 2 duck fillets
  • 2 or 3 carrots, peeled and roughly cut
  • 2 or 3 sticks of celery, washed and roughly cut
  • 1 onion, peeled, halved and roughly cut
  • 1 leek, washed and roughly cut
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • About a glass red wine
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Water as required

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, lidded sauté pan and flash cook the duck fillets until just cooked, about 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Whilst the duck is cooking put the carrots, celery, onion and leek into the goblet of a food processor, chopping to quite fine dice (alternatively, roughly chop by hand).

2. Remove the cooked duck, adding the chopped vegetables and a dribble of olive oil to the pan and gently cook until beginning to soften. Whilst the vegetables cook, roughly chop the duck in the food processor.

3. Add the can of tomatoes, fish sauce, rice vinegar, red wine and seasoning to the pan – raising the temperature to bring the mixture to a fast simmer. Add the duck meat, cover and reduce the temperature to a gentle simmer and cook for about an hour, stirring from time to time and adding a little water when necessary until the sauce is richly thick and the duck meat is perfectly tender.

Taste to check the seasoning then serve with your favourite pasta and a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese