It’s spring! Proper spring – with balmy temperatures, early rising birds and new buds appearing in the garden. Well, it was like that a few days ago. Now we’re back to tempestuous winds, lashing rain and that horrible greyness, but I’ve got high hopes.

Spring Daffodil Photo: Lucy Corry

It’s too soon for asparagus and the little lambs arriving in paddocks near you are too small for the cooking pot, but there are lots of other spring-y things to eat. Here are five easy spring dinners to add to your repertoire…

1. Superfood Salad: It’s got quinoa, broccoli and other spring-y, crunchy things to make you feel like frolicking in the sun. What more do you need?

Leon-Style Superfood Salad

2. Tray-baked Lamb and Potatoes: This is really good for those ‘I can’t think what to have for dinner’ evenings, which occur in our house at least once a week. Everything goes in the oven in one dish and there’s minimal cleaning up (even the non-cooks can make this one).

Easy Greek Lamb And Potatoes

3. Spring Cauliflower Soup: Cauliflower has had a bit of a renaissance of late, thanks to the craze for turning it into a pizza crust, but I think it’s unbeatable in this simple and healthy cauliflower soup.

Detox Cauliflower Soup

4. Simple Smoked Fish And Rice: This is another one-pot wonder, handy when you’ve been out in the garden tackling six months’ worth of weeding.

Easy Smoky Fish And Rice

5. Little lamb burgers: If you’re blessed with a beautiful spring day, cook these outside on your (long-neglected) barbecue. If it’s ‘sit inside by the heater weather’, they can be baked or pan-fried indoors.

Little Lamb Mince Burgers

What are your plans for this spring? 

One of the Small Girl’s favourite things is the Colossal Squid at Te Papa. Have you seen it? It’s the only colossal squid specimen on display in the world and once you’ve gazed at all 495kg of it in the tank you can watch the strangely compelling video footage of it being caught, then transferred to the museum. There’s a 3D movie as well, but I’ve never managed to watch it because “no Mummy, it’s too scary”. One day, I’m going to go to Te Papa by myself and watch the whole thing.

Anyway, we talk about colossal squids a lot at our place. A couple of weeks ago I bought some baby octopus to sizzle on the barbecue and watching them wriggle around on the hotplate was so disturbing that it nearly put me off eating them. Thankfully, scored squid tubes don’t look nearly as lively during the cooking process and they taste just as good.

Calamari Panzanella
Apart from being so good to eat, squid is incredibly cheap. Make sure the ones you are buying have come from waters close by – the frozen Chinese stuff for sale in most New Zealand supermarkets isn’t fit for bait.
This started out as a classic squid and chorizo salad but soon morphed into something else. It’s not really panzanella, but it’s not far off.

400g squid tubes
200g chorizo sausage, sliced into coins
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 red peppers, sliced
a punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
lots of fresh parsley, finely chopped
4-5 slices of good, rustic bread (slightly stale is ok), cut into 2cm cubes
olive oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Heat the oven to 200C. Toss the cubed bread with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and put in a roasting dish. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden. Set aside.
Rinse the squid tubes, then dry with kitchen paper and lie on a board. Cut each one open so it lies flat, then score carefully with a sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern. Cut into 2cm x 5cm strips, then put in a bowl with the soy sauce, garlic, 2 Tbsp of olive oil, and some salt and pepper. Set aside.
Toss the toasted bread, tomatoes, peppers and parsley together in a serving dish.
Heat the barbecue or a large frying pan and fry the chorizo for a few minutes, until it is crisp. Scatter over the tomatoes and bread. Fry the squid for about 2 minutes, over very high heat, until it is opaque and curled up. Toss it through the tomato, chorizo and bread, then drizzle over the red wine vinegar and a little olive oil.
Serves four as a main course.

This summer, more than any in recent memory, has been the summer of the barbecue. We’ve been firing it up at least two or three times a week since early December and it has to be our most-used cooking implement of 2013 so far. I’m sure there’s a moral in that somewhere, because it’s not in the least bit fancy. It was a wedding present, which makes it nine years old on Wednesday, and it’s about as basic as you can get. It’s also gas-fired, which lacks the romance of charcoal but has the advantage of being far easier to light.

Barbecue flatbreads
These involve a bit more effort than non-yeasted flatbreads, but not much. They’re also nicer to eat and somehow seem a bit more substantial (which is quite handy if all of a sudden you end up feeding more people than you anticipated). I sometimes substitute 100g of the white flour for wholemeal, and use chilli oil instead of ordinary EVOO. Garlic oil would be great too. Little helpers enjoy ‘having a turn’ at rolling them out.

500g strong white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
330 ml tepid water
3 Tbsp (45ml) olive oil


Put the flour and yeast in a large bowl and stir well, then add the salt and stir again. Make a well in the middle and pour in the oil and water. Mix well to form a rough dough, then cover the bowl with a teatowel and leave for 10 minutes. 
Rub a little oil on the work surface, then tip the dough on top of it. Stretch and fold the dough in on itself about five times (as shown here), then leave for 10 minutes. Repeat this process three more times, then gather the dough into a ball and put into a large, well-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic and leave to rise until doubled – about an hour.
When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface. Press it out into a rough rectangle, then roll this into a sausage. Cut it into eight pieces.
Roll these out gently into rounds about 1cm thick (mine always end up a bit more free-form), then place on a floured tray. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 10 minutes, then take the tray out to the barbecue and cook the flatbreads on the hot plate for about two to three minutes each side. These are best eaten immediately, but you can reheat them reasonably successfully the next day (even in the toaster).

Have you been having a barbecue summer? What have you been cooking?

Now, I know you’re going to think I’ve lost the plot when I tell you that you should whip up a batch of flatbreads to mop up your next curry or wrap around that collocation of cold meats and salad bits lurking in your fridge. But really, you should. If I can do it while the Small Girl is doing her python impersonation (ie, entwining herself around my legs in an effort to be picked up because it’s getting close to dinner time and what the hell, she just feels like it) and the Boy Wonder is getting a slew of work phone calls culminating in him putting on his superhero cape and fleeing the house, then you can do it too.

Fast Easy Flatbreads

This recipe is from Hugh F-W’s River Cottage Everyday. The Boy Wonder bought me this for Christmas last year and I can confirm that it just makes me love him more every time I open it. Hugh, that is. I mean, how could I love the BW any more than I already do? (*rolls eyes*)

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Flatbreads
Honestly, this post took longer to write than making these little babies. I think we’re going to be seeing a whole lot more of them.

250g plain flour
1 tsp fine sea salt
150ml warm water
1 Tbsp olive oil

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Mix the oil and water together, then pour into the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon or your hand until a slightly sticky dough forms. Turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about five minutes, until it feels smooth and plump. Cover the dough with the upturned mixing bowl and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes.
When you’re ready to cook and eat the flatbreads, place a heavy non-stick or cast iron frying pan over a high heat. Roll the dough into a sausage and cut into eight pieces. Roll each out into a round (ish) shape, about 2-3mm thick. I used my hands at this point to stretch the dough like a piece of wet material. I would roll one out, then cook it, rolling out the next ones as I went.
To cook, lay a flatbread on the hot pan and let it sit for about two minutes, until it’s lifting off the bottom of the pan. Turn it over and let it cook for a minute, then remove it to a plate lined with a clean teatowel. Cover the cooked flatbreads with the teatowel to keep them warm and soft.
These are best eaten as soon as they are cooked, but any leftovers can be reasonably successfully reheated in the toaster. See, told you it was easy!