ROASTED GNOCCHI WITH SAUSAGE, TOMATOES AND CHEESE

In recent weeks I’ve developed a somewhat shameful addiction to vacuum-packed gnocchi. You know the stuff I mean – little huhu grubs of potato and god-only-knows-what-else stuffed into flat packets that stack so easily in the cupboard. This gnocchi, which bares only a passing resemblance to the real deal, is the Italian cousin to the mighty two-minute noodle. It’s fast, convenient and – despite negligible nutritional value – can be just what you need in times of trouble.

The trick, of course, is knowing how to pimp them up. Here’s what I did the other night, cleverly combining the contents of the fridge with a packet of gnocchi for a dinner that practically cooked itself and cheered us all up.

Roasted Gnocchi With Sausage And Cherry Tomatoes

Roasted gnocchi with sausage, cherry tomatoes and cheese

Feel free to add any suitable vegetables here – eggplant or zucchini would be excellent when they’re in season. Tucking extra cheese in (feta or halloumi, perhaps?) is a good idea if you’re not fond of sausage.

Extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1 bulb fennel, trimmed and sliced

1-2 red peppers, cut into chunks

6-8 good quality pork sausages, cut into small pieces (use scissors)

2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed

500g vacuum-packed potato gnocchi

2-3 handfuls finely grated Parmesan cheese

A handful of finely chopped parsley

Heat the oven to 200C. Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat.

Pour a splash (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons) of olive oil in a heavy roasting dish. Add the onions, fennel, peppers and sausage chunks. Toss together, season well with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

When the water is boiling, add a handful of salt and the gnocchi. Cook for two minutes (the gnocchi should float to the top), then drain immediately. Tip the gnocchi into the roasting dish of vegetables and sausage. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir together. Drizzle with more olive oil and scatter over the grated cheese. Return the dish to the oven and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the sausages are cooked, the cheese is crispy and everything smells delicious. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately with a green salad on the side. Serves 3-4.

sweet cheeses

Since October is National Cheese Month in New Zealand, today’s Three Ways With… column is dedicated to blue cheese. Well, I had to choose one, and if you can’t choose your favourite in these circumstances, when can you? Here’s my Kikorangi pannacotta in all its lovely wobbly glory.

If the thought of a blue cheese pudding freaks you out, here’s the equally lovely (but much less wobbly) cauliflower and blue cheese soup that features in the same column…

If you like blue cheeses but lack the time or will to do anything with them beyond sticking slices on a cracker, try this handy tip I picked up from a maple syrup seller at the Food Show. Simply cut a generous wedge of blue cheese (my all-time favourite, after discovering it at the Outstanding Food Producer Awards earlier this year, is Whitestone’s Aged Windsor Blue) and balance it on an oatcake or very gritty-textured cracker before drizzling it with the best maple syrup you can find (don’t try this with anything that pretends to be maple-flavoured). Repeat as necessary.

Lastly, if your cheese tastes tend to the plain and simple (or you are unexpectedly required to come up with some snacks for small children), here’s a handy cheese hack. Spread a sheet of shortcrust pastry with Marmite and top with grated cheddar before baking in a very hot oven for 10 minutes. The kids will love it, but they’ll have to be quick because any nearby adults will hoover it up as soon as it hits the table.

Made any excellent cheese discoveries lately? Let me know…

Kitchen DIY: Goats’ curd

Q: What do you call a goat that’s sitting around doing nothing?

A: Billy Idol.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. I fell down a rabbit hole of goat memes on the internet the other day and bad goat jokes were rife. Believe it or not, the Billy Idol example was one of the better ones.

Goats have been on my mind because today’s Three Ways With… column is all about using goat meat, milk and cheese. The latter has become much more common in New Zealand in recent years -there were loads of great goats’ cheese entries in the recent Outstanding Food Producer Awards, for example – but the former two are only just on the cusp of being mainstream. It’s a pity, because they’re delicious – and they tick all the boxes in terms of careful production and quality.

I was inspired to make my own cajeta (pictured above) after tasting Hamilton company Cilantro‘s version. Making your own is fun, not difficult and yields a generous amount that will disappear quickly. It’s the closest thing I’ve tasted to manjar, the highly addictive Chilean dulce de leche. One spoonful and you’ll never be satisfied with salted caramel again.

If you’re too pure to sully your palate with such decadence, but want to have a play with goats’ milk in the kitchen, I strongly recommend DIY goats’ curd. I make it quite often (short-dated goats’ milk is often on special at my local food emporium) and it’s the sort of kitchen magic trick everyone should know how to perform.

DIY Goats’ Curd
This is about as simple as cooking gets – milk + heat + coagulant + time = soft, creamy goats’ cheese. Smoosh a bit on some toasted baguette, drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and bliss will be yours.

500ml (2 cups) goats’ milk
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
a pinch of salt

Heat the goats’ milk until simmering point. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, until curds have begun to form. While you’re waiting, line a sieve with muslin (I use a very fine cotton table napkin) and set it over a large bowl.
Carefully pour the curds/milk into the sieve. Leave to drain for at least 20 minutes, pressing it gently to squeeze out the whey. If you’re not in a hurry, you can put the sieve/bowl arrangement in the fridge and let it drain for a couple of hours.
When you’re ready, scrape the curds into a small bowl. Use immediately or cover and store in the fridge.

Are you a fan of goats’ produce? Or do you have a good goat joke to share? Let me know!

Five ways with cheese

Smile, it’s National Cheese Month! I know these things (National Donut Day, anyone?) are spurious at best, but if the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association wants us to dedicate October to the noble activity of eating cheese, I’m not about to argue.

Instead, I humbly offer you five of my favourite cheesy recipes…

 Secret cheese and onion bread – soft, white, pillowy dough, with a molten cheese middle. Blissful.

Roasted cauliflower cheese – exactly what it says, but with spices (and optional potatoes, or greens, or both).

Jenny’s cheesy potatoes – an absolute Corry family classic (no one can make them like Jenny can, but with practice, you can nearly reach cheese and potato nirvana).

Bermuda salad – a Moosewood Cookbook number, in which cheese plays an important but not overpowering role. I was dubious too, but it’s very good.

Sara Lee cheesecake – looks just like a bought one, tastes a million times better (and is about as easy to make as pulling one out of a packet).

What’s your favourite thing to do with cheese?

Good things: September 2015

Like a lot of food bloggers, I get asked to spruik a lot of stuff. Mostly, I don’t do it, not least because I often have no interest in the products they’re flogging. I’d also like to think I have more respect for my readers than expect them to read posts that say ‘look, here’s something I got for free and you didn’t’.

But every now and then I find something that I think really DOES warrant being written about. Here are a few of these things that have crossed my path recently.

I’m ashamed to admit it, because in theory I have a herb garden at my disposal, but this new range of lightly dried herbs from Australian company Gourmet Garden is really, really good.
If fresh herbs go to your fridge to die, half-used (or, like me, you can’t be bothered trekking to the bottom of your garden in the dark to pick your own), then these will be a god-send. Like the name suggests, they’re very lightly dried, so they last up to a month once opened but they’re still ‘live’ enough to taste fresh and perky. There are three herbs – basil, parsley and coriander, plus ginger and chilli. I’d love it if they did hard-to-find herbs like tarragon and dill too, but maybe I should just hurry up and grow my own.

According to conventional wisdom, eating ginger biscuits is a guaranteed remedy for morning sickness. In my limited experience, this is an outright lie. All it did for me was a) get crumbs in the bed and b) make me feel sick whenever I saw a packet of ginger biscuits. It’s taken me a long time to get over that Pavlovian response, but I’ve finally cracked it. Just in time, too, for the arrival of Nairn’s Stem Ginger Oat Biscuits in New Zealand. These are seriously good, with little nuggets of proper stem ginger inside, and a crunchy texture. They’re also not too sweet, and good with cheese. Speaking of which…

…this isn’t new, but our amazing neighbours brought it over last weekend. It’s Ngawi Brie, made over the hill in the Wairarapa by Miles and Janet King of Kingsmeade Cheese. I interviewed the Kings a few years ago and I’ve made a conscious effort to support them by buying their cheese ever since (such a sacrifice).

Last of all, I’ve made a surprising discovery at the other end of the scale. It’s this – Pam’s Cocoa.

Believe it or not, this is the best supermarket cocoa you can buy. It knocks spots off the Cadbury Bournville stuff, which is like light brown dust in comparison. True, it’s not Valrhona, but it’s also much more wallet-friendly. And that always leaves a good taste in my mouth!

What new discoveries have you made this month?