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.

Burger Wellington – the book

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!

Five easy spring meals

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? 

Easy Japanese-y pork fillet

Disclaimer: I am not Japanese. I have never even been to Japan. In fact, the closest I’ve got is frequenting a number of Japanese restaurants and sushi bars and in New Zealand, most of them are run by Koreans so I’m not sure they even count.

So while this easy way to cook pork fillet might not be 100 per cent authentic, it does make use of some properly Japanese ingredients, it’s very quick to make and it goes well with a pile of sushi rice and pickled ginger. I reckon that’s Japanese enough for now, don’t you?

Easy Pork Fillet Or Pork Tenderloin Recipe

Easy Japanese pork fillet
This is a really good after-work dinner. Make it even easier on yourself by marinating the pork before you leave the house in the morning (or give it at least an hour in the marinade, at room temperature) if you forget.

1 x free range pork fillet – about 450g
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp good soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp honey

Put the garlic, oil, soy, mirin and honey in a shallow bowl and mix well. Add the pork fillet and make sure it’s well coated with the marinade, then cover and leave overnight in the fridge or leave in a cool place for an hour or two. If it’s been in the fridge, let it sit out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
Heat the oven to 200C and line a small roasting dish with foil.
Heat a heavy frying pan over high heat and pour in a tablespoon of oil. When it’s hot, take the pork fillet out of the marinade and sear it on all sides. Remove it to the roasting dish and put in the hot oven for 20 minutes.
Remove it from the oven, cover loosely with foil and let stand for 10 minutes, then carve and serve with sushi rice, pickled ginger and some steamed beans or broccoli.

Click here to print this recipe.

Green peppercorn sauce for cheats

I pulled a packet of frozen peas out of the freezer yesterday and something heavy shot out from underneath them and landed on my foot. I uttered a string of epithets not suitable for a family-friendly food blog and bent down to pick it up. Was it a brick? Was it a small frozen animal? Was it that packet of wonton wrappers that I’ve been planning to use for ages? In fact, it turned out to be three small pieces of fillet steak. Hurrah! I nearly lost a toe, but I gained an excellent dinner. It seemed like a fair trade to me.

Green peppercorn sauce – the cheat’s version
When I told my beloved we were having steak for dinner he looked like I’d dropped the frozen meat on his foot. He perked up a bit when I told him it was fillet, then he perked up even more when I told him I’d make his favourite green peppercorn sauce. But somewhere between making the offer and dinnertime I got sideswiped by such fatigue that I couldn’t face all that faffing about with reductions and whatnot. Instead, I made this in all of five minutes and it was so good I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the other one. If you’re not a carnivore, rest assured this is equally good on baked potatoes or bread.

100g unsalted butter, softened
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a good pinch of salt
4 tsp green peppercorns in brine

If you have a mortar and pestle, now’s the time to use it. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (or you do and you just don’t have the energy), this is easy enough to do by hand. Put the garlic and salt in the mortar and pound away until it forms a smooth paste. Add the peppercorns and smash them a bit, then add the butter and mush it around a bit. Scrape it on to a piece of waxed paper and roll into a cylinder. Stick it in the fridge to firm up – for at least 15 minutes. When your steak or potatoes or toast is ready, slice the butter into discs and put on top. Buttery, peppercorny heaven awaits. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (or you do and you just don’t have the energy), this is easy enough to do by hand.

What’s your favourite sort of butter?