Sweetcorn now in stock

One of the most endearing scenes in the movie Big (where Tom Hanks plays a little boy magicked into a man’s body) is when he picks up an ear of baby corn and eats it, typewriter-style, at a fancy event. Of course, baby corn usually tastes of nothing but tin, but at least you don’t have the problem of what to do with the cobs afterwards.

If you’re getting through a heap of sweetcorn this summier, let me introduce you to an excellent kitchen hack: you can turn those nibbled cobs into the sweetest, most flavoursome stock ever. It doesn’t make them fit into your worm farm any easier, but at least you’re extracting maximum value first.

SWEETCORN STOCK

Gather as many cobs as you have – ideally 4-6 – and put them in a large pot with half an onion, a well-washed carrot and a stick of celery. Cover with cold water. Cover the pot and set over medium heat. Let it come to the boil, then simmer gently for 40 minutes. Cool and strain into suitable containers with lids. Refrigerate and use within five days, or freeze for up to three months. And if you’re wondering what to do with sweetcorn stock, the following recipe should do the trick nicely.

SWEETCORN AND KUMARA CHOWDER

Save this for a rainy day (there’s bound to be one along soon!)

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo sauce (roughly 1 chipotle, with a bit of sauce around it)
3 ears sweetcorn, kernels shaved
1 medium kumara, peeled, diced
2½ cups sweetcorn or other vegetable stock
⅓ cup creme fraiche, plus a little more for garnishing if desired

Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is beginning to soften. Add the salt, turmeric and chipotle. Add the corn kernels and kumara. Stir well, then add the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the kumara is soft.

Remove from the heat and puree, either using a stick blender, a food mill or a food processor. Return to the saucepan and taste for seasoning – add more salt if needed. If the soup seems very thick, add a little boiling water. Stir through the creme fraiche and reheat gently. Serve hot, garnished with a little extra creme fraiche and a drizzle of chipotle sauce.

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.

Pearl barley, lemon and avocado salad

Spring is a tricky time of year for salad lovers. In theory we should all be eating new baby greens and skipping about the place like newborn lambs. In practice, at least in Wellington, we’re as likely to be huddled over the soup pot muttering incantations to the weather gods. The following salad is my answer to this kind of climatic conundrum – it makes use of the things that have now sprung back into season (avocados, parsley, lemons), but it has enough heft to keep you warm on a less-than-optimal day. It also makes a great take-to-work lunch, even if it’s not warm enough to sit outside and eat it.

Pearl barley, lemon and avocado salad

Serves 4-6

Pearl barley is brilliant for salads like this as long as you remember to keep it in balance with the other ingredients – I can happily eat it unadorned but that can be a bit confronting for first-timers. I aim for a 50-50 ratio: 50 per cent barley, 50 per cent other things. Meyer lemons (actually a lemon-mandarin hybrid) are sweeter than ‘real’ lemons and have golden skin and flesh.

1 1/4 cups pearl barley

3 large Meyer lemons, washed

6 spring onions, finely chopped

1 avocado

3 big handfuls fresh mint and flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

4-5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Put the pearl barley in a sieve and rinse well under the cold tap. Tip the barley into a medium saucepan and add 2 1/2 cups boiling water. Set over medium heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the barley is tender and has absorbed most of the water. Set aside to cool completely.

While you’re waiting, cut one of the lemons into small dice – including the skin, but making sure to discard any pips. Put into a bowl. Add the zest and juice of the other two lemons into the bowl, plus the spring onions. Peel and stone the avocado and dice the flesh into the lemon mixture. When the barley has cooled, add this to the bowl with 4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Fold together gently, then stir through the chopped herbs. Taste – add more oil if necessary and season well with salt and pepper. Pile onto a dish and serve. Any leftovers should be kept in a tightly covered container in the fridge. The avocado may brown a little but it will still taste good on day two.

How to make mascarpone

Ever been at home and experienced a mascarpone emergency? You know, that feeling you get when you really need a tub of thick, luscious cultured cream but you know the corner shop won’t have any and you can’t be bothered going to the supermarket? Well, let me save you. Here’s a dead easy way to make mascarpone at home that doesn’t require faffing about with straining through layers of cheesecloth and other such hassles. This is a two-ingredient wonder that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Homemade mascarpone

There are more recipes for mascarpone than you can shake a stick at – and a lot of argument about which method is better, or more authentic. I’m not interested in wading into that quagmire, especially since I don’t have any claims to knowing the secrets of Italian grandmothers. However, I do know the way my mother used to make it and it works a charm. All you need is a thermometer and a bit of patience.

1 litre cream

1/4 tsp tartaric acid

Pour the cream into a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the cream reaches 90C. When this happens, add the tartaric acid and stir for 30 seconds. Remove the pot from the heat and stir for another two minutes (at a leisurely pace, don’t work up a sweat), then remove the bowl from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Unless you’re in a very warm climate, you can safely leave the cream at room temperature for about four hours. By this time the cream should have thickened considerably. Give it a stir, then cover and put it in the fridge for at least three hours before using – ideally overnight.

I find it thick enough by this point, but you can always strain it through a layer of new cheesecloth or similar if you want the end result to be very thick. The resulting cheese will keep for more than a week in the fridge – but since I can just about eat it straight from the bowl I never have a problem with using it up. If you need more inspiration, there’s this Black Doris and white chocolate tiramisu, this tagliatelle with smoked trout and mascarpone and this breakfast dessert option – raspberries, walnuts and mascarpone on toast.

SALTED CARAMEL CHOCOLATE COOKIES

Some people see the end of the financial year as a time to reflect upon their achievements and set their goals for the next six months. I’m not one of them.

It’s not that I’ve been sitting around doing nothing (so far this year I’ve made a book, written a lot of stories, held down a day job and managed to maintain most of my obligations to society), but it’s gone by so fast that I’ve barely had time to blink, let alone plan.

However, there is something I’ve been doing that I have every intention of continuing and that’s eating chocolate in large amounts (especially late at night while doing all the things listed previously). Reader, I have become seriously addicted to Whittaker’s Dark Salted Caramel Chocolate. Seriously addicted. I have to forcibly stop buying the stuff because once the packet is in my hand I come over all Augustus Gloop-ish and can think of nothing else but ripping open the golden packet and shovelling it in. This chocolate, which the Whittaker’s Oompa Loompas spent THREE YEARS perfecting, came out in May and I reckon we’ve probably averaged a bar a week ever since. I felt a bit ashamed of this statistic at first but now I’m owning it proudly. If you’re going to comfort-eat, you may as well do it with the good stuff, right?

In between eating it out of the packet I’ve been experimenting with using this chocolate in baking (beyond chopping it up and sprinkling it over French toast). This recipe is the result.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cookies

If you can’t get Whittaker’s (another reason to love living in New Zealand at the moment), try these with another caramel-filled chocolate. If you like cookies to be thinner and crisper, reduce the amount of flour a tiny bit (say, by a couple of tablespoons). They’re good either way!

125g softened butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 Tbsp golden syrup

1 small (size 6) egg

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour

18 squares Whittaker’s Dark Salted Caramel Chocolate (or alternative)

Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease or line two baking trays.

Cream the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy. Add the golden syrup and egg and beat again until well combined. Sift in the flour and stir to mix. Take generous tablespoons of the mixture and stick a square of chocolate in the middle of each one. Roll into a ball (to enclose the chocolate) and place on the prepared tray. Repeat until all the mixture is used up. Leave lots of space between them as they will spread while cooking. Press each ball lightly with a floured fork and sprinkle with flaky sea salt before putting the trays in the preheated oven.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight tin.