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.

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.

Broccoli and the beautiful game

When Frenchman Arsene Wenger became the manager of the Arsenal football team in 1996, the players were not amused. Marie Antoinette might have been in favour of cake but Wenger took the opposite view: half-time Mars bars were out, broccoli was in. The proof was in the (lack of) pudding – within two years the team went from being lardy losers to league and FA Cup champions.

I haven’t played football since about 1985, but broccoli is still held in high esteem in my household. We call it healing broccoli and it’s the perfect panacea if you’ve been overdoing it in any way. I can’t promise these recipes will help boost your skills when it comes to the beautiful game, but they’re highly likely to score you points at dinner time.

SPICE-ROASTED BROCCOLI STEAKS WITH TAHINI-YOGHURT DRESSING

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This should dispel any scary memories of over-boiled broccoli for good. You can skip blanching the broccoli if you like but it makes it much easier to cut it into steaks. If you can’t be bothered (and are ok with broccoli rubble going everywhere), add another 5-10 minutes to the roasting time. The dressing is optional, but addictive.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

2 Tablespoons almonds or walnuts, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspooon smoked paprika

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the dressing:

1 small clove garlic, smashed to a paste with ¼ tsp salt

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 Tablespoons tahini

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt

2-3 Tablespoons water

Heat the oven to 210C and put a baking tray in the oven to heat up.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then drain well.

Put the seeds, nuts, salt and spices in a large bowl. Mix well and add most of the oil. Stir through the broccoli until it’s evenly coated with the spice mixture.

Arrange the broccoli on the hot tray, drizzling over the remaining oil and any spice mixture that’s left in the bowl. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, turning half way through. Transfer to a platter, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve with the tahini dressing on the side.

To make the dressing, put the garlic paste, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then whisk in the tahini, olive oil, yoghurt and water (add a little extra water if it seems very thick). Taste for seasoning, then set aside. This can be made in advance and stored in a covered container in the fridge for a couple of days before using.

ORECCHIETTE WITH TOASTED BREADCRUMBS, BROCCOLI AND OLIVES

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This is a guaranteed family-friendly no-waste dinner that will both encourage your children to eat their greens and use up that rapidly staling baguette in the bread bin. Work fast and you can have this on the table in under 20 minutes.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

Salt

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups roughly torn stale bread

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons capers

¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped

¾ cup olives

350g dried orecchiette

Finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then lift out with a pair of tongs and drop into a sieve. Put the lid on the pot and set it aside – you’ll reuse this water to cook the pasta.

Set the broccoli on a board and chop into 1-2cm pieces (including the stalk). Return the pot of water to the heat. When it’s boiling, add a generous spoonful of salt and the pasta. Cook for 10-12 minutes (according to packet directions).

While the pasta is cooking, set a heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, garlic, capers and sundried tomatoes. Cook for five minutes, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden. Add the olives and broccoli and toss over the heat for another 2-3 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan. Toss everything together, then divide between four bowls. Let diners help themselves to grated Parmesan at the table.

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!

homemade ginger beer + panaché

If you are lucky enough to live in a hot climate, or at least one where hot summers are guaranteed, you can’t begin to imagine how incredible it is to suddenly be blessed with blazing sunshine and balmy temperatures. After Wellington’s dismal effort last summer (grey skies, rain, wind, occasional flooding), which was so miserable I started seriously considering moving to Auckland or even Hamilton, everything has changed. It’s seriously hot (I’m writing this in a bikini, while eating an ice cream sundae) and I love it all over again. I don’t think I’m the only one. Just before Christmas I bumped into a former Wellingtonian who now lives in Sydney. He was laughing at how relaxed the city and its inhabitants were as a result of the better weather. “Everyone is so happy,” he said, “it’s like we’ve come somewhere completely different!”

There are downsides to this weather – there’s a water ban, so my garden is slowly dying (while my naughty neighbours keep their lawns lush with irrigation systems in a flagrant display of privilege), it’s been too hot to sleep at night and my sourdough making is taking a hit – but I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m off to the beach with a bottle of my icy-cold homemade ginger beer. Here’s how to make it (it will ferment and be ready in super-quick time if you’re similarly blessed with good weather). Happy holidays!

Homemade ginger beer

Makes 1.5 litres

For the syrup:

2/3 cup caster sugar

3cm fresh ginger, finely grated

1 tbsp ground ginger

Finely grated zest and juice of two lemons

1 cup boiling water

For the yeast:

¼ tsp dried yeast

½ tsp sugar

2 tbsp lukewarm water

Make the syrup first by putting the caster sugar, fresh and ground ginger and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the boiling water and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

Put the yeast, ½ tsp sugar and warm water in a cup and set aside until it is bubbly.

Set a sieve over a funnel into a clean 1.5 litre plastic soft drink bottle. Pour in the syrup, followed by the lemon juice, pressing down to extract all the syrup from the grated zest and ginger. Fill the bottle with cold tap water until about 5cm from the top. Shake to mix, then add the yeast mixture. Cover tightly with the lid. Leave in a warm place (the kitchen will be warm enough in summer) until the bottle feels hard when you squeeze it. This will take about 24-36 hours. Chill in the fridge before opening.

Once you’ve got the ginger beer made, you can either drink it straight, add it to gin or vodka-based cocktails or use it in this classy shandy…

Ginger panaché

Ginger beer + crisp lager = instantly refreshing pick-me-up. If you’re too cool to be seen drinking a shandy, tell everyone it’s a panaché (that’s what you call a shandy in France).

1 x 375ml bottle lager, very chilled

1 ½ cups (375ml) homemade ginger beer, very chilled

1 lemon, sliced

Ice

Half-fill two tall glasses with ice. Half-fill each one with ginger beer, then top with an equal amount of lager. Stir to mix, garnish with lemon slices and serve immediately. Repeat as necessary with remaining lager and ginger beer. Santé!