Easy sausage and kale gnocchi

Now it’s October and the weather is just starting to cool down here in California, I start thinking about these sorts of comforting midweek dishes.

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8oz kale
1 packet of potato gnocchi (about 14 oz)
1 small onion
Olive oil for frying
3 good-quality sweet or spicy Italian pork sausagemeat or sausages
200g tomato passata
Large handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
4 oz fontina cheese or mozzarella

Heat the oven to 400 F.
Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil. Shred the kale and remove any tough stalks then drop into the water with the gnocchi and cook for 30 seconds. Drain and rinse both under cold water.
Finely chop the onion. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan, then crumble in the meat from the sausages (discard the skins).
Add the chopped onion and fry for 7 minutes or until just soft. Add the passata and basil leaves and simmer for 3 minutes.
Toss the kale and gnocchi through the sausage mixture, then transfer to a 1.5 litre (7 cup) ovenproof dish. Tear over the cheese and season with salt and pepper, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbling.


Lemon-poached chicken with lots of roasted garlic

This is a Tom Kine recipe from rural France. Don’t be put off by the quantity of garlic – when roasted, it becomes very sweet and loses it’s pungency. A great way to eat – just roll up your sleeves and dig in! This dish can be made with a whole chicken in much the same way, but you will need more wine and stock and will have to cook the meat for longer.

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Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
Chicken thighs, drumsticks and chicken breasts, skin on (enough for four people)
20 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 glass dry white wine
Zest of 2 lemons, juice of 1 lemon
Sprig of thyme
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
17 fl oz chicken stock
1 French baguette
20 flat parsley leaves

Heat a heavy-bottomed casserole pan over a medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the chicken pieces, skin-side down, to cover the bottom of the pan. If the chicken won’t fit in one layer, you will have to cook it in two batches. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Add the garlic cloves. Tip off any excess oil, add the wine to the pan and cook for 2 minutes until reduced.

Add the lemon zest and juice, thyme and bay leaves. Season well with salt and pepper. Add the stock. Cover the pan with a lid and turn down the heat. Gently simmer for 20 minutes.

After this time, check to see that the chicken is cooked by inserting a small sharp knife into the chicken flesh, just by the bone. If the juice runs clear then the meat is done. If the juice is still pink then cook for a little more time.

Check the seasoning and adjust accordingly with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish. Roughly chop the parsley and scatter over the top.

Cut the French bread into slices and toast them.

Place the slices of toast in a bowl alongside the chicken. Let each person squeeze the soft garlic out of its papery skin on to the pieces of toast, which can then be used to soak up the juice.

Stuffed pumpkin filled with “everything good”

You can do more with a good quality pumpkin than carve it and stick a candle in it — you can also stuff it, bake it and eat it all up.

That’s what cookbook author Dorie Greenspan suggests in her new cookbook,  “Around My French Table”. Greenspan says she loves her recipe “Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good” because it has “almost no rules.”

“So you can play with it. You can change the filling a million different ways, once I used some leftover cooked rice in place of the bread. It became almost like risotto. You can put in nuts, you can put in apples … you can put in chestnuts.”

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Makes 2 very generous servings but can be augmented to serve more

1 pumpkin, like a Hubbard, about 3 lbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 lb stale bread, sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 lb cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste) coarsely chopped
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment, or find a Dutch oven with a diameter that’s just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin.
** If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but it might stick to the casserole, so you’ll have to serve it from the pot — which is an appealingly homey way to serve it. If you bake it on a baking sheet, you can present it freestanding, but maneuvering a heavy stuffed pumpkin with a softened shell isn’t so easy. However, since I love the way the unencumbered pumpkin looks in the center of the table, I’ve always taken my chances with the baked-on-a-sheet method, and so far, I’ve been lucky.

Using a very sturdy knife — and caution — cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween jack-o’-lantern). It’s easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle.
You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin.

Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot.
Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper — you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure — and pack the mix into the pumpkin.
The pumpkin should be well filled — you might have a little too much filling, or you might need to add to it.
Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. Again, you might have too much or too little — you don’t want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened. (But it’s hard to go wrong here.)

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check after 90 minutes — or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.

When the pumpkin is ready, carefully, very carefully — it’s heavy, hot, and wobbly — bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you’ll bring to the table.

When serving
You have choices: you can cut wedges of the pumpkin and filling; you can spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin into the spoonful; or you can dig into the pumpkin with a big spoon, pull the pumpkin meat into the filling, and then mix everything up. I’m a fan of the pull-and-mix option. Served in hearty portions followed by a salad, the pumpkin is a perfect cold-weather main course; served in generous spoonfuls or wedges, it’s just right alongside the Thanksgiving turkey.

Free-form enchilada verde

This is from the magazine “Real Simple” and is like a Mexican lasagna so it’s much easier to assemble and serve

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Serves 6

4 cups (32 oz) store bought salsa verde
18 small corn tortillas
1 & 1/2lbs butternut squash, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 14.5oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 to 4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream, chopped cilantro, sliced pickled jalapenos for topping

Heat the oven to 375 F
Spread 1 cup of the salsa verde in a 9 by 13″ baking dish and top with 6 tortillas.
Top with 1 more cup of the salsa, 1/3 of the butternut squash, 1/3 of the beans and 1 cup of the cheese, spreading evenly.
Repeat the layering two more times reserving the final 1 cup of cheese.
Cover with foil
Bake for 1 hour until the squash is tender. Uncover ans sprinkle with the reserved 1 cup of cheese.
Broil 8 inches from the heat for 4 to 5 mins until the topping is bubbly and browned in spots.
Remove and let stand for 15 mins and decorate with the toppings and serve

Middle Eastern herb filo pie

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Another gem from Ottolenghi. With Sephardic roots, this is a wonderful centerpiece for a dinner party, whether vegetarian or not.

Serves 4
2 tbsp olive oil plus extra for brushing the pastry layers
1 large onion, diced
1lb Swiss chard, stems and leaves finely shredded but kept separate
5 oz celery, peeled and thinly sliced
2 oz green onions (scallions) chopped
2 oz arugula
1 oz flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 oz fresh mint, chopped
2/3 oz dill , chopped
4 oz ricotta cheese, crumbled
4 oz aged Cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz Greek feta cheese, crumbled (not pre-crumbled)
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large organic eggs
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp superfine sugar (caster sugar)
9 oz filo pastry

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Pour the olive oil into a large, deep frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 8 minutes without browning. Add the chard stems and celery and continue to cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chard leaves, increase the heat to medium high and stir as you cook for about 5 minutes or until the leaves wilt. Add the green onion, arugula and herbs and cook for 2 mins more. Remove from the heat and transfer to a colander and cool.
Once the mixture is cool, squeeze out as much water as possible and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the three cheeses, lemon zest, eggs, salt and pepper and sugar and mix well.
Lay out a sheet of filo pastry and brush it with some olive oil. Cover with another sheet and continue in the same manner until you have 5 layers of filo brushed with oil, all covering an area large enough to line the sides and bottom or an 8 1/2″ pie dish, plus extra to hang over the rim of the dish. Line the pie dish with the pastry, fill with the herb mix and fold the excess pastry over the edge of the filling, trimming the pastry as necessary to create a 3/4″ border.
Make another set of 5 filo layers brushed with oil and place them over the pie. Scrunch up the pastry a little to create a wavy, uneven top and trim the edges so it just covers the pie.
Brush generously with olive oil and bake for 40 mins until the filo turns a nice golden brown.
Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.



Fast and easy baked creamy tarragon chicken breast


I was asked recently if I had a really easy and quick boneless chicken breast dish and realized I hadn’t posted one of the simplest ones around.

Serves 8 but is easily halved.
1 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 heaped tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, chopped roughly or 4 tsp dried tarragon, crumbled
4 cloves garlic, sliced lengthways
salt and pepper
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a 13″ by 9″ baking dish, stir together all the ingredients except the chicken.
Season the chicken breasts well with salt and pepper then add them to the mixture, turning to coat well and arrange in one layer.
Bake the chicken in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through.
Can’t get much easier than that!

Meaty melanzane parmigiana

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There is not much to say about this as it’s a complete meal and all you need to do is make a green salad. Simply divine!
What could be nicer than ground meat in with the Melanzane Parmigiana? This comes direct from the one and only BBC Good Food magazine.

Serves 6
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for brushing
2lbs ground lamb
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 thyme sprigs
4 rosemary sprigs
3 large bay leaves
2 x 14 oz or (1x 28 oz) can chopped tomatoes or tomato passata
a good glass of drinkable red wine
1 lamb or chicken stock cube
1 good handful of fresh basil, sliced roughly
1 tbsp sugar
5 large eggplants, sliced lengthways into 1/4 inch slices
2 x 7 oz balls mozzarella cheese, torn into chunks
8 oz good parmesan cheese, grated
6 oz mascarpone cheese

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or flameproof dish. Add the ground meat and brown over high heat, breaking up with a fork as you go. You may need to do this in batches. Once well browned, tip onto a plate and set aside.
Add more oil, the garlic and herbs to the pan and gently cook for 1 minute. Tip in the tomatoes and red wine and bring to a simmer, stirring up any meaty bits on the bottom of the pan. Return the ground meat to the pan, crumble in the stock cube and add the sugar and seasoning. Gently simmer for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally, splashing in more water (or lamb/chicken broth, if you have some) to keep it saucy if you need to. If you have time to simmer for longer, go for it – the longer the better for great flavor and intensity. Now fish out the herb stalks and bay leaves.
Meanwhile, heat a griddle or frying pan. Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil, then griddle in batches. You want each slice softened and slightly charred, so don’t have the heat too high or the eggplant will char before softening. Remove to a plate as you go.
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Set aside some of each cheese to go on top. In a large baking dish, spread a large spoonful of meat mixture over the base, then a layer of eggplant and season well. Spoon over more meat sauce then scatter over some fresh basil, mozzarella, parmesan and blobs of mascarpone cheese.
Add another layer of eggplant and some seasoning. Repeat, layering everything up and finish with a layer of meat sauce. Top with your reserved cheese and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is crisp and golden and the meat mixture is bubbling.