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.


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.

Cheesy Gnocchi with Ham and Peas

This is a great recipe for the family and easy to make. Taken from the Food Network show, it combines favorite flavors of children and adults alike. Served with a green salad, you have a lovely warming dinner.

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Serves 4

1 tbsp butter
1 good-sized onion, chopped
One 8 oz piece deli ham, diced
1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth
One 17.5 oz package potato gnocchi
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss, Gruyere cheese or sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat the broiler to high heat.

Melt the butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat.
Add the onions and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
Add the ham and thyme and continue to cook until the ham is lightly browned.
Add the chicken broth and 3/4 cup water and bring to a simmer.
Add the gnocchi, stir well, cover and cook until the gnocchi is slightly tender, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Uncover and stir in the peas, cream, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.
Sprinkle the cheese over the top and broil until golden and bubbly, about 5 minutes.

Slow-cooked pork belly with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and star anise

This recipe is from the wonderful chef, Skye Gyngell and is a deliciously rich and unctuous winter dish. She likes to serve it with braised lentils, but it is also very good with lightly cooked Asian greens, such as pak choi.


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4 to 5lb piece belly of pork
2 cinnamon sticks
3 star anise
1 tsp cloves
1 red chili
1 1/2 inch piece fresh root ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp chopped coriander roots and stems
4 fl oz tamari
3 fl oz maple syrup
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Put the pork belly into a large cooking pot in which it fits quite snugly and add cold water to cover. Bring to the boil, then immediately turn off the heat and remove the pork from the pan. Drain off the water and rinse out the pan.

One-third fill the pan with cold water and place over a medium heat. Add the pork, this time along with the spices, chili, ginger, garlic and chopped coriander roots and stems. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the meat, add some more water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer very gently for 1 & 1/2 hours until the meat is cooked and very tender. If you have the rib end, the meat will have shrunk back to expose the tips of the bone. With a pair of tongs, carefully remove the meat from the pan and set aside.

Turn the heat up under the pan to high and add the tamari and maple syrup. (If you don’t want the sauce to taste ‘hot’, remove the ginger and chili at this point.) Let the liquid bubble until reduced by half – this will take about 20 minutes. As the sauce reduces, the flavors will become very intense, forming a rich, dark sauce.

In the meantime, slice the pork belly into individual servings – one rib should be enough per person. Season the ribs with a little salt and pepper. Place a heavy-based frying pan over a high heat and add the oil. Heat until the pan is starting to smoke, then add the pork ribs and brown well on both sides until crunchy and golden brown on the surface. Strain the reduced liquor.

To serve, lay a rib on each warm plate (or soup plate) and spoon over the reduced sauce and warm braised lentils. Serve at once.

Thai meatball coconut curry

What could be better than the comfort of meat balls surrounded by Thai flavors and swimming in coconut broth? Very little, if you ask me. I am sharing this recipe from “Delicious” magazine as there is nothing I would do to tweak it.You can freeze half of this for another time, which is perfect!

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Serves 4
3 tbsp olive oil
2 red bell peppers, sliced
4 to 5 tbsp Penang curry paste (You can use Thai kitchen Penang curry paste, if available)
2 x 14 oz cans coconut milk
1 each large red and green chilli pepper, de-seeded and finely shredded
6 scallions, (spring onions) thinly sliced
2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed and inner leaves finely diced
Juice of 2 limes, plus lime wedges to serve
5 to 6 oz ground almonds
Steamed rice, to serve

For the meatballs
2lbs ground pork
5 scallions, finely diced
1 large red chilli, deseeded and finely diced
2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed, inner leaves finely diced
good bunch of cilantro, leaves finely chopped
1 1/2 to 2 inch piece of ginger, grated
grated zest and juice of 2 limes
1 medium free range, organic egg

In a large bowl mix the ingredients for the meat balls. Season and with wet hands, form into about 40 walnut-sized balls. Put on a large plate and chill for 15 minutes or until needed.

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large, deep frying pan, add the meatballs in 2 batches and fry for 10 minutes until cooked through and browned. Remove and set aside.

In the same pan, heat the remaining olive oil, add the peppers and fry for 2 minutes until softened, then add the curry paste and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in the coconut milk, chillies,scallions, lemongrass and lime juice. Gently simmer for a few minutes then add the almonds and cook for a few minutes to warm through (add a little water or chicken broth if the curry sauce seems too thick)

Add the meatballs to the curry sauce and heat through. Divide half the curry among 4 serving bowls, sprinkle with cilantro leaves and serve with rice and lime wedges.

** Cool the remaining curry and spoon into a freezerproof container. Seal and freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw overnight in the fridge, then transfer to a saucepan and heat until the sauce and meatballs are piping hot.

Bacon wrapped dates with almonds and goat cheese

Unctious, divine and so easy.

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24 large moist dates, such as Medjool
12 not-too-thick slices of bacon
2 oz. softened goat cheese
24 whole toasted unsalted almonds

Move oven rack to upper third of oven and preheat oven to 500°. Pit dates, tearing them open as little as possible. Set dates aside. Halve the 12 slices of bacon crosswise. Put the goat cheese into a pastry bag fitted with a round, plain ¼” tip.

Stuff cavity of each date with 1 almond. Pipe goat cheese into the opening of each stuffed date. Wrap 1 half-piece of bacon around width of each date and put dates, seam side down, on a baking sheet, at least ½” apart. Bake until bacon is golden and crisp, 6-8 minutes.
Set aside to cool briefly before serving.

Slow-braised pork shoulder with cider and parsnips

Don’t you just love those long, slow braises when the house fills with the wonderful aroma and you can just leave the dish to cook itself slowly? The parsnips add a wonderful earthy sweetness to the dish too.

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Serves 4 to 5

2 tbsp olive oil
2lb 4oz pork shoulder, diced. (Sometimes this joint of meat is called Boston Butt)
2 onions, sliced
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
3 parsnips, cut into chunks
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp plain flour
12 fl oz (330 mls) bottle of cider
28 fl oz (1 1/2 pints) chicken or pork stock
a good handful Italian parsley, chopped
mashed potato and greens, to serve (optional)

Heat oven to 350 F or 180C.
Heat the oil in a large lidded flameproof or Le Creuset braiser and brown the meat in batches, then set aside. Fry the onions, celery and parsnips with the bay leaves for 10 mins until golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and give a good stir, then add the pork and any juices back to the dish.
Add the cider and stock so that the meat and vegetables are covered. Season and bring to a simmer, then cover and put in the oven for 2 hrs.
Serve sprinkled with parsley, with mashed potato and greens, if you like.

** One nice tip is that if the braise is too liquidy, take out the solids and boil the liquid down to reduce, then return the solids to the pan.