Gnocchi with tomato and sausage sauce

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Bert has eaten packet gnocchi and loved it, so I thought this was a sure-fire win, especially since it involved him rolling it out like play-doh.

We went round the table listing our favourite puddings (Bert’s: the icecreams that come with a flake in and Revels – all my time making apple pies and crumbles and cakes wasn’t wasted, then.) He ate two gnocchi and looked perturbed, then concerned, then indignant.

‘Let’s play a new game,’ he said. ‘This time the things we don’t like.’

‘Okay.’

‘Bert first.’

‘Okay, what’s on your list?’

‘Number one,’ [points at plate] ‘this!’

As you can see, it was no trouble at all to make so that was absolutely fine with me.

Serves 3

3 baking potatoes (about 1 kg)

3 teaspoons sea salt

150g 00 or plain flour

Salt and pepper to season

1 beaten egg

1 carrot, grated

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 sausages, sliced into bite sized pieces

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 dessert spoon red pesto

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 head broccoli florets

Put the oven on to 200. Get the potatoes wet under a running tap and sprinkle with salt. Bake for around an hour, till soft. Leave to cool slightly.

Scoop out the potato and push through a potato ricer or a sieve and tip onto a board. Add the flour and seasoning. Make a well in the centre, add the egg, and mix it all together with your hands until you have a soft dough (don’t overwork it). It’s important you do this bit while the potatoes are still warm so the gnocchi are tender.

Heat the oil in a sauce pan and gently fry the grated carrot until starting to melt into the oil. Add the sausages and brown. Then add the tomatoes and pesto and vinegar, and cook for around 15 minutes. When there’s five minutes to go steam or boil your broccoli, either stirring it in at the end, or keeping it as a side dish if you have a five-year-old in the house who likes strict food type ghettos.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted  water to the boil and reduce to a fast simmer. Roll the gnocchi dough out into sausages about the width of your thumb (five-year-olds are useful helpers at this point), cut into small pieces and drop into the water. They’re cooked when they rise to the surface – fish them out with a slotted spoon and blot on kitchen paper. Serve with the sausage sauce (with or without broccoli) and cheese.

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Red pepper, roast tomato and pancetta pasta bake

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All Bert wanted from the Christmas holiday was to have a day when he didn’t get out of his pyjamas. All he wanted from Christmas itself was a one-metre high Paw Patrol look-out tower, some green pyjamas … and soft toys in the shape of groundhogs, aardvarks, otters and tree frogs.

A week on, the aardvark, otter and groundhog are tucked up next to a sleepy boy in new green pyjamas that are saggy in the knee from playing Paw Patrol. And a frog soft toy is bumped to his birthday list.

He’s at the point where he’s not prepared to eat any more ham or turkey and I’m not yet at the point where I’m prepared to go to a shop. So this is what we ate tonight.

The veg are puréed because he’s four and so vegetables must be raw and look like cucumber or cooked and seem like ketchup. The random cheese mixture is because Christmas.

Serves 3

1/2 bag pasta

1 punnet cherry tomatoes

Slug of olive oil

1 red pepper

1 of those little packets of pancetta or some diced bacon

Sprig of thyme

Grated hard cheese, about 200g (we had pecorino, Cheddar and Gouda)

About a handful of breadcrumbs

Heat the oven to 180. Put the tomatoes, whole, into a medium sized baking tin (say 20 x 30cm), drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile purée the pepper. Fry the pancetta till it’s starting to crisp. Cook the pasta for a couple of minutes short of its cooking time.

Add the roast tomatoes (and any liquid from the tin) to the blender and purée with the pepper. Add the thyme leaves to the bacon pan and fry for another minute or two.

Stir the puréed veg into the pasta, add the bacon and half the cheese and tip back into the (unwashed) tin you roasted the tomatoes in. Sprinkle over the rest of the cheese and the breadcrumbs and bake for about 25 minutes.

Bert’s egg and tomato salad

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Yesterday I took Bert out to dinner and was reprimanded for not being spontaneous enough – always saying I had to cook when he wanted to play and always saying not yet or it’s time for bed. Though I am weary of receiving his driving advice (always involving the benefits of reverse parking), I decided to take this on board. It was approaching bedtime, but we stayed for pudding and when we got in he stripped off and jumped into the paddling pool and I was forcibly encouraged to sit down in it fully clothed.

You know what, maybe he had a point. So in the spirit of our children sometimes being able to teach us something, this is Bert’s receipe, created under the structure (I can’t help myself) of picking one thing to give you energy to play, one thing to help you grow, two different coloured things to keep you healthy and one flavour. He also decided all the bits should be separate, the eggs should be hard and the bread should be crunchy. Over to Bert.

For Mum and Bert

4 eggs

3 tomatoes

1/2 a cucumber

4 slices of tomato bread

Some oil and salt

2 big spoons of cream [creme fraiche]

Squeeze of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

Leafs – 1 big one [little gem] cut into 2, some little ones picked off [parsley leaves]

Boil the eggs till they’re hard then put them under cold water. Turn oven button all the way round to sideways till the oven’s very, very hot! Cut bread into small bits. Put on a baking tray. Sprinkle on a salt! And oil. Mix up with your hands then wash them. Mum puts bread in the oven for five minutes. Cut tomatoes up and cucumber. Mix cream and lemon up with a big spoon and put in salt and and pepper. Put leafs in Mum’s bowl because children don’t like leafs. Roll eggs, peel and then break them into halfs. Get a children’s plate. Put on tomatoes, cucumber, eggs and some toasted bread, on the children’s plate. Rest on Mummy’s plate. And sauce on Mummy’s plate. Then eat at a TV.

Pork and apple meatballs

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Everyone’s got their thing. I was cripplingly shy as a small child, learned to cover it up with bravado and denial (and cider) as a teenager and much, much later in life got brave enough to look it in the face and admit that the anxiety was part of me, not something that the world was doing to me. I conquered it, more or less, by facing it, full-beam.

When Bert was smaller I fretted that he was shy. But not to worry – he’s a massive showman. The sort of bloke that can be convinced to go on a dog walk with the suggestion that ‘everyone will look at you in your Olaf [from Frozen] costume and be shocked’.

It’s rather liberating to realise how little hold genes can have on our offsprings’ demons. But there’s no escaping demons, we just don’t know what Bert’s is yet.

I do wonder, though, how much harder we make it for our children to face their own flaws and accept them when we reward them so much for being perfect – getting the answers right, being good, doing what we expect of them or what’s convenient for us. Bert cheerfully informed his teacher last week that he’s ‘Mr Perfect’ (so, so shy!) And I don’t have a neat conclusion to this train of thought other than hoping that I can help him realise that he’s utterly imperfect but perfectly lovable.

Mr Perfect would eat ‘soupy’ meatballs, but Bert needs the soupiness blotted off on a kitchen towel first, and I’m the sort of indulgent mother who does just that.

Serves 3-4

500g minced pork

1 apple, grated

2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Splash of olive oil

1 carrot, grated

1 yellow pepper, finely chopped or grated (sounds unlikely but is possible!)

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the pork mince, apple, breadcrumbs and seasoning. Heat a glug of oil in a large frying pan, form the pork mixture into small balls (I use latex gloves, but hopefully you’re not here to judge). Brown, shaking the pan now and then to move them around.

Move the meatballs to the side of the pan, add a bit more oil if you need it, and gently fry the carrot and pepper till it’s starting to get softer and paler – you want it to almost be dissolving into the oil. Then add the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, season, and get your pasta on to boil, adding half a ladleful or so of the cooking water to loosen the tomato sauce when the pasta’s been cooking for about five minutes. By the time the pasta’s ready, so is the sauce.

Serve with grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.

Sausage casserole

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Bert, determined sauce avoider, came home from pre-school raving about the ‘brown, bumpy sauce’ he’d had there. Questioning and detective work revealed it to be sausage casserole. Desperate for some sauce in our lives, I quizzed him intensely, thought hard about what makes the best sausage casserole (and what makes sauce brown and bumpy), did some research and tinkering and came up with this.

Meanwhile, Bert’s been perfecting his joke delivery technique.

‘What do you get if… [stage whisper] what is it? you put what is it??? boiling water down what is it??? rabbit hole?’

I don’t know, what do you get?

‘What is it??? Hot what is it??? bunny. Hot hot hot hot hot hot…hot hot hot… hot hot what is it??? hot hot hot… hot bunny hot hot hot what is it??? cross bun bunny.’

Stewart Lee has made a career out of this. But all we have is an uneaten portion of sausage casserole.

‘What is it?  It is not brown bumpy sauce. It is not brown. What is it?’

He had pasta and Parmesan cheese, we had this.

Serves 4

Good glug of olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 carrot, grated

2 tablespoons tomato puree

1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

1 pack chipolata sausages, cut into bite sized pieces

1 tin tomatoes

300ml chicken stock

1 dessert spoon dark brown sugar

1 red pepper, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon dried rosemary or finely chopped fresh rosemary

salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and soften the onions. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook gently till the carrot is soft and pale orange. Add the sausages and cook till browned. Then add everything else, bring to a fast simmer, reduce the temperature and cook for 30 minutes, stirring now and then.

Serve with pasta, buttery mash or crusty bread.

Not Heinz spaghetti

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Me to Bert in the bath last night: Was I being grumpy today or were you being naughty?

Bert (with an air of diplomacy): A bit of both.

Me: I wonder why?

Bert (accusingly): You were being bossy.

Me: That’s my job as your mum.

Bert: [doubtful look]

Me: And you?

Bert (carelessly): I was just doing my own thing.

As part of my ongoing, inadvertant project to pointlessly recreate processed food classics, tonight I accidentally threw together home-made tinned Heinz spaghetti – in a good way. We had ours with meatballs (my intention was to veg-up a tomato sauce for meatballs) and grated parmesan. This makes enough for a big bowl spare in the fridge – as a veg-heavy pizza base topping or to start your own canned spaghetti business.

Or just do your own thing.

Makes absolutely loads

Glug of olive oil

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

A dozen or so fresh cherry tomatoes

1/2 tin sweetcorn

2 tins chopped tomatoes

Pinch of salt

Spahetti, to appetite

Add the olive oil to a saucepan on a medium heat, cook the celery and pepper till softened, add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the sweetcorn, fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes and seasoning. Bring to a simmer.

Put the spaghetti on to cook.

Stir the sauce now and then. When the spaghetti’s almost done, puree the sauce and add a dash of cooking water from the pasta. Drain the spaghetti and stir it into enough sauce to coat it, stowing the rest away for another occasion.

Slurp.

Tomato-plus soup


I’m having a bad mummy day. A shouty, irritable day not a fun, whisky swilling, swearing, Bad Santa kind of day. This photo, complete with iPad, shows that even by lunchtime I’d decided to pick my battles, for both of our sakes.

At bedtime I said, ‘have I been really grumpy today?’, beautifully finishing off a bad tempered day with a bit of neediness. ‘No,’ Bert said, ‘it was my fault.’ Which of course made me feel even worse.

When Bert spoke to his dad at dinner time I was hoping he’d mention the fun stuff we’d done rather than say I’d been shouting at the dog then apologising all day. But no: ‘we played and then I felt something moving in my punny and then a poo came out!’ ‘Great!’ said his dad with the level of over-excited cheer that seems to be everyone’s standard response to poo news. ‘Where? When?’ ‘On the chair!’ Tony’s smile became just a touch more fixed.

Luckily it’s a leather chair. 

This is week five of Bert’s dad working away and while I don’t want to moan about parenting someone I wanted and love dearly, single parents, whether they are better people than me or just have to tolerate a lot of feeling like a shit parent days or both, have my deep felt admiration.

Serves 2

A portion of cooked veg, primarily orange-hued (we had half a large carrot in batons and a couple of spears of broccoli left over from Sunday dinner, but I’ve also used a tin of drained sweet corn combined with a handful of frozen peas in the past)

A large teaspoon of butter

A clove of garlic, crushed

1 tin of tomatoes and half the can of water

A teaspoon of light brown sugar

1 tablespoon of cream

1 egg yolk

Seasoning

Melt the butter, fry the garlic for a few seconds then add the veg, tomatoes, water, sugar and seasoning. Bring to a rapid simmer. Puree then stir through the egg yolk and cream, check seasoning and serve.

Bert took a sip through his bowl’s in-built straw and said, ‘mmm, it really is tasty!’ How could I be impatient with such a boy?