Paul Flynn: Three heart-warming comfort food dishes

Perfect food for eating on your lap watching telly, but also handy for feeding a gang

Thai pork meatballs

Thai pork meatballs

 

I was a judge recently at the Eurotoques Young Chef of the Year. Some of the techniques and cooking styles they used made my mind boggle. So much of it was new to me.

Did you know if you blend the dark part of the leek at 85 degrees in a Thermomix with a little oil, the chlorophyll sets and it won’t discolour? Nope, nor me. Or have you ever smoked a chicken over birch twigs, or drank mushroom tea through reindeer moss?

These young chefs were doing it all under immense pressure. Us judges craning our necks, silent and looming.

I’m an old codger who cooks. I love simple, deep and pleasing flavours. The testosterone disappeared from my cooking a long time ago. However, I loved being with these young chefs. They are the future of Irish food. They inspired me and invigorated me. I was proud to be in their company and, to be honest, I felt like a bit of a fraud judging them. Perhaps I was intimidated by all the machines – I’m a bang it in the oven with a load of butter sort of guy.

I also got to judge with Michel Roux, a real food hero from a dynasty of culinary demi-gods. I’m a real fanboy and it showed. As he was leaving, I hugged him. He wriggled and I suspect he would have preferred a handshake. It was a great day.

I’m going to stick to what I know this week. Heart-warming comfort food that is easy to make. To eat on your lap watching telly perhaps – it’s allowed once in a while. This kind of food is also very handy for feeding a gang; no knife necessary. Some might call it a fork supper, but I’m rarely asked to those kind of shindigs.

There’s a little bit of prep with the pork meatballs, but once they are made, you can sit back while they are in the oven. The lamb is a favourite of mine, robust and wintery. I’m using packet gnocchi to make it easy. The chickpeas and black pudding is a classic Spanish tapa that is dear to my heart.

THAI PORK MEATBALLS

Serves four

Thai pork meatballs
Thai pork meatballs

Ingredients
500g pork mince
100g breadcrumbs
1 egg
2cm piece ginger, peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
3 spring onions, chopped
1 small red chilli, deseeded and chopped
Small bunch of coriander with the stalks, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
1 chicken stock cube
1 tin of coconut milk (400ml)
3tbsp soy sauce
75g cashew nuts
Half a cucumber, peeled and diced

Method
1
 Pre-heat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius, or equivalent. Put the pork, breadcrumbs, egg, ginger, garlic, spring onion, chilli, coriander and salt in the food processor and pulse a few times until everything comes together. Don’t over blend the mix as it will become pasty.

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Crumble the stock cube into 200ml of boiling water and add the coconut milk and soy sauce. Whisk together and pour into a casserole dish.

3 Roll your meatballs and set them in the coconut milk turning them in the liquid.

4 Cook in the oven  for 25 minutes then scatter the cashews and cucumber and some more coriander over the top. Serve with jasmine rice.

RAGU OF LAMB AND STICKY ONIONS WITH GNOCCHI AND SAGE

Serves six

Ragu of lamb and sticky onions with gnocchi and sage
Ragu of lamb and sticky onions with gnocchi and sage

Ingredients
750g diced lamb shoulder
3tbsp flour
3tbsp olive oil
4 onions, peeled and sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
5 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
4tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 chicken stock cube, crumbled
350ml water
Salt and pepper
1 x 500g packet gnocchi
1 x 70g packet rocket salad
80g Parmesan, grated
25 ml olive oil
Juice of ½ a lemon

Method
Preheat an oven to 160 degrees Celsius, or equivalent. Turn the lamb in the flour, season and shake off the excess.

2 Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof pot over a medium to high heat.

3 When the oil is gently smoking, carefully add the lamb and the onions.

4 Cook for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally to make sure everything caramelises evenly.

5 Add the garlic and sage after 15 minutes or so, then add the balsamic vinegar, water and stock cube.

6 Bring to a simmer, cover and put in the oven for 75 minutes.

7 Cook the gnocchi as per packet instructions. Drain and add to the lamb.

8 When ready to serve, dress the rocket in the olive oil and lemon juice and season and scatter the Parmesan on top. Serve with the ragu.

CHICKPEAS WITH BLACK PUDDING IN GARLIC AND PARSLEY

Serves four

Chickpeas with black pudding in garlic and parsley
Chickpeas with black pudding in garlic and parsley

Ingredients
2tbsp olive oil
½ large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely crushed
A good pinch of chopped fresh parsley
A pinch sultanas, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes and drained
1tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1 x 280g black pudding, diced into 1cm cubes
1 x 400g can cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
A splash of sherry (if you have it)
Salt and pepper

Method
1
 Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over a low heat, then sauté the onion and the garlic for about 15 minutes until tender.

2 Add the sultanas, pine nuts, black pudding, chickpeas and a splash of sherry. Heat through, stirring all the time.

3 Season with salt and pepper, add the parsley and serve.

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