The way to a man's heart


EAT IN:Pork schnitzel and rich gnocchi in a cream and Madeira sauce will keep hearty eaters happy

I SOMETIMES THINK that the easiest way to a man’s heart is to dip a hunk of chicken or pork into some breadcrumbs and fry it until it’s crisp. I am sorry if that sounds sexist or anything as offensive, and I appreciate that I’m generalising, but I’ve never met a bloke who doesn’t like fried, crisp, well-seasoned schnitzel (unless they’re vegetarian).

In Austria, a traditional Wiener Schnitzel is made of veal, and the name is protected by law, to ensure that pork cannot be substituted on the sly. When it’s made with pork, it must be called Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein (vom Schwein meaning from pork or pig).

Either meat is delicious when dipped and fried. Normally you would dip meat into flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. But I decided to skip the flour stage and, to be honest, you wouldn’t have noticed. But please feel free to include it if you are a bit fussier about even coatings. I am very resistant to frying anything (even shallow frying) and really have to be keen on making something to justify flouring and dipping in egg and breadcrumbs. So, by eliminating one step, I felt much less like some indentured slave on a flour, egg and crumb conveyor belt.

The gnocchi dish included in the recipes on these pages is very rich and if you’re trying to finish someone off, then this is a sure fire way to do it. Alternatively, serve this as a vegetarian treat midweek.

For a nano second, I thought about making gnocchi for this recipe, but then I got some sense. I looked at the ready-to-cook de Cecco brand in the supermarket and didn’t give it another thought.

It takes only two minutes to cook the gnocchi, and, even if they are a bit stodgy, it’s a tasty enough dish and even the most die-hard food snob could cope without home-made gnocchi. But please feel free to serve this sauce with fettuccini, which would be lovely, too.

The schnitzel are great with some buttered noodles, just a squeeze of lemon juice, some celeriac remoulade, or a green salad. But if you want to be really popular, serve it on a large platter, along with an ice-cold beer, napkins and the TV stuck on yet another football match.

Pork schnitzel

Serves 4

1 trimmed pork tenderloin, cut into 2cm thick slices

2 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

½ tsp smoked sweet paprika

1 tsp dried oregano (or thyme)

100g breadcrumbs

Good few knobs butter and sunflower or rapeseed oil

Lemon wedges to serve

Preheat an oven to 180 degrees/gas mark four. Season the eggs and add the garlic, paprika and dried herbs and whisk well. Put the slices of pork between two sheets of cling film (or in a heavy duty zip-lock lunch bag) and bash with a rolling pin until they nearly double in size. When they are all done, drop the pork into the seasoned egg mixture. Wash the boards and utensils carefully and get a plate or tray of breadcrumbs set up. You can do this step up to 12 hours in advance.

When you are ready for final cooking, heat the oil in a large frying pan and add a knob of butter. Remove a couple of pieces of pork from the egg mixture and dip the pork into the breadcrumbs. Press them into the breadcrumbs, so that they stick well, and then fry a few at a go. When they are golden brown and crisp on one side, turn them over. When they are evenly coloured, you can place them on a baking tray, ready to finish cooking in the oven. Finish frying all the escalopes of pork. Season lightly, bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, and then serve while still hot, with lemon wedges.

Halfway through frying, you may have to wipe out the oil and start again with fresh oil and butter, as the loose breadcrumbs can start to burn quite easily.

These are also delicious eaten cold, and I also reheated them in the oven for about 20 minutes the next day. Even though they were a bit dried out, they were still delicious.

Gnocchi with mushrooms, spinach and Parmesan

Feel free to use fancy mushrooms. We used regular old button mushrooms, simply because there was little else available in the shop.

Serves 4 as an accompaniment

50g butter

Splash of olive oil

1 onion, peeled and very finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced

400g mushrooms, sliced

1 tbsp chopped parsley and tarragon

100mls vegetable stock or water

50ml Madeira

200ml cream

100g spinach, roughly chopped or 1 bag baby spinach

100g Parmesan, grated

1 x 500g pack gnocchi

Prepare the sauce (you can have this done in advance). Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan, and sweat the onion until soft. Add the garlic, mushrooms and herbs and cook it down until the mushrooms shrink in size. You may need to cover the pan with a lid for a while and let the steam help break down the mushrooms.

Add the water and Madeira and bring up to the boil. Boil for a few minutes and then add the cream. Cook until the cream has reduced by a third. At this stage you can set the sauce aside to cool down or else keep going.

Cook the gnocchi in boiling water for a couple of minutes and drain them. Meanwhile, add the spinach and Parmesan to the pasta sauce. Season and then add the gnocchi and mix well, but lightly. Serve straight away.