Donal Skehan: Embrace comfort cooking with three-cheese baked tomato gnocchi and indulgent white chocolate bread pudding

There’s very little a day of comfort food cooking can’t fix and, as the autumn days roll in, I’m beginning to embrace a whole new season of cooking. I have always coveted a cosy Saturday with zero plans, and a well-stocked kitchen offers up plenty of opportunities to find comfort through dishes that a season of darker days requires.

hile we lived in California, I often found it hard to differentiate the seasons. The guidelines I’d grown up with in Ireland weren’t as clearly defined, and the smack of the first cold, stormy, autumn day was absent, while one sunny day would roll into another. There was no windy, sideways, freezing rain to remind me to giddy-up into the kitchen and start cooking soups and stews like there is here in Ireland. Settled back into our seasons a full year and a half now, I’ve begun to enjoy the push to the kitchen a grey sky provides and the true pleasure that comes with seasonal comfort. With that in mind, this week, I’m sharing three comfort food favourites.

A recipe I picked up filming in Italy, a baked tomato gnocchi can be made from scratch for a satisfying weekend project, or switch gears to using store-bought gnocchi and you’ll still get great results. Baked in a creamy tomato passata with three cheeses, it’s totally indulgent and ideal comfort food.

Cooking through the weekend in our house requires not only slow stews, roasts and other comfort food but quick fixes too, and this orzo dish with lemon, the last of the Irish courgettes, a bag of frozen peas and prawns is surprisingly simple to pull together when you need an easy lunch or dinner. It’s also a dish I like to feed our boys when I’m using up the last veggies in the fridge.

Lastly, where would we be without something for our sweet tooth, and with blackberries bursting in the hedgerows, this white chocolate bread pudding with blackberries is an ideal way to make the most of them. The tartness of the berries works wonderfully with the white chocolate, and this dessert is perfect if you’ve had a busy morning out blackberry picking.

Baked Tomato Gnocchi

Time: 40 minutes Serves: 4

Ingredients
500g best quality store-bought gnocchi
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp chilli flakes
700g tomato passata
50ml cream
75g baby spinach
A good handful of basil leaves
75g blue cheese, crumbled
75g ricotta
50g Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7. Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes before draining under cold water. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil in an ovenproof frying
pan and add the garlic while it heats. When the oil begins to bubble gently and the garlic begins to colour slightly, add in the chilli flakes and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove the garlic from the oil and discard.
3. Add the passata and cream and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir through the spinach until wilted. Add the gnocchi and stir through to coat. Season with salt and add in the fresh basil leaves.
4. Dot with ricotta and blue cheese and sprinkle over Parmesan. Sprinkle the top with a little water before placing in the oven to bake for 15 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving warm.

Orzo with Lemon, Courgette, Peas & Prawns

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Orzo with Lemon, Courgette, Peas & Prawns

Orzo with Lemon, Courgette, Peas & Prawns

Time: 20 minutes Serves: 4

Ingredients
250g orzo pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
200g baby courgettes, diced
300g raw prawns
150g frozen peas
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons and juice of 1
100ml double cream
25g unsalted butter
50g grated parmesan
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Method
1. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the orzo for 10 minutes until tender.
2. Heat a frying pan over a high heat. Add the courgettes to the pan, drizzle over the oil and fry until golden on both sides. Then scoop onto a plate and set aside.
3. Add the prawns to the pan and fry until pink. Return the courgettes to the pan and add the peas, lemon zest, juice and cream and bring to the boil.
4. Add the butter and the cooked orzo to the pan. Season to taste. Stir in half of the Parmesan, serve up and sprinkle with the remaining.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Blackberries & Bourbon

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White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Blackberries & Bourbon

White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Blackberries & Bourbon

Time: 1 hour + soaking Serves: 6

Ingredients
50g softened unsalted butter, plus extra to grease
600g brioche loaf, sliced into triangles
150g white chocolate buttons
150g blackberries
3 free-range eggs
300ml double cream
200ml whole milk
50g caster sugar
50ml bourbon
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 tbsp demerara sugar

Method
1. Grease a large (about 2l) ovenproof dish with butter. Butter one side of each of the brioche triangles with softened butter.
2. Layer the sliced brioche with the buttons and blackberries in the dish so the triangles point up a little.
3. In a jug, mix the eggs with the cream, milk, caster sugar, bourbon and vanilla and pour over the bread in the dish, letting it flow into all the gaps.
4. Press down on the brioche slices lightly, allow to sit for 30 minutes, and preheat the oven to 180C/fan 160C.
5. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the pudding and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden.

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