Summery bangers and mash

Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far. (I think I heard that on the radio. Forgive me if any meteorologists are reading this and I'm incorrect.) The Bells had pre arranged to meet our friends from Nottingham in a north Leicestershire pub for lunch and frolics in the sunshine and so set off well prepared with sunhats, factor 50, a selection of crudites for Charlie and of course a bag of assorted toys for distracting our son from the fact we were selfishly endeavouring to converse with other adults.

Big mistake. The huge bag of toys gave the game away that we were clearly nervous he'd object to not being the centre of attention. He eyed them suspiciously and pretty much from the moment we arrived at the lovely beer garden decided to be the kind of toddler who acts as contraception for the pre kids brigade. Our lovely friends Hannah and Mathew (no kids yet very much by choice) looked on as he threw toys as missiles, tried to escape the garden, refused food and generally did his best impression of a naughty little boy. Cute, still lovable of course, but making it nigh on impossible to have a conversation without breaking off mid sentence to ensure he hadn't managed to impale himself on a parasol.

We'd made a very basic mistake by taking too much kit aimed at distraction - we'd shown fear. And like all animals he'd smelt it and decided to take advantage. I found myself apologising for his behaviour, my own distracted-ness (hmmm, is that a word?) and pretty much for even breathing. I remember having lunch with friends and their kids before I met Mr B and finding their inability to have a conversation in a linear fashion without breaking off on tangents about unsalted food, buggies, where precious child is, the state of precious child's nappy etc REALLY irritating. And now I have become what I once despised. I'm not sure what's worse, becoming that person or apologising for it.

That evening we needed comfort food to recover from what was a stressful lunch for all concerned (sorry Hannah and Mathew, we will make it up to you somehow.) Summery bangers and mash was bound to hit the spot. Well, not strictly mash but gnocchi, however if summer ever decided it wanted its own version of mashed potato I think gnocchi would be it. One day, when I have lots of time, I will make my own gnocchi, but not before I read a whole novel cover to cover, uninterrupted whilst drinking an icy G & T in the sunshine. As there's little chance of that happening this side of 40 I'll be mostly buying my gnocchi from that classic stockist of Italian fayre, Tesco.

- 2 packs of 500g gnocchi (I used the cheapo version from Tesco - their Trattoria brand designed to make me feel better about buying the 'Value' range.)
- milk
- a knob of butter - about the size of a sausage as we're talking sausages anyway
- plain flour - about 2 heaped tablespoons
- nutmeg or mace
- two tins of 400g chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon of sun dried tomato paste
- dried parsley
- black pepper
- 1 onion
- 1 courgette
- 1 red pepper
- sausages (Whatever takes your fancy, we were eating up some lovely meaty Riverway Cumberlands.)
- oil - I used trusty Crisp and Dry again
- balsamic vinegar

This is something that once knocked up just looks after itself in the oven until you're ready to serve. Fist pop the oven onto Gas 5. Then start by chopping the onion, pepper and courgette into small squares, then fry in a little oil on a medium heat. One they start to look brownish add the two tins of chopped toms and the sun dried tom paste along with a good sprinkling of parsley and black pepper. Stir and leave to simmer on the hob. Boil another pan of water for the gnocchi and whilst this is heating up make the white sauce.

Am sure everyone knows how to make this but just in case... grab the butter, melt in a saucepan, then whisk in the flour until it looks like a play dough like blob. Then add the milk bit by bit and stir furiously. Don't add more than a splash at a time or you end up with thin yet lumpy sauce. Once it's nicely thick and lump free add a bit of nutmeg or mace and some black pepper.

Once the water has boiled, add the gnocchi being careful not to splash boiling water on your wrists like I did and wait until they rise to the top. Once they all have, remove from the heat and drain the water. Now assemble the gnocchi bake - put the tomato mixture on the bottom of a large over proof dish, then arrange the gnocchi over the top, then add the white sauce over the top until all the gnocchi are covered. Pop in the oven on a middle-ish shelf. I think some grated cheese on top would have been nice but I couldn't find the grater. This needs about 20 mins in the oven or until you start to get a crust on the top and little areas of brownness.

Fry the sausages on a medium heat in a saucepan with a splash of oil. Once browned all over turn up the heat and add a splash of balsamic - it will fizz and sizzle but adds a pretty glaze and tastes rather lovely too. Serve with the gnocchi bake and try not to splodge it on the plate like I did.

P.S. I promise to lay off the sodding courgettes for a while. I'm fed up of writing about them, let alone eating them. Sure you are too.

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