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Crispy Brussels sprouts and gnocchi is a perfect meal for one or two.Julie Van Rosendaal/The Globe and Mail

Tiny ovens, marketed as air fryers, were the most in-demand gift a few holiday seasons ago – so popular, stores were selling out across the country – but unlike the bread machine and electric juicer, they seem to have longevity.

Home cooks continue to find them useful, and they’ve even inspired a new wave of cookbooks. The air fryer is this generation’s slow cooker: perfect when you need dinner fast, but more suited to individuals, couples or small families.

An air fryer is actually a countertop convection oven, utilizing a fan to circulate hot air around the food you’re cooking, drying the surface and helping it crisp. (Browning can’t occur in the presence of moisture, as the complex Maillard reaction, which is responsible for the deep golden colour and added layers of flavour when amino acids and reducing sugars are applied to heat, occurs at temperatures higher than that of boiling water.)

There are many benefits beyond avoiding a pot of hot oil: Air fryers are great for reheating things such as slices of pizza that you want to stay crisp, and you can bake in smaller batches – a few cookies or a couple of biscuits – with no need to preheat the oven. Many love the simplicity of push-button cooking or feel safer having their kids make meals and snacks this way. It’s ideal when you’re cooking for one or two, and a great unit for university dorm rooms and other small spaces.

Most air fryers on the market are divided between two basic designs: wider versions that resemble toaster ovens, and upright models with a pull-out basket. Which you choose should depend on your counter space and how many people you have to feed; the upright ones take up less surface area, but have more height, and typically lower capacity than the shorter, wider air fryers, which are also more accommodating of baking pans if you plan to do more baking.

Recipe: Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Gnocchi

This is a perfect meal for one or two. Measurements can be very lax, and fresh gnocchi do not need to be boiled at all – they get wonderfully crispy in the air fryer, along with the Brussels sprouts. Top yours any way you like: with a drizzle of olive oil, squeeze of lemon, drizzle of chili oil and/or grating of Parmesan.

A handful of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise

A handful of fresh gnocchi (any kind)

Olive, canola or other vegetable oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed


Parmesan cheese, chili oil, a lemon wedge or other toppings of your choice

In a medium bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts and gnocchi with a generous drizzle of oil (enough to coat them) and the clove of garlic. Pour into your air fryer basket (or spread out on its baking sheet, if it has one) and sprinkle with salt.

Cook at 400 F for 12-15 minutes, until golden and crisp. Top with Parmesan cheese, chili oil, a squeeze of lemon or anything else you think would be delicious.

Serves one; use two handfuls of each ingredient to serve two.

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