Feast on autumnal delights.
As the leaves begin to change colour, it is time to look forward to all the seasonal produce that autumn brings
SUMMER is slipping out the back door with its baskets of stone fruit and berries. Now we are anticipating the arrival of autumn with all that seasonal bounty. Here’s what I’m looking forward to most.
To my mind, there are two ways to eat beetroot. The first is wrapped in foil and slow-roasted. This way the skin rubs off easily. Perhaps add a splash of balsamic or thyme to each foil package before cooking to enhance the flavour. This is delicious, still with some oven-warmth when tossed with green lentils, dill, and a saffron-yoghurt dressing.
The second way is raw, cut into matchsticks. Make a slaw with similarly cut carrots, currants and a dressing of miso and reduced orange juice with Japanese pickled ginger, or one made from pomegranate juice reduced to a syrup and then hit with a little lemon juice. Add pistachios for crunch and pomegranate gems for pops of flavour.
The green hue of water after boiling broccoli should give you a clue that it’s not the best way to cook it. Instead, steam it or split heads in half, brush with oil and cook slowly on the barbecue. It is wonderful topped with sunflower seeds, sweet vinegar and bacon or feta.
You can also try it with a version of Hetty Mckinnon’s parsley, garlic, almond, olive oil and gruyere pesto. In both cases, adding eggs makes it a full meal. Or just microwave broccoli slightly to soften and add to mac ’n’ cheese to finish cooking while the mac bakes.
Years of grey, overboiled Brussels sprouts have soured many people’s appreciation of these dolls house “cabbages”. Softening them in the microwave and then roasting in a hot oven is a quick way to make them delicious. Sprouts love nuts, so try tossing with roasted chestnuts.
They are also great done the Karen Martini way – roasted, drizzled with honey and dukkah and served on hummus, either as a light main or as a side with lamb chops.
Another maligned vegetable, these days cabbage is often pickled into sauerkraut, relegated to a slaw or steamed into a dull but virtuous side dish. But it can also be the hero. The Italians like to cook it very slowly in its own rendered juices. They call this method “smothered”.
I make a similar dish, which is my version of one of Poland’s great meals, bigos. Finely shred a white cabbage and cook it with onion and a little chopped garlic in the fat rendered from browning off half a dozen pork sausages and 300g cubed, smoked bacon. When the cabbage has softened, stir in those sausages, the bacon, a splash of cider vinegar, a few caraway seeds and a couple of juniper berries. Cook slowly in a low oven for an hour or more. If you like sauerkraut, stir in a cup of drained, rinsed and dried sauerkraut instead of the vinegar.
Is any vegetable more versatile? Carrots can be eaten raw, pickled, roasted, steamed or slowly cooked in a pan with a little water and butter for so long they almost break down. Serve these with parmesan and parsley, or with tea- or muscat-soaked sultanas, toasted pine nuts, lemon zest, crushed coriander seeds and a dollop of creme fraiche.
This family favourite is always welcome at my table whether raw, pickled in thin slices, grilled as steaks, or microwaved whole and then roasted.
But you can also go a more decadent route. Crumb flat chunks of cauliflower, fry and serve with a blue cheese, sour cream and vinegar dipping sauce.
This is another adaptable vegetable. Try it sliced very thinly and tossed with white anchovies, mint and a sprinkling of almond migas – breadcrumbs fried with toasted chopped almonds, crushed garlic, something salty and porky (such as prosciutto, serrano ham or crumbled chorizo) and a few cumin seeds.
Roasting thick slices of fennel intensifies the flavour and makes its flesh creamy-soft to serve with your next pork roast, or as the base for a tray bake with capers, olives, tomatoes and fillets of firm-fleshed white fish.