Prime sus­pects

Pick­ing pro­duce at its zenith en­sures that work­ing with it will be sim­ple, and every moutht­ful worth­while. In this sec­ond ex­cerpt from her new cook­book, our colum­nist shares ideas for vi­brant au­tum­nal plate­fuls

The Guardian - Cook - - Book Extract - Anna Jones Anna Jones is a chef, writer and au­thor of A Mod­ern Way to Eat and A Mod­ern Way to Cook (Fourth Es­tate); an­na­; @we_are_­food

The tech­niques I lean on in the kitchen change as the year un­folds. In au­tumn, my oven is in con­stant use: I start roast­ing again, big trays of jewel-coloured roots, the last of the corn, broc­coli and cauliflow­ers. In win­ter, my heavy, cast-iron pots sel­dom leave the hob, al­ways full of soup or a veg­etable braise. In spring, the ten­der and fresh veg­eta­bles need only a lick of heat from a hot fry­ing pan. And, in sum­mer, I use my man­do­line most, to slice fen­nel and cour­gettes finely for grilling and for raw sal­ads. The sea­sons mean that the way I cook and the time I spend do­ing it change as dra­mat­i­cally as the con­tents of my fruit bowl and fridge.

While I shop as lo­cally as pos­si­ble and fo­cus on Bri­tish pro­duce, I have no qualms about lean­ing on our other Euro­pean friends and their in­cred­i­ble of­fer­ings: cit­rus from the Mediter­ranean, the im­mi­nent win­ter toma­toes from Italy, pink and pur­ple win­ter radic­chio. Never has it been more im­por­tant to foster th­ese links, the trade it en­cour­ages and the bar­ri­ers it breaks down. I long for a veg­etable gar­den and to grow what I eat, but that’s not pos­si­ble just now. The bulk of what I buy is from nearby shops and our ex­cel­lent farm­ers’ mar­ket, topped up with su­per­mar­ket deliveries for bulky things and dry goods.

Su­per­mar­kets are get­ting bet­ter at stock­ing and cham­pi­oning lo­cal pro­duce, so it is ab­so­lutely pos­si­ble to eat sea­son­ally wher­ever you reg­u­larly shop. If you aren’t in tune with the sea­son, then per­haps re­mind your­self of what’s grow­ing and good to eat now be­fore you shop, look at la­bels, buy food from nearby if you can. If you are af­ter some greens to steam along­side your sup­per, I’d urge you to scan them all and per­haps choose some Bri­tish pur­ple sprout­ing broc­coli over the Kenyan green beans. It will taste bet­ter, sup­port our farm­ers and have used up fewer re­sources in get­ting to your plate. This is noth­ing new, but while our shops still stock Peru­vian as­para­gus in De­cem­ber, I think we all, my­self in­cluded, need a re­minder from time to time.

Us­ing pro­duce in its prime means your work in the kitchen will be sim­pler and quicker. Putting what’s most flavour­ful at the cen­tre of your plate of­ten means you will need only the light­est of touch, adding to and ac­cent­ing that flavour. You won’t need to work hard to boost lack­lus­tre veg­eta­bles, but in­stead gen­tly en­hance and cel­e­brate the vi­brancy.

This week’s of­fer­ing from my new book gives you eight recipes that put sea­sonal pro­duce at the cen­tre of your ta­ble. From a hearty beet­root gratin to the trans­portive flavours of feather-light sweet potato bao, and from a stel­lar break­fast of choco­late rye por­ridge with pears to com­fort­ing malt loaf at tea time, there should be some­thing for everyone.

Party bao with sweet potato and pick­led cu­cum­ber

If you’ve not come across them, bao are light but pleas­ingly chewy lit­tle steamed buns stuffed with flavour­ful fill­ings. You can make them a day in ad­vance (re-steam­ing them be­fore serv­ing).

Makes 20 For the bao

120g un­salted but­ter

2 x 7g sa­chets of dried yeast

1kg strong white bread flour, plus ex­tra for rolling

1 tsp bak­ing pow­der

¾ tsp bi­car­bon­ate of soda

2 tbsp flaky sea salt

Olive oil

For the fill­ing

1.5kg sweet pota­toes, sliced length­ways and chopped into 2cm slices

4 tbsp tamari or dark soy sauce

2 tbsp runny honey 2 tbsp finely grated gin­ger 1 tbsp five-spice pow­der 2 pinches of chilli flakes 6 tbsp toasted se­same oil 1 large cu­cum­ber

2 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp honey or maple syrup 3 tbsp rice wine vine­gar A pinch of white pep­per

For the dip­ping sauce

3 tbsp white miso

3 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp brown rice vine­gar 1 green chilli, finely chopped A large piece of gin­ger

To fin­ish

A bunch of spring onions, finely sliced A large hand­ful of co­rian­der, leaves picked

250g salted roasted cashews

1 Melt the but­ter in a saucepan over a low heat. Put the yeast into a large bowl with 450ml warm wa­ter and leave for a few min­utes un­til tiny bub­bles be­gin to form.

2 Mix in the flour, bak­ing pow­der, bi­car­bon­ate of soda, sea salt and the melted but­ter un­til it all comes to­gether, then knead for 10 min­utes to a silky dough. Put in an oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to prove for a cou­ple of hours.

3 Once the dough has dou­bled in size, knock it back by knead­ing it for a few sec­onds on a floured sur­face. Split it in half, then, us­ing your hands, roll each half into equal-sized logs.

4 Cut each log into 20 small, equal pieces (I find it eas­i­est to cut each into 4, then cut those smaller pieces into 5). Roll each piece of dough into a ball and put on bak­ing sheets lined with grease­proof pa­per. Cover and leave to prove again for 30–45 min­utes.

5 Knock each risen bun back with the palm of your hand, then, us­ing a rolling pin, roll into oval shapes about 12cm long and 9cm wide. Coat a chop­stick with a lit­tle oil, put it across the width of each bun and fold the dough over, then gen­tly re­move the chop­stick.

6 Set a large steamer (prefer­ably with two tiers) over a medium

heat, and get the wa­ter boil­ing. Put a layer of bak­ing parch­ment in each steamer bas­ket, then ar­range the buns on top, spaced at least 3cm apart, then leave them to steam, not too fiercely, for 10–12 min­utes, or un­til they have puffed up and are light, fluffy and cooked through. Leave to cool, then cover and chill overnight if you are pre­par­ing them in ad­vance. You could make the bao even fur­ther in ad­vance and freeze them un­til needed.

7 Pre­heat the oven to 240C/475F/gas 9. Mean­while, make the fill­ing. Toss the sweet pota­toes into a roast­ing tin with the tamari, honey, gin­ger, five-spice, half the chilli flakes and 4 tbsp of the se­same oil. Roast for 20–30 min­utes, turn­ing half­way, un­til glazed and soft.

8 Shred or slice the cu­cum­ber into a bowl with the other pinch of chilli flakes, the mirin, honey, rice vine­gar, white pep­per and the re­main­ing se­same oil. Toss to coat and set aside for 10 min­utes be­fore you want to eat, or chill for up to 5 days.

9 Make the dip­ping sauce by whisk­ing all the in­gre­di­ents to­gether un­til you have a thick, rich sauce. Split the buns open and fill with the roasted sweet potato, drained cu­cum­ber, spring onions, co­rian­der and lots of cashews crushed for tex­ture.

Gen­tle potato chow­der with toasted chilli oil

Warms you right down to your toes.

Serves 4

25g un­salted but­ter or 2 tbsp co­conut oil

2 leeks, washed, trimmed and cut into 1cm-thick rounds

A pinch of salt 2 tbsp flour, such as spelt 1 tbsp veg­etable stock pow­der or 1 stock cube

800g floury pota­toes, peeled and cut into rough chunks

300ml whole milk or soy milk 400g tin of green lentils, drained (or 250g home-cooked)

For the chilli oil

2 red chill­ies 1 tsp to 1 tbsp dried chilli flakes 2 gar­lic cloves 1 tbsp al­monds Salt and black pep­per 200ml mild-flavoured oil, such as light olive or rape­seed

1 Fill and boil a ket­tle. In a medi­um­large pot, melt the but­ter over a medium heat. Add the leeks with a pinch of salt, lower the heat and cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, for around 10 min­utes, or un­til soft and sweet.

2 Stir in the flour and al­low to cook for an­other minute or so to get rid of the raw flavour. Grad­u­ally add 600ml hot wa­ter from the ket­tle, a bit at a time, then add the stock pow­der or cube. Add the pota­toes and bring the mix­ture to a sim­mer. Cook un­til the pota­toes are cooked through, which should take about 25 min­utes, mak­ing sure you stir from time to time to stop it stick­ing.

3 Mean­while, make the chilli oil. Put the fresh and dried chilli and gar­lic into a food pro­ces­sor and pulse un­til fine, then add the al­monds, a good pinch of salt and a gen­er­ous amount of black pep­per. Pulse again, put the lot into a small saucepan with the oil and cook slowly for 10 min­utes or so, un­til ev­ery­thing is toasted and golden, then re­move from the heat and set aside. The oil can be used warm (not hot) on your soup. The leftovers should be left to cool com­pletely, then stored in a jar in the fridge for up to 3 months.

4 Back to the soup. Add the milk to the pot, stir in the lentils, and heat un­til the milk is just sim­mer­ing. Serve the soup la­dled into deep bowls, topped with a slick of the chilli oil.

Beet­root, rhubarb and potato gratin

This might just get the all-time gratin crown. I tend not to cook with a lot of dairy, but here I make an ex­cep­tion, us­ing the best I can get.

Serves 4–6

But­ter, for greas­ing

1kg pota­toes, prefer­ably waxy ones such as de­siree or char­lotte 500g cooked beet­root, peeled 300ml weak veg­etable stock 300ml dou­ble cream

150ml sour cream

2 bay leaves

2 tsp pink pep­per­corns or ½ tsp black pep­per­corns

200g forced rhubarb, thinly sliced

1 Pre­heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. But­ter a large gratin dish.

2 Peel the pota­toes and slice them very finely – a man­do­line or the fine slicer at­tach­ment on a food pro­ces­sor is the best way to do this. Cut the beet­root into fine slices as well – they don’t have to quite be as thin, so you could just use a knife.

3 Put the stock and both the creams into a large saucepan, along with the bay leaves and 1 tsp of the pep­per­corns. Bring the liq­uid to just un­der the boil, then take off the heat and leave to sit for 30 min­utes or so. Re­move the bay leaves, leav­ing the pep­per­corns in, then bring the liq­uid to just be­low a sim­mer. Add the sliced pota­toes and cook gen­tly for 5 min­utes.

4 Re­move from the heat, sea­son re­ally well with salt and pep­per, and spoon half the pota­toes into the gratin dish. Put half the beet­root and

rhubarb on top, sea­son­ing as you go, then top with the rest of the pota­toes and their cream, fol­lowed by the rest of the beet­root.

5 Roughly bash the re­main­ing pink pep­per­corns in a pes­tle and mor­tar and sprin­kle on the gratin. Bake for 1 hour, or un­til the veg­eta­bles are com­pletely ten­der. Cover the top with foil af­ter about 45 min­utes if it looks like it is be­com­ing too dark.

Choco­late rye por­ridge with quick honey pears

The tra­di­tion­al­ists out there might be rolling their eyes, but por­ridge is per­sonal. This is my very favourite of win­ter break­fasts: choco­late, a malty back note from the rye flakes and a very quick pear com­pote with honey.

Serves 2

50g rolled rye flakes 50g rolled oats 300ml unsweet­ened al­mond milk or cow’s milk

A pinch of flaky sea salt 2 tsp raw cacao or unsweet­ened co­coa pow­der

A pinch of ground cin­na­mon 2 tsp runny honey 2 pears, cored and sliced 1 tbsp runny honey 2 tbsp al­mond but­ter

A hand­ful of chopped al­monds

1 First, make the pear top­ping. Heat the pears and honey in a small pan over a medium heat for 5 min­utes, or un­til just warmed through and be­gin­ning to soften, adding a tiny splash of wa­ter if it’s look­ing too dry.

2 Mean­while, put all the por­ridge in­gre­di­ents into a pan with 100ml hot wa­ter and cook for 5–8 min­utes, or un­til the oats come to­gether; add more wa­ter if it looks too thick.

3 Spoon the por­ridge into bowls and top with the pears, al­mond but­ter and al­monds.

Bay and lemon-laced creme caramel (on the cover)

Mak­ing caramel can put peo­ple off, but I have given easy in­struc­tions here so don’t be ner­vous – it’s re­ally not hard at all. Be sure to check the wob­ble on the baked creme caramels – you want a very light wob­ble in the mid­dle; they shouldn’t be too liq­uid. You will need six ramekins or dar­i­ole moulds.

Serves 6

A knob of but­ter, for greas­ing 500ml or­ganic whole milk 1 un­waxed lemon

2 bay leaves

1 vanilla pod

2 medium or­ganic eggs, plus 4 egg yolks

75g golden caster sugar

For the caramel

60g golden caster sugar 60g light mus­co­v­ado sugar The juice of 1 lemon

1 Pre­heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas 3½. Grease all the ramekins or dar­i­ole moulds with but­ter.

2 Start by in­fus­ing your milk. Pour the milk into a saucepan. Peel 4 strips of zest from the lemon with a speed peeler and add to the milk with the bay. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add to the milk along with the pod. Heat gen­tly over a low heat and, when it’s just un­der a sim­mer, take off the heat and al­low to cool a lit­tle and in­fuse for 15 min­utes.

3 Next, make the caramel by melt­ing the caster and mus­co­v­ado sug­ars to­gether in a large, deep saucepan with the lemon juice and 2 tbsp of wa­ter. Try not to it stir once it’s heated (stir­ring will en­cour­age the sugar to crys­tallise) – a gen­tle shake and tilt of the pan now and then will help the sugar to melt evenly. Let the sugar mix­ture cook un­til it’s bub­bling, is a rich mo­lasses colour all over and smells bis­cu­ity. It should take around 3 min­utes from when it starts to bub­ble. If you’re ner­vous and want to test that it’s done, pour a small dot on to a cold plate; if it sets, it’s done. Pour the caramel into your greased ramekins, dis­tribut­ing it evenly across all 6, and leave to one side to set.

4 Now, on to the cus­tard. Crack the whole eggs into a mix­ing bowl and whisk with the yolks and caster sugar un­til ev­ery­thing is com­bined. Grad­u­ally add the cooled milk to the eggs and sugar, gen­tly com­bin­ing with a whisk as you go. Fill and boil the ket­tle.

5 Pour the mix­ture through a sieve into a jug, then pour into the ramekins and put them in a deep roast­ing tray. Cover each ramekin tightly with foil. Care­fully pour the hot wa­ter from the ket­tle into the tray un­til it reaches about half­way up the ramekins’ sides.

6 Bake in the cen­tre of the hot oven for 15 min­utes, then re­move the foil and bake for a fur­ther 15–20 min­utes, or un­til they’re set with a bit of wob­ble still in the cen­tre. Cool on a roast­ing tray, then put them, cov­ered,

Por­ridge is per­sonal. This is my very favourite of win­ter break­fasts

in the fridge – ideally overnight, but def­i­nitely for at least 3–4 hours.

7 Re­move from the fridge at least 30 min­utes be­fore you want to serve them. When you’re ready, gin­gerly run a small pal­ette knife around the edge and in­vert each one on to a plate.

Salted choco­late truf­fles

Just some melt­ing, mix­ing and pour­ing – your own lit­tle choco­late fac­tory. This batch makes a lot, and can be wrapped up and given as Christ­mas presents. 60g co­conut oil, plus a lit­tle ex­tra to grease

30g co­conut or light brown sugar 200g raw al­mond/cashew/ hazel­nut but­ter

200g dark choco­late (at least 70% co­coa solids)

Seeds from 1 vanilla pod 2 big pinches of flaky sea salt

Ad­di­tional flavours

Zest of 1 un­waxed orange Zest of 1 un­waxed lemon Zest of 1 un­waxed lime Swap the salt for smoked sea salt 1 red chilli, finely chopped Seeds from 2 car­damom pods, re­moved and crushed

½ tsp ground cin­na­mon

To coat (use one or more)

50g raw cacao or co­coa pow­der Pis­ta­chios, al­monds and/or hazel­nuts, finely chopped Can­died orange peel, finely chopped Can­died gin­ger, finely chopped Choco­late (dark, milk or white), grated Dried rose petals, crushed

1 Grease a 20 x 20cm square brownie tin with co­conut oil. Heat the co­conut oil and sugar in a saucepan on a low heat. Once the oil has melted and the sugar has dis­solved into the oil, take the pan off the heat and add the nut but­ter, choco­late, vanilla and salt. Stir off the heat un­til ev­ery­thing has melted. If you’re adding an­other flavour, stir it in now.

2 Pour the mix­ture into the tin. Chill for about 2 hours, or un­til set solid. While the truf­fle mix is cool­ing, get your cho­sen coat­ing or coat­ings ready and put each in a lit­tle bowl.

3 Once set, turn the truf­fle slab out on to a cool work sur­face and cut into squares (mine are 1–1½cm), then gen­tly dip each truf­fle in its coat­ing to cover.

4 The truf­fles will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks in a sealed con­tainer.

Malt loaf with prunes and black tea

Pure nos­tal­gia. I re­mem­ber eat­ing this in my grandma’s flat – high up in a 1970s tower block. How I wish we could share a slice now. 125g prunes, pit­ted 125g raisins

150ml strong black tea, hot But­ter or oil, for greas­ing

150g malt ex­tract, plus 2 tbsp to fin­ish 100g light mus­co­v­ado sugar

125g whole­meal spelt flour

125g white spelt flour

1 tsp bak­ing pow­der

A pinch of fine salt

2 medium eggs

1 Put the prunes and raisins into a shal­low bowl, cover with the hot tea and leave to soak overnight (or as long as you can man­age). Pre­heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.

2 But­ter a deep loaf tin mea­sur­ing 20x9cm and line it with bak­ing pa­per. Put the malt ex­tract and mus­co­v­ado sugar in a small saucepan and warm, with­out stir­ring, over a medium heat, un­til the sugar has dis­solved, then take off the heat.

3 Put the flours, bak­ing pow­der and salt into a large mix­ing bowl and use a whisk to get rid of any lumps.

4 Us­ing a stick blender, puree 2 tbsp of the soaked fruit into a chunky paste. Pour the warm malt and sugar mix­ture into the flour, and add the fruit paste and whole fruits.

5 Break the eggs into a small bowl, beat lightly with a fork and fold into the mix­ture.

6 Scoop the mix­ture – it is quite soft – into the lined loaf tin and gen­tly smooth the sur­face. Bake for 50-60 min­utes, or un­til lightly springy, then re­move from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. While the cake cools, brush the top with a lit­tle more malt ex­tract.

▲ The Mod­ern Cook’s Year Anna’s new book, pub­lished by 4th Es­tate, is out on 5 Oc­to­ber

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