Seven Recipes + Five Books for Autumn
My new book has six chapters, as the year unfolds I will be writing about each season, six mini seasons if you like. Right now we’re in Autumn territory. Cold days and dark nights. Crispy ombre leaves under foot and cold just pinching your cheeks; scarves wrapped around necks and flip flops finally relegated. Half of me is sad to say goodbye to the heady days of summer and quick thrown-together suppers eaten outside, but a bigger part of me is excited. This is my favourite time of year in the kitchen. The spoils of a long summer finally come to fruition and there is a proper bounty at our fingertips before the freeze sets in.
This time of year is marked by thorny skirmishes in bushes, trying to reach the best-looking blackberries and sloes. We have a grapevine in a sunny spot out front, which is older than me and yields tiny but almost bubblegum-sweet little grapes – half get pickled and the other half made into a jelly which gets handed round at Christmas with little bottles of sloe and blackberry whisky and gin. This may all sound a bit twee and Countryfile, but the hedges of all our cites are jam-packed with edible little berries – most of mine come from Hackney Marshes and are picked between football fields and canal boats.
There is a generosity to autumn that isn’t equalled by any other season. The colours match the falling leaves, the warm glowing oranges of squash, the sweetshop jewel colours of beetroots and the subtle earth tones of mushrooms, all backed up by the very last of the summer tomatoes and courgettes.
And there is a new energy in the kitchen. The dark nights mean there is more time to cook. Gone are smoothies and salads in place of deeper, satisfying and nourishing piles of roasted veg, big cast-iron pots of soup and crispy-topped bakes and pies. My favourite books come down from the shelves and stack up beside my bed or by the cooker.
In autumn my body craves warmth, heady spices, hearty roots and bolstering grains. Salads move from spritely leaves and summer bursts of citrus to bowls of just-warm grains, roasted veg and dressings of tahini or thick, sweet balsamic. Mornings mean oats or porridge, topped with plums, greengages and figs and a drizzle of raw honey. Lunches are deep bowls of soup sprinkled with crisped herbs, breadcrumbs or toasted nuts. There is a harvest festival feeling about autumn, which brings together the best bits of summer- and winter-eating. Greengrocers are still brimming with vegetables, but the time and energy to cook is back – no longer does it seem a waste of a bright evening to be in the kitchen and the warmth of the cooker is welcome.
HOW I’M COOKING THIS AUTUMN
There are a few ingredients and ways of cooking that I come back to year after year in these months:
Tomatoes won’t be British-grown or tasty for some time, so buy up a box of good ripe ones and slow-roast. Cut them in half and lay cut-side up on trays, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with a little olive oil, scatter with a little thyme, if you like, and roast them at 150ºC/fan 130ºC/gas mark 2 for about an hour or until they have dried out and become sweet and sticky. Put them in a sterilised jar, cover completely with olive oil and keep in the fridge until needed; they will last a few weeks in the fridge or all winter if you sterilise the jars properly.
BATCH-COOKING GRAINS + BOWL FOOD
When autumn arrives, I want my food to be heartier and a quick way to make this happen without having to handcraft a pie is to have some cooked grains on hand to throw into a salad, soup or bowl. They will keep in the fridge for up to a week and in the freezer for a couple of months, so you are only ever a few minutes away from a hearty meal.
ROASTING A BIG PAN OF ROOT VEG
This is another trick for quick and easy weeknight suppers. I roast a big tray about once a week, when I have time, with whatever looks good at the greengrocer’s – this week, it was yellow, purple and candy-cane beetroots with delicate squash. Simply peel (if needed), trim roughly, chop and roast the veg at 180ºC/fan 160ºC/gas mark 4 for 45 minutes to one hour, depending on how small you chopped it all. Flavour with winter herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, sage or bay, whole unpeeled garlic cloves (which can be squashed out of their skin once buttery and cooked) and halved lemons or oranges, squeezed over the veg and then chucked into the tray.
MAKING SOMETHING SWEET
The drop in temperature and darker nights mean some days I need something sweet. For a grown-up dessert, I’ll make a cold-weather eton mess, using brown sugar, which is pretty unusual for a meringue, but it really works. Granted they won’t be quite as peaky as the ones made with white sugar, but the trade-off is that you get more good chewiness and a deeper light caramel flavour.
These blondies from my new book really hit the spot too – the smoked salt adds something and works so well with the almonds and chocolate.
Title feast image and blackberries/ apples taken by Ana Cuba, from my newest book The Modern Cook’s Year, centred around the seasons.