The last of summer produce still lingers on, but we’ve passed the peak and we’re on the Autumnal slope to Winterland. No longer those sweltering days where parched tastebuds only have eyes for those particularly quenching fruits and vegetables: melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, stone-fruit, thick, crunchy Iceberg lettuce. But that doesn’t mean we’re ready to lug the casserole dish out, or to labour away at making the smoothest mash potatoes. Not just yet. There are plenty of ways to bridge the seasons, either by wintering up summery food, or lightening comfort food with a sunny last hoorah.
The kind of salads I crave in summer are those that sing with the simple goodness of ripe, raw, juicy ingredients, with a thin, sharp dressing. As autumn sets in, I start to think about adding a bit of bulk to salads while retaining an element of freshness. Often I combine raw and cooked to balance the affair. Think roasted kumara, red onion and whole garlic cloves cooled to room temperature then combined with delicate greens such as baby spinach, watercress or mizuna, and if you like, some crumbled feta, peelings of Parmesan or cubes of fried halloumi. Add cooked quinoa or barley to go full-meal. And for the dressing, I like something with a little creamy richness, so either yoghurt or creme fraiche thinned out with olive oil, lemon juice and then jazzed up with fresh chopped herbs: tarragon, basil, dill–whatever you have to hand. Sprinkle beetroot wedges with a little salt and pepper, wrap in foil and bake until tender (or as I did last weekend, just let them cook alongside brisket in a kamado barbecue for several hours). Combine cooked beetroot with various-coloured raw tomatoes–bigger ones sliced into chunks and small cherry ones kept whole, finely sliced raw red onion, goat’s chevre, and both fresh and sizzled herbs (read on for more on that). If you’re not a beet fan, you could make that same salad with a combination of roasted tomatoes and raw–the balance of tart, sweet and juicy umami is brilliant.
With many herbs either going to seed about now, or starting to thin out in preparation for winter hibernation, now’s the time to use them for full, last-hoorah effect. One flavour bomb trick you might have noticed in restaurants is garnishing dishes with translucent, crisp herbs. Try it home–it’s a good way to add an instant depth to a dish, compared to the sharpness of fresh herbs. Sage lends itself particularly well to it, with hardier leaves, but try it too with basil (all varieties), mint and parsley. Remove stalks and sizzle the leaves in a hot pan with a generous amount of spitting butter or oil, making sure they don’t burn, or they’ll taste acrid. Sizzled herbs are the perfect season-bridging garnish for salads, roasted meats, potatoes, and are great to top an oozingly ripe, or smooth fresh cheese. Make more of a salsa verde with them by adding chopped capers and garlic to the sizzle, and spoon this over cooked whole or filleted fish, or juicy slices of perfectly cooked steak, or through cooked pasta along with plenty of grated Parmesan or pecorino for a quick autumn meal.
Another way to gently slip into more wintry cuisine is to let certain cooler-months produce sing a raw, or at least lighter, tune. Take Brussels sprouts–they’re great sliced very finely to be the raw star of a salad; try them this way with thin slices of orange or apple, fennel, and walnuts or pecans. Add some crumbled blue cheese if you like, and a lemony dressing. I’m not ready for wedges of baked pumpkin yet, but I’ll happily cook it, season it and puree it thinned down with some apple cider vinegar, and use this to paint the bottom of a plate on which to stack a grain-based salad–the cooked grains soak up the puree like pasta to a sauce. And kumara can be excellent when allowed to keep a little crunch–as in my recipe below.
Summer berries might be over but luckily the growers made sure to slip some into the freezer for us to use all year round; they give an instant summery note to desserts, baking and smoothies. And with the last of stonefruit still holding on, and the arrival of crisp new season’s apples, adding fresh, raw fruit as a garnish to baking and desserts is a good way to brighten them up.
Pimp your porridge
These slightly colder mornings have me thinking porridge all of a sudden. The classic of gently cooked rolled oats topped with a dusting of soft brown sugar and splash of milk is pretty hard to beat, but for variety’s sake, here are a few other ideas for ways to pimp your porridge:
- Top with dried fruit of your choice that you’ve steeped overnight in freshly squeezed orange juice.
- Top with maple roasted nuts: mixed nuts combined with maple syrup and cinnamon and roasted till crisp (you can even add a pinch of cayenne to the mixture to give your metabolism a morning zap).
- Add some quinoa or amaranth flakes in with the oats, combining before cooking. Or during cooking, stir in some pre-cooked black rice, freekeh, buckwheat groats or quinoa.
- Make like a porridge scone and top with a generous dollop of clotted cream and a berry compote.
- Nod to the Middle East and top with chopped medjool dates and a homemade sweet dukkah of toasted almonds and pistachios, cinnamon, a pinch of cardamom seeds and dark cane sugar, crushed in a mortar and pestle. Finish with a dollop of ricotta and a drizzle of both honey, and orange blossom water.
Dutch apple babies with lemon creme and fruit salsa
Apple and cinnamon speak of cooler days ahead, while the fruit and mint salsa gives a crisp touch to keep the dish from stepping too far into the cozy slippers-and-comfort-food zone.
Ready in 20 min
1 new season’s apple, cored and sliced thinly (I used Royal Gala)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp honey
½ cup milk
¾ cup plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Handful frozen raspberries (optional)
½ apple, finely diced
1 plum, finely diced
Handful mint leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp lime juice
Mascarpone to serve (optional)
- Heat oven to 180℃. On stovetop, heat a fairly large, oven-proof pan (cast iron is best), melt the butter in it, add half the honey, and swirl melted mixture round pan to coat. Arrange apple slices as you like. Let sizzle for 5 minutes to start to caramelise the apple.
- Meanwhile mix pancake batter. Beat eggs, beat in milk then sift in flour, cinnamon and pinch salt and whisk to combine, making sure there are no lumps left.
- Turn off element. Pour the batter over the apples gently so as not to shift the slices you’ve carefully arranged. At this stage you can add raspberries, poking them gently into the batter–they add a nice tart surprise at the base of the pancake this way. Bake for 12 minutes until top of batter is golden.
- Meanwhile combine salsa ingredients and let sit.
- Remove apple baby from oven and carefully, using oven gloves, place a large plate over the pan and flip it so the pancake drops onto the plate apple-side up.
- Serve hot, sliced into wedges and topped with fruit salsa and, if you like, a dollop of mascarpone.
Kumara and kimchi rosti with spicy yoghurt
The beauty of these rosti is that the kumara holds its form–a very different kumara experience to the roasties most of us are used to. There small amount of flour in the batter helps the rosti to crisp up as they sizzle in the hot oil. If you like, you can also add grated cheddar cheese to the batter; if you do, just watch the rosti carefully when cooking as the cheese can catch and burn a little. For big appetites, add a poached or fried egg on top.
Ready in 20 min
250g orange kumara, peeled and grated or julienned (I used a julienne peeler)
¾ cup kimchi
2 spring onions
⅓ cup cornflour
Cooking oil, ideally rice bran or grapeseed
Herbs to garnish (I used purple shiso)
½ cup Greek yoghurt
½ tsp togarashi,
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp salt
- In a large bowl, beat the egg and season with a little salt and pepper. Add the kumara and mix to combine with the egg–I find mixing with the hands best here. Add the kimchi, slice one of the spring onions and add that in then combine the mixture, then add the cornflour and combine again until evenly dispersed.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan (cast iron is best) and add a generous amount of cooking oil. Place heaped tablespoons of the rosti mixture into the pan, a few at a time. Flatten then out a bit so the kumara will cook through, and cook for 2 minutes before carefully flipping. Once flipped, press down gently on the cooked top of each rosti using your fish slice, and cook for another 2 minutes or so on the second side. Keep going until mixture is used up. You may like to keep cooked rosti in oven on low temperature to keep them warm.
- Make spicy yoghurt by gently stirring all ingredients together.
- Slice the remaining spring onion into 8cm lengths then slice each length into long fine strips. Place strips in iced water so they’ll curl up, then drain.
- Serve rosti hot, with a scattering of herbs and spring onion curls, with spicy yoghurt on the side to dollop over the top.