Seasonal eating in November
With a real chill in the air, my fridge is overflowing with hardy root vegetables, tough cuts of meat ready for a low oven or a slow braise, and my puddings are of the hot, rib-sticking variety – perfect for keeping out the cold. We’re now firmly in the territory of scarves, woolly hats and breathing out clouds of billowing air – and breathing in the delicious aromas of slow-roasted joints, crispy spuds and roots vegetables. It’s a great time of year for cooks. You get to spend plenty of time in the kitchen preparing yummy, slow-cooked meals – for simmering a ragu for hours before turning it into a perfect, luxurious lasagne or for braising ham hocks to pop under a pastry lid in a warming chicken, ham and leek pie. At this time of year, we see the hardier vegetables, which are worth the effort both to cook and eat, nourishing you and warming you deep inside.
The Halloween favourite deserves much more than having a face cut into it and having its insides thrown out, only to dry out and toughen and then eventually face its fate – the dustbin. There are loads of varieties of pumpkin you can choose from – and if you can’t, just use a squash as they share similar flavours.
I like to cut a pumpkin into wedges which I then roast tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and some chilli flakes. Once golden and a little soft, pop the slices on plates and scatter over some crumbled goat’s cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds, then drizzle with a splash of balsamic – perfect with roast or grilled lamb.
No joint of roast beef, in my opinion, is complete without these sweet-savoury gems. My grandmother used to cut them into the same size as her roast potatoes when I was little so I never knew what I was getting. That sweetness is balanced so well with the roast beef and rich, dark gravy. They also lend themselves very well to curries, oddly – somehow the spices in the sauce make an ideal partner for the root. And make sure you get them after the first frost: this handy tip is based on an old wives’ tale that has some truth in it – as the starches turn to sugars at this point, making for a sweeter parsnip. My last suggestion would be to try them raw and grated – they’re a lovely addition to a wintery coleslaw made with mayonnaise and tangy wholegrain mustard.
The ingredient that must never, ever be missed from your Christmas table, sprouts are, well, not just for Christmas. When cooked well, they’re a fantastic vegetable in their own right. Try turning them into the lovechild of cauliflower cheese, swapping out the cauliflower for brussels and ramping up your cheese sauce with plenty of bacon or ham. I ate these in the States, blanched, halved and pan-fried then tossed with nuggets of parmesan and chunks of bacon; maybe cheese and pork are a brussels’ best friend. I actually do love ‘em just steamed alongside a roast – like little baby cabbages.
This vegetable may be a little trickier to find than spinach or kale but is worth seeking out. You can find both rainbow and regular varieties – the rainbow has beautiful orange, pink or yellow stalks while the regular has ivory stalks. It’s fantastic with both meat and fish – with the latter simply wilt in a pan and toss with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper; with the former you could do a brilliant version of creamed spinach topped with gruyère or parmesan. Sometimes, though, simplest is best – just blanched gently and served alongside a perfectly cooked steak is ideal.
These are probably about the most plentiful and cheap of shellfish, next to prawns, you can find – and thankfully they don’t travel as far either as they live all around our own lovely coastline. They’re incredibly easy to cook ‘marinière’ (probably the most famous way of doing them), where they are cooked with shallots, wine, butter and garlic, and are ready in a flash. Try them Thai style too, steamed and tossed with a dressing made with lime juice, sugar, soy sauce, chilli and ginger – a perfect winter warmer.
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'Season of mists and mellow frutifulness'; 'To Autumn', John Keats.