Eating autumn

Eating autumn

By
Tom Hunt
Contains
36 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849494182
Photographer
Laura Edwards

Beetroots

July to January: Beetroot is a stout, rotund hero of the soil. When roasted, it is one of my favourite things. Candy sweet and sticky with a natural fruit molasses, it’s no wonder that beetroot also works so well in puddings… try the chocolate pots, which marry monstrously dark chocolate with candied beetroot and its syrup. The outcome will have even the biggest beetroot sceptic begging for more.

The common deep red- or magenta-coloured beetroot is gorgeous in its own right, but there are many interesting and beautiful varieties to be discovered, from candy stripes of white and red to golden, yellow and pink.

Buy beetroots with fresh green leaves. The leaves taste good, are nutritious and should always be eaten. They deteriorate more quickly than the root, so remove them when you get home, give them a good wash to remove any grit and store in a bag in the fridge. Sauté these greens in the same way as chard or kale, adding spices and lemon for an exotic twist to a British vegetable classic. Wash them thoroughly, as they tend to harbour grit. The roots can be stored at room temperature.

Beetroots lose more than 25 per cent of their folate when cooked; eating them raw will preserve this brain compound. I love them raw anyway, grated into salads with lots of nuts and seeds, or finely sliced and used to dip into creamy goat’s cheese or houmous.

Fennel

June to October: A bulb of fennel eaten raw is the most crisp, refreshing vegetable, perfect to awaken your palate on a summer’s day. It also serves as a nice fresh complement to the heavier roots and other winter vegetables that overlap with its season during mid to late autumn. And, as the autumn nights draw in, fennel, still thriving in the fields, can be a rich and sweet comfort when roasted, caramelised or grilled.

When I grow my own fennel, I like to allow some to go to seed before harvesting, as you can dry the large fronds and flowers and use them in cooking during the winter. Rub the dried seeds into pork belly before a fierce scorch in the oven to produce the best crackling you’ve ever had. Or make a foil parcel of fish and dried fennel fronds to highlight the herb’s aniseedy aromatic oils.

When you get home from the market with your fennel bulbs, remove the fresh, frondy green fennel tops and store them in a cup of water in the fridge. Finely chop them and use as a herb to season fish and vegetable dishes. Store the fennel bulb separately, in a plastic bag or tub in the fridge. When you prepare the bulb, the outer layer can be a bit tough. Don’t throw it away or compost it; instead pull it off and finely slice it before slicing the rest of the bulb as the recipe demands, to get the most out of this versatile gem.

Sweetcorn

September and October: We should look to the Americas for inspiration on the best way to use sweetcorn, as the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs were cultivating it and making tortillas back in 7000 BC. In fact, some researchers claim that varieties of sweetcorn now provide about one-fifth of human global nutrition… the crop is certainly grown in such abundance that uses have been found for all its byproducts (including as loft insulation!).

Fresh boiled sweetcorn, smothered in salted butter, is a showstopper and perhaps the easiest way to enjoy the sweet kernels. But don’t stop there, as it can be used in 101 other recipes. The golden yellow corn can be treated to my favourite end-of-summer pastime, cooking over coals. It tastes good with chimichurri, too. Lovely corn fritters are a must on the to-do list, but make sure you use a fresh cob and not the canned stuff… there is no comparison. Other Latin American dishes which you must try are corn ice cream, tamales (a real comfort food, corn parcels wrapped in the husk and steamed), and the little corn cakes buñuelitos de maiz.

Look for sweetcorn cobs in their husks and store them in the fridge, as they will keep for longer. Buy and eat sweetcorn as fresh as possible, to catch the cobs at their sweetest.

Apples

October to January: Holy moley, me oh my, you’re the apple of my eye. Apples are a magical fruit and not just for their fantastic transformation into my number one beverage: scrumpy cider. Apples are one of the most widely cultivated fruit trees, with more than 7,500 varieties, some with names that you could be forgiven for thinking Tolkien had created as friends for Bilbo Baggins. Try a Brownlees russet, Beverley pippin, Honeygold, or a Sam Young.

Eat them raw to keep the doctor away. Juice them for a zingy vitamin boost. Bake them in pies and strudels and devour them with lashings of toffee sauce and ice cream. Roast them whole with a joint of crackling pork… or just go for humble pie. Apples are, quite simply, comforting.

Farmers use a large amount of different pesticides on their orchards to protect apple crops from fungus and insect threats. This leaves high levels of pesticide residues on the fruit itself so, whenever possible, buy organic.

Mushrooms

Available all year round, but wild main crop September to November: Earthy, savoury, rich – even mystical – mushrooms bring a touch of alchemy to the kitchen. Their pungent aromas and autumnal fragrances work their umami magic stirred into our domestic cauldron. Umami is described as the fifth taste, with the same characteristics as monosodium glutamate but without the stigma: meaty, rounded and satisfying.

Think of the deeply savoury mushroom possibilities: sautéed in a skillet with butter on sourdough toast with freshly cracked pepper; a meaty grilled portobello with melted blue cheese sandwiched in a bun for lunch; or red wine-braised in a dark casserole for dinner. Mushrooms are full of flavour.

Fortunately, commercially grown varieties of mushrooms use very few pesticides. The main cultivated mushrooms that we see on our shelves – labelled ‘button’, ‘chestnut’ and ‘portobello’ – are all the same variety at different stages of growth. Shiitake and oyster mushrooms are also now widely grown in this country. Shiitake mushrooms are a true superfood, full of antioxidants, iron and lentinan, a compound believed to be a natural immunity booster.

Buy squeaky-fresh, dry mushrooms without the damp spots that cause them to rot. Keep mushrooms fresh by removing them from plastic packaging and storing in a glass container or a paper bag in the fridge, with plenty of space for them to breathe. Never wash mushrooms, as they soak up water and become soggy. Instead, brush off dirt if necessary.

Mushroom stalks are delicious and can be cooked and eaten with the caps. If they are particularly woody, use them instead to add their delicious musky woodland fragrance to stocks and soup.

Carrots

Available all year round: Carrots are the stalwart of my kitchen and a loyal servant to the British table. We grow more than 700,000 tonnes of them a year. Most people boil this swollen tap root and – frankly – the simple approach is often the best, but really it is so versatile that we can experiment with a variety of techniques. Try baking carrots in handfuls of hay – in a covered casserole dish with a splash of water – caramelising them in butter with star anise, or grating them raw into a vibrant salad.

British carrots are available pretty much all year round, thanks to an ancient technique of storing them in the ground for the winter. Farmers ‘put carrots to bed’ by covering them with layers of straw to protect them from frost. This halts the crop’s growth and keeps them fresh until they are harvested.

If you buy carrots with their green tops (a good indication of their freshness), remove and compost the greens when you return home as the carrots will stay fresher for longer. Carrots are hardy and will keep for a good couple of weeks in a plastic bag in the fridge.

If you can, leave the skin on, as most of the nutrients are in (or just under) it. There is no need to remove tails of carrots, either, just any hard green portion at the top of the root.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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