Category Archives: Autumn

Autumn 2014

Wow, this year’s seasons were a bit all over the place weren’t they? Firstly spring arrived very early and immediately turned into summer, then summer itself decided to go on holidays and the temperatures remained rather low, then late summer washed out into autumn, and since the beginning of September, summer reared its head again and it’s been gloriously warm and dry with temperatures in the low to mid 20s. This week, it is definitely feels like autumn with the lower temperatures, especially the chilly mornings and evenings.

The last tomatoes

All this meant that this year’s produce arrived about a month early. And, the inter-seasonal marriages resulted in some super tasty crossovers: mushrooms appeared in mid summer (the early rain did have its advantages) and I just harvested strawberries last week! Strawberries in October! So this is a great time to take advantage of the crossover between very late summer harvests and autumn offerings. Think berries with orchard fruit, nightshade vegetables with the squash family and mushrooms with salad. Ottolenghi’s ratatouille pretty much sums up my summer/autumn kitchen right now. Make a huge batch and enjoy for a couple of days (it tastes even better the next day).

Of course, now is also the time to preserve (or just freeze) tomatoes using the end-of-season glut. Last year I made a lot of tomato chutney, but this year, ketchup took over my kitchen. For a sugar free version, try substituting dates or honey, both work perfectly. I always use Jamie Oliver’s ketchup recipe, and I don’t add extra water as the tomatoes are juicy enough in themselves and more liquid just means extra boiling time. Just think, when you’re in the deep dark depths of winter, this flavourful ketchup will transport you back to the wonderful sunny days we’ve had this year…..

Some tasty things to enjoy right now:
Fruit: new harvest apples, pears, quinces
Nuts: walnuts and hazelnuts
Vegetables: cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, all cabbages, pumpkin, leeks and very late seasons green beans, zucchinis and tomatoes
All wild mushrooms!

beans

Photos: tomatoes ripening in the autumn sun on my terrace, and early autumn beans from De Oude Boerderij

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Chestnuts

chestnutsIf there’s one ingredient I’d love to see more of on our dining plates, it’s chestnuts. Few ingredients celebrate the cold weather and its accompanying comfort food like chestnuts. Just a whiff of roasted chestnuts – even better from a streetside stall – is enough to get anyone’s mouth watering. These earthy, fragrant, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth delights pair equally well with sweet and savoury dishes in Western and Eastern cuisines. 

The late autumn months are when chestnuts are harvested but they’re sold well into the deep winter. You’re probably come across the large, fallen round chestnuts in your local park. These horse-chestnuts aren’t edible – but do look gorgeous as seasonal decoration. The edible varieties look smaller and flatter. While foraging for chestnuts in the park or forest, protective head gear is recommended: the falling spiky pods launched from a height of more than 10 metres are likely to cause some serious damage!

Raw chestnuts are available to buy at the markets, fruit & veg shops and some supermarkets. Look for shiny, hard chestnuts with smooth skin and no sign of any hollowness or softness. Score and either boil or roast them and eat whole immediately. Besides the outer shell, the very thin, astringent inner skin needs to be removed before eating. One down side is that preparing raw chestnuts is quite laborious. Thankfully pre-cooked (and peeled!) chestnuts are available in vacuum packs at your local deli or specialty store or in purée form.

The winter kitchen is the perfect celebration of chestnuts: roast pheasant with chestnut filling, chestnut and parsnip soup, chestnut stuffed mushroom, sprouts and chestnuts,  chestnut risotto or chestnut and chocolate torte. So if one of your new year’s resolutions is to be more adventurous with your cooking, then chestnuts could be a good starting point. Time to start cooking…

Wishing you all a wonderful 2014, full of delicious, beautiful, seasonal food.

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Plums


plums

If in doubt: never eat an unripe plum. My test for ripeness is to check for softness and to peel the skin. If the whole skin peels off effortlessly, then your plum is perfect. It must feel not too hard and not too squishy. Even if it seems just a tad on the hard side, leave it an extra day.

And what what do with all those gorgeous Dutch plums? Plums are the perfect companions for any sort of buttery cake or pastry, even better in a warm crumble with custard on the side or a clafoutis. Plums love hearty spices like cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, and cloves and find a best friend in toasted almonds or hazelnuts. In short, the perfect feel-good fruit to get you through the first chilly autumn days.

But my latest discovery for using plums is not sweet: from the 6 kilos that I bought from the orchard (what was I thinking..?) a big chunk went into making plum chutney and plum sauce. Stewed for 3 hours until almost jam-like, with spices, and tons of fresh ginger, the chutney is a party in your mouth: it’s sweet, sour, salty and spicy all at once. Perfect accompaniments for aged cheese or meat. And forget about the sickly sweet manufactured Chinese plum sauce: make your own. Perfect with Peking-style duck pancakes or roast pork belly. So who wants to come over for dinner?

 

Green Beans

green beans
Green Beans are not the sexiest of vegetables, I know, but they’re so tasty once you know how to make them sing. A usual suspect on a meat and three veg plate, green beans got their terrible reputation from being over cooked to a brown pulp: they’re called green beans for a good reason.

This vegetable grows beautifully in the Netherlands – try the dwarf versions that remain as low bushy shrubs instead of becoming pole-climbing vines. And not only are they green, there’s also purple, red, streaked, and pale pale green types too. When buying, pick crisp, green beans without any blemishes. If they’re getting bendy, eat them pretty quickly. Excess beans from bumper harvests can be easily preserved for later: just blanch them first and store in airtight bags in the freezer.

Blanch them in hot water or pan fry with garlic, lemon and butter. Try shallow frying them until slightly crinkled (in a good amount of olive oil) and dress with LOTS of rough sea salt. Jazz them up with fried pancetta, hazelnuts or olives or make your own version of a Salade Niçoise. Once you learn to love your green beans, they will love you right back.

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READY THIS WEEK

The Dutch summer arrived late which meant that it finished late too – which is fine by me! August ended and September started with a string of gorgeous sunny days and balmy nights. And this weekend, the autumn may have finally arrived. The cooler weather means that our palates will probably crave more heartier foods. Luckily mother nature already took this into consideration as the autumn produce is ready on the shelves.

Don’t miss out: use the remaining late summer produce in combination with new autumn ingredients to create a beautiful seasonal fusion. What about tomato with pumpkin, beetroot with raspberry or blueberry and potato?

 Just arrived: pumpkins of all shapes and sizes have made their appearance. Some pumpkins are purely grown for decoration so don’t get these confused in your kitchen! (they’re not poisonous, just bland) The first autumn baby spinach has also been spotted and baby carrots are good to just ready too.

Plentiful: keep the sunshine going with late summer tomatoes and zucchini. With coming of the cooler weather it’s time to embrace the earthiness of cabbage and beetroot – look out for yellow and chioggia (striped) beets too which are super tasty. Stock up on silverbeet, broccoli, cauliflower and green beans. Different sorts of plums will be coming and going in the next few weeks and enjoy the autumn blackberries while they last. And I’m still enjoying the new harvest potatoes. So good.

Maybe to come: Wild mushrooms! There is a lot of rain forecast for this week. Despite complaining often about the rain in the Netherlands, I try to see the bright side of it when I can: lots of autumn rain+ sunshine = wild mushrooms! Hope to share a wild harvest with you soon……

Blackberries

blackberries
I am always in two minds about the coming of blackberry season. On one hand, I look forward to picking the plentiful, plump, black berries by the side of the road especially for making jam. On the other hand, blackberries fruit at the very end of summer and that can mean only one thing: that winter is coming.

While picking blackberries, I find it is very handy to bring a tall person with you and luckily, we’re in the right country for that. The biggest, juiciest, and most perfect blackberries tend to hang from the top of the bush, highly out of reach for someone vertically challenged like myself. I love returning to our favourite picking spots or stumbling across blackberry brambles unexpectedly during a walk or cycle somewhere. During these times, we usually pack some containers just in case and expect that our outings will take twice as long as we intended.

Brambles like to grow along the side of the road, path or railway track, on the edges of parks and often in disused places. Watch out for traffic if picking near the road! Don’t wear anything that you’ll be afraid to get stained with blackberry juice or ripped up by the thorns that cover the bush. Your fingers and hands will likely be covered in scratches by the end of your harvest fest but the beautiful, dark-coloured jam will be more than worth it! Other yummy uses for blackberries include blackberry cheesecake, jam tartlets, blackberry wine, and blackberry crumble. They also freeze well – frozen berries are perfect to use in cakes and smoothies. It’s only the beginning of blackberry season so there’s plenty more to come. Happy picking!

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