Despite summer’s confused arrival at the start of October, the evenings are really drawing in now, the clocks have gone back and I could have sworn I saw a frost on the grass this morning. I’ve got my massive box of woolly things out of our storage room/cupboard (which Toby’s mum calls the ‘glory hole.’ Someone pointed out that the term is actually quite rude, but it’s too late now. Glory hole it is.) My wardrobe is ready for colder climes but my pantry (ie a shelf in the kitchen cupboard) is not. So I spent a weekend pickling, preserving and jamming some of the autumn harvest, with pretty decent results. The post on that is on its way.
I also bought a pumpkin, in the spirit of all things autumnal. Having gone to an American primary school when I was little, I have a real soft spot for Halloween. It reminds me of being a kid, clutching a lunchbox and crayons ready for the new(ish) term, dressed in my AMAZING superwoman costume.
Originally I thought I could carve it for Halloween, using the shell for decoration and the fleshy pulp for soup. However, the thing about pumpkins is this- they don’t actually taste of much. A pumpkin is no butternut squash which is full of sweet and nutty flavour. You really need to do more with a pumpkin, give it a bit more love and thought, simply blitzing the flesh into a soup won’t really do. But if you spend a bit of energy on it, you will be rewarded. I used my medium sized £1.50 pumpkin from Tesco for three different recipes, each of which fed the two of us with plenty of leftovers. How’s that for a credit cruncher?
First up, I made a pumpkin, chicken and peanut soup. I was up in the Lake District recently, visiting a friend who doing a rep season at the Theatre by the Lake is Keswick. It’s absolutely stunning there and despite the rain, we managed a 5 am walk to see the sun come up over a stone circle. Ok, so there wasn’t any sun, but we watched it get lighter, which still felt like an achievement. I also found some real treasures in the Oxfam in Keswick, which was full of charity shop gold. A gorgeous dress with a suitably autumnal print (just needs a little taking in at the shoulders and a bit of a play with the hem) and a book on soups by Hannah Wright.
This recipe is from that book:
Chicken, Pumpkin and Peanutbutter Soup
You will need:
2 medium onions
2 small sticks of celery
12oz (350g) sliced pumpkin
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with salt
8 allspice berries or 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, clove and ginger
freshly milled pepper
1 1/2 pints (900ml) good chicken stock
1 heaped tbsp peanutbutter
meat from half a breast of half a leg of chicken or a few thighs, cooked.
- Roughly chop the onion, celery and pumpkin flesh and put in a heavy pan.
- Add chili, garlic, spices salt and pepper and the chicken stock. Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little before stirring in the peanutbutter. Blend with a stick blender or in food processor.
- When you want to serve it, dice the chicken into neat cubes and add to the soup. Gently reheat and taste to season when hot. Do not let boil.
You can add a garnish of sliced onions, pepper and parsley if you would like.
Then I roasted pumpkin with sausages (the pig in the title of this post. Sorry, I was a bit stuck for inspiration), sage and red onion, a bit of olive oil and balsamic. This has become a bit of a favourite with butternut squash. We normally eat this with some rice, but you could add it to pasta as well. Also works with the addition of fennel and chili, if you prefer a spicier version.
This was then followed a few nights later by a sausage (pig again!) and pumpkin cassoulet, which really did feel like the perfect antidote to the autumnal winds and drizzle.
You will need:
A knob of butter
A pack of sausages, chopped into chunky bits
2 red onions
2 garlic cloves
pumpkin (about a quarter to half of a medium one, depending on how much you would like to use), chopped into chunks
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin cannelloni or berterolli beans
500ml chicken stock
salt and pepper
parsley to serve (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180C (350F or Gas mark 4)
- Heat about half the butter in a large casserole dish and fry the sausage pieces until brown and caramelised
- Add the rest of the butter and the chopped onions. Fry until softened before adding the minced garlic and chopped sage.
- Add the pumpkin and stir well until combined. Increase the heat and add the vinegar, let it bubble and evaporate.
- Add the tomatoes, beans and stock before seasoning.
- Bring this to the boil and then transfer to the oven for up to one hour, until the sausages are cooked through and the pumpkin is tender.
- Serve in hearty bowls, scatter with parsley. Enjoy next to a roaring fire.
Finally, roasted pumpkin, chorizo and quinoa salad, which is a real winner. I basically just used what I had in the fridge, roasted the remaining pumpkin and fried up slices of chorizo. I added this to some quinoa, chopped tomatoes, avocado and basil. I made a zingy lemon-based dressing to accompany this one. Simple and incredibly moreish.
Another brilliant autumnal ingredient is, of course, the humble apple. I really enjoy apples in savory dishes- depending on the kind of apple it can add a sweetness or tangyness, crunchy texture or a soft one. Here are two of my favourite seasonal apple dishes:
Normandy pot roast chicken with apples
You will need:
1 onion, sliced
2 sticks of celery
1 pack of lardons
6-8 pieces of leg and thigh (depending on the size of the pieces)
300 ml (1/2 pint) dry cider
300mol (1/2 pint) chicken stock
3 apples of your choosing, Braeburn works nicely
4 tbsp crème fraiche (I always use half fat)
handful of chopped sage
- Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and celery and cook until softened. Remove from the pan and put in a large casserole dish or large pot. Add the lardoons to the pan and cook until golden. Add to the pot.
- Add a little extra oil (or butter if you prefer), to the pan and brown the chicken pieces all over, seasoning as you go.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and pour in the cider, scraping any crispy bits that have stuck to the pan.
- Arrange the chicken pieces in the pot, so they sit on top of the onions, celery and lardoons. Add the cider juices and the chicken stock and sprinkle with half the chopped sage. Cover with a lid and bake for 50 minutes.
- Add the apple slices, rest of the sage and stir in the crème fraiche. Cook uncovered for another 20 or so minutes, until the juices of the chicken run clear.
- To serve, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with rice or mash and a simple green salad or perhaps some tenderstem broccoli.
And here’s one for those with a sweet tooth, although this honestly doesn’t feel too naughty as it is jam-packed with the fruit. Sort of.
Apple streusel cake or Apple crumb cake
Taken from the newest Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, p. 42.
You will need:
120g butter, unsalted (40g cold and diced, 80 g softened)
250 g plain flour
100g caster sugar
70 g soft light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
80ml whole milk
3 large, crunchy apples, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced.
- Preheat your oven to 170C or 325F, Gas mark3. Then grease a 20cm (8in) spring-form cake tin (or the closest thing you have) with about 20 g of the softened butter. Also add a dusting of flour (40g)
- First off, make your crumble topping. Sift 70g of the flour with the cinnamon before adding 40g of the cold, diced butter. Use your fingertips to rub the ingredients together until you’ve got a breadcrumb-like mixture. Stir in the light brown sugar and then set to one side.
- Use an electric whisk to cream the remaining 60g of softened butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing thoroughly.
- Sift together140g of flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Add about half of this mixture to the creamed butter and sugar, followed by half the milk. Mix well with your electric whisk, then repeat with the remaining flour mixture and milk.
- Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles ontop of the batter, then sprinkle with the crumb topping to form an even layer.
- Place in the oven and bake for 35-45 min, until it is golden brown on top and a skewer or knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Set aside to cool before removing from the tin. Can be enjoyed warm or cold, with crème fraiche, whipped cream, ice cream or custard. Or all of the above.