Autumn has arrived. The sun shines brightly, yet low enough in the sky that you can bask in its rays without breaking into a sweat, the evenings are growing darker, earlier, but are not yet too cold, and though there are plenty of late summer berries and stone fruits around, some of my very favourite ingredients are slowly coming into season. From the market, I bring home the sorts of fruits and vegetables that are perfect for stews and gratins, crumbles and homely, comforting cakes. Here are five of my September favourites, plus recommendations for what to do with them.
Beetroot (Rote Bete)
Yes, boiling or baking a beetroot (pictured top) can take quite some time. Yes, chopping one up, or grating it, or doing anything at all with it, turns your hands a shade of puce that’s far from easy to remove. And yes, you can buy beetroot pre-cooked in packets, plain or picked, all year round. But you can’t beat the marvellously earthy flavour of an in-season beetroot that you’ve taken the trouble to prepare yourself: it’s simpler than you’d think and absolutely worth the effort. How about trying:
★ Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s beetroot soup with feta cheese
★ Diana Henry’s chocolate and beetroot cake, or
★ Skye Gyngell’s roasted beetroot, walnut, watercress and mascarpone salad (and most of the rest of that list).
Apples from readily available all year round, shipped from every corner of the world, but come Autumn, there are mountains of German apples everywhere, arranged by type in splintered wooden crates. Fresh off the tree, they are wonderfully crisp and range in flavour from tongue-twistingly sour to mouth-wateringly sweet. I find the German Boskopp apples perfect for cooking with (a substitute for the British Bramley), and these are three of my favourite things to do with them:
★ Nigella Lawson’s pork and apple hotpot,
★ a classic apple crumble (from Nigel Slater, obvs) and
★ Yotam Ottolenghi’s apple and olive oil cake with maple icing.
(And because you can never find enough things to do with apples, here are 10 more ideas.)
Wild Mushrooms (Wildpilzen)
For many people, the most exciting things to appear in September are the wild mushrooms (Pilze), from porcini, or ceps (Steinpilze) to the ubiquitous chanterelles (Pfifferlinge). Chanterelles cost next to nothing round these parts (and a fortune on the other side of the Channel) but porcini remain something of a luxury. In restaurants, you’ll find wild mushrooms served in cream sauces alongside medallions of pork; at home, though I have a fab German pork and mushrooms recipe myself, I think they’re at their best sautéed in butter and garlic and served sprinkled with salt flakes, freshly ground black pepper and a scattering of chopped parsley. But I’m also rather tempted by:
★ Martha Stewart’s chanterelles with chilli, pappardelle and spicy sausage
★ Alain Ducasse’s zucchini, parma ham and chanterelle risotto, or
★ paella with Iberian pork ribs and porcini mushrooms (if only I could find some Iberian ribs).
I grew up believing that walnuts were only for grown-ups, either eaten straight out of their shells as a Christmas “treat” or for garnishing coffee cakes, both of which I found thoroughly unappealing at the time. I’ve discovered since that walnuts make for a fantastic ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes, offering a wonderfully nutty flavour, especially once roasted or toasted, and once ground, provides a pleasing grainy texture that adds a little je ne sais quoi to all manner of other potentially dull dishes. Still doubtful? Why not try:
★ Alan Rosenthal’s Persian chicken stew with sour cherries, walnuts and pomegranate (one of my all-time favourite recipes from a good friend of mine)
★ Diana Henry’s penne with roasted red onions, gorgonzola and walnuts or
★ dark chocolate and walnut cookies.
Another fruit that I used to take for granted as a year-round staple, pears (Birnen) taste so very much better when they’ve been picked down the road. A perfectly ripe, juicy pear is of course wonderful just as it is, but if you have under- or overripe fruits to hand, they’re very good for cooking or baking, too. I’m definitely tempted by:
★ Mark Diacono’s spiced poached pears with chocolate sauce
★ David Leibovitz’s French pear and almond tart, and
★ pears with blue cheese and prosciutto.
Also in season in September: blackberries (Brombeeren), brussels sprouts (Rosenkohl) damsons (Zwetschen), fennel (Fenchel), greengages (Renekloden), plums (Pflaumen), red cabbage (Rotkohl), savoy cabbage (Wirsing).