Spoilt we have been, bye bye ‘Indian Summer’, hello autumn. Cold it is not, wet and windy it is. I actually adore the change in seasons, collecting conkers, making leaf wands, splashing through the puddles. Jack Frost has been about at the farm, so much so that what was left in the vegetable garden has curled up its toes and bailed out for the year. The courgettes all fled at the first whiff of frost, the raspberries have persevered but are now on their last legs, and the runner beans have grown into tough old specimens only warranting being kept for their seeds which we’ll sow next year. The fields have been ploughed up, leaves are falling and the days are getting shorter. At least the light bit is. In parallel with the shift in to Autumn my palate has also changed. I am craving comforting, warming food, food that is harvested at this time of year; root vegetables, nuts, game, squash.
Salads hardly tick the box as ‘heart warming’ food but thoughtfully put together they do reflect what’s going on outside and can satisfy in a mysterious way. Autumn salads of raw cauliflower, grated courgette and feta worked perfectly in the balmier days of September, now I’ve moved on to roasted romanesco, hazelnut and stilton and most recently succumbed to hearty soups, butternut and sweet corn being a recent hit. At the farm we are a long way from being self-sufficient so a weekly Riverford Organic box acts as a wonderful incentive to experiment with vegetables some of which I would not normally buy, and occasionally don’t even recognise! It’s always a bit of a test kitchen but the net result is I seem to consume vast amounts of veggies in all possible guises. What has aided the random creations I come up with is a rather nifty and dare I say, punchy jar of Belazu Rose Harrissa. This gem is the perfect larder secret. You’ve got to like spice and heat to appreciate it, if you do, then it can raise any culinary number out of the ‘normal’ zone and elevate it to something quite exceptional, pulling in heat and warmth at a time of year when food needs it!
Rose Harissa is very simply a red chilli and paprika paste with spices and of course rose petals. That makes it sound super fancy, don’t be put off. The addition of rose petals takes the edge of the spice and adds a fragrant dimension not typically associated with normal harissa. Of course my tiny little pot, and you do only need an incy wincy bit, does not classically advise it as an addition to salads or soups, but I promise it is a splendid discovery. The blurb on the back suggests adding it to marinades, couscous or hummus. Frankly I think the options are endless, tagines, fish stews, and hot pots to name a few more. All in all it’s been rather a staple of my cooking in the last few weeks and one that will continue as the nights get colder, days darker and the need for warming comforting food becomes ever more apparent.
The other staple in my diet has been nasturtium flowers. I planted a pack of seeds, probably too late and consequently have ended up with a raucous herb garden overflowing with bright orange, red and yellow flowers deep into autumn. They are such a welcome, if a little gaudy splash of color at this time of year, so pretty tossed into salads as not only are they edible but also tasty. So at the end of a rather damp week in town my 2 rather random bits of advice are buy some nasturtium seeds for 2015 and some Belazu Rose Harissa Paste for immediate consumption to pep up the dark days of winter ahead!
Autumn Warming Butternut and Sweetcorn Soup with Harissa and Yogurt
A rather ‘hearty’ soup for half termers and halloween!
350g peeled butternut squash cut into chunks
1 corn of the cob – corn sliced off the cob
1 leek – sliced into slithers
1 banana shallot or onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 small thumb of peeled ginger
1 litre of water
Belazu Rose Harissa Paste
1. Pop a splash of olive oil and small knob of butter in a large saucepan and add the butternut, leek, shallot or onion, garlic and ginger. Toss around till the onion and leek start to soften and gain a little color, at least 5 minutes. Add the corn and 1 litre of water.
2. Allow the water to come up to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes till the butternut is falling apart. Make sure the vegetables are always covered in water so add more if it is looking a little low.
3. Liquidise the soup on the highest setting for at least 5 minutes until extremely smooth. If it is still too thick add a little more water or a splash of milk. Add a good pinch or 2 of Maldon sea salt and a good grate of black pepper. Serve with a spoonful of natural yogurt and a drizzle of the oil from the harissa paste and a little smidgen of the paste on top of the yogurt.