Cook the Season – Tricks to Whip Up an Autumnal Treat
Talk to any chef worth their salt and they will tell you that one factor influences their every dish, from ingredient choice to plating – seasonality. As any home cook who has dabbled with a water bath outside of their bathroom will know, there are certain things that should probably remain the preserve of the professional kitchen. But allowing the seasons dictate the food on your plate isn’t some ‘cheffy’ notion, it makes perfect sense to embrace each season and its unique bounty of produce when planning your meals at home.
Choosing to cook using ingredients that are in season not only means we can support local producers but also guarantees that the produce we are eating is at its most delicious and usually cheaper than imported goods. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, the delectable round up of October’s finest finds and deliciously easy ways to make the most of them below will do the trick and work a treat.
The jack-o-lantern pumpkin is the universal symbol of Halloween, but before Irish emigrants brought the festival of Samhain to the US in the 1840’s, where the pumpkin was native, we would have been carving the less glamorous turnips here instead. Luckily for us, pumpkins are now grown on our shores, coming into season in October, and we can embrace the flavours our US cousins go so wild for and turn what used to be mere decoration into a decadent dish.
Pop to your local farmer’s market or if you can, Fallon & Byrne, which looks like a scene from Cinderella with its fairy tale pumpkin display – but be warned, no-one ever goes in there and buys just one thing. Here you can actually pick up the famous canned pumpkin used across the US for traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie – Libby’s – but I prefer to get a whole one and roast it myself.
The possibilities with pumpkin are endless as it has established itself as a solid player in both sweet and savoury dishes, I love their candied flavour with Middle Eastern spices in particular. Quartered, drizzled with oil and roasted for an hour, wedges of pumpkin are meltingly good alongside poached eggs, yoghurt and dukkah for a brunch feast. You could also replace half the chickpeas in your favourite hummus recipe with pureed pumpkin and top with date syrup and sesame seeds to update a classic.
Closer to home, the Italian combo of pumpkin, sage and mascarpone is one I first experienced in Florence and have been craving ever since. Often the filling in ravioli or served with papardelle, sweet, savoury and earthy tones make this a match made in heaven. I love this combo on a buttery parmesan spiked pastry base, which you can try for yourself with my Pumpkin, Sage and Mascarpone Gallete recipe.
Root veggies in general make killer brownies, think seasonal beetroot for a deep, dark, earthy hue mingled with cocoa bitterness. Pumpkin slots nicely into baked goods beyond brownies, as its squidgy sweetness matches well with flavours like vanilla and almond and of course the ubiquitous pumpkin spice blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and clove. Experience the pumpkin spice phenomenon outside of Starbucks with Shane Smith’s gorgeous Pumpkin Bread with Spiced Cardamom Butter recipe.
With pumpkin in season, its close cousin butternut squash is also plentiful and makes a decent substitute. The two can be interchangeable but the humble butternut can give the festive favourite a run for its money and form the basis of many an exciting and delicious dish itself. Why not try Cove Cake Design’s stunning Butternut Squash Cake with Goat’s Cheese Icing and Walnuts for an unusual way to use an every day ingredient?
When we think of Autumn, the leaves changing and falling springs to mind, so we cast our thoughts to the forest and the delights we can forage there….or realistically, pick up from the market. With their woody earthiness, mushrooms fit perfectly into the kind of warming dishes we crave as the temperatures drop and are one of the most versatile ingredients in your kitchen.
Meaty portabella mushrooms can act as the perfect vessel in themselves – ever tried using two as a carb-free burger ‘bun’? These flat caps soak up flavour, meaning a couple of hours swimming in a marinade with mushroom friends like garlic and tarragon followed by a quick roasting will result in a flavour-packed portabella easily capable of replacing the burger patty itself.
Mushrooms tend to improve with age so buy yours and keep for 4/5 days before cooking, if possible and NEVER wash them. The gills will soak up all that moisture and sweat it back out, along with the rich mushroom flavour, when cooked. Instead, wipe with a paper cloth to remove any earth or dirt.
Autumnal brunch is probably best served in bed to combat the colder mornings, and with that in mind you need a quick and easy brunch dish up your sleeve, without worrying if you have the makings of an elaborate shakshuka in your fridge. Just a few mushrooms, bread and cream and you’re halfway to heaven with my Brunch-shrooms on Toast recipe.
Seasonal ingredients are often eachother’s soulmate. Embrace another seasonal beauty of an ingredient which is an earthy match made in heaven with mushrooms, chestnuts. For a warming bowl of comfort that you can flask-up to get you through the work day, try Neven Maguire’s Chestnut, Wild Mushroom and Bacon Soup recipe.
Believe it or not, there was a reason apples took centre stage in your Irish Halloween festivities of old, and it wasn’t just for your parents’ amusement that you dunked your head in water to try and nab one, sporting a black bin liner. October is the height of Irish apple season, making it the plentiful treat of choice for Samhain.
Of course, apple is traditionally linked to pork on the savoury spectrum, but I quite prefer it with a richly spiced black pudding, in a blanket of filo or tossed in a salad. My favourite savoury use for apples is even simpler than that – quartered, skewered and dunked into a whole baked round of Camembert, apple is the perfect vessel for cheese gorging. Perfect Autumn eating.
On the sweeter side of things, in all my years of baking I have found one thing to ring true – baked goods with apple are universally loved. Of course we all enjoyed apple tart growing up but I’ve given the humble apple a grown up make-over with my easier than pie Apple and Craft Cider Caramel Pudding with tart new season Bramleys and dry Armagh cider. It has never failed me and the double apple hit is the perfect way to celebrate the season – like a hug in a bowl.
Kale has had a roller-coaster few years. My 97 year old grandfather tells me it was once seen only as cow feed, it then gained cult status among the clean eating brigade and beyond and now it has come full circle with many deriding it as fad-food, only fit to feed Gwyneth Paltrow. October is the month to give the hulk green a go, when at its best.
While many have maintained disdain for kale, not wanting to be anywhere near it let alone massage it, rubbing lemon juice onto raw leaves softens them, makes them easier to digest and adds a delicious acidity. My Kale, Black Pudding and Apple Salad recipe showcases this handy tip and is a light evening meal or lunch bursting with Autumnal flavour. Trust me, this is no meek, anaemic salad and you may find yourself converted to the kale club afterwards!
Kale is also hardy enough to be added to rich, creamy bakes and casseroles and its dense nutritional load definitely adds a healthy plus point to heavier dishes. Yvonne Connolly proves this point perfectly with her Savoury Cheese and Kale Bread Pudding recipe – an indulgent dish made a little less sinful with a hefty dose of iron, magnesium, vitamin B6 and calcium from its kale credentials.
To enjoy kale all on its own, you will be surprised by how much you enjoy kale crisps – just de-stalk some leaves, coat in oil, spread on a sheet pan and season. Bake at 160C for 8-10 minutes, until crisp, but keep an eye on them as they can quickly turn from perfection to incineration. So crunchy, so addictive and guaranteed to make you feel like a seasonal smug snacker.
I once found myself in Phoenix Park surrounded by a herd of majestic and beautiful deer and was overwhelmed with guilt pangs – I felt like I had killed Bambi’s mother myself remembering just how much I love venison. Venison steaks, haunch or rump, are best enjoyed barely seared in a screaming hot pan and bruised rare within – anything more than a cautious kiss of a pan can turn this cut of prized game into boot leather. If you fancy shaking up steak night with a gamey delight, try Julie Dupoy’s recipe for Venison and Blackberries, which is like October on a plate with its seasonal nods.
Less than confident about nailing the searing part of the above recipes? Take a gentle introduction to venison with my Slow-Braised Venison Stew. With a hint of clove and redcurrant, this one pot wonder is gamey, sweet and oh so warming and requires very little work on your part. Just let your oven do the hard work, this dish asks guarantees maximum flavour return for minimal labour and no fear of overcooking!
Leaner than beef but packed with flavour, venison leg can be minced to make a fantastic base for a dreamily carnivorous burger. You will need to add in a little fat, as no-one likes a dry burger and I recommend doing this with diced streaky bacon or lardons, which will melt slowly into the patty as it cooks. Top with a super seasonal celeriac and apple remoulade and you are biting into October.
Celeriac crisps are a serious contender to overshadow the humble potato and using them as faux-tatoes is one of my favourite little kitchen tricks and a perfect way to make your plate an ode to October. Roasted, mashed, cut into chips or shaved on the mandolin to make a daintier dauphinoise, the ugly vegetable produces the most beautiful results. Adding celeriac to soups and blending makes for a seriously smooth and creamy result without having to add starchy potatoes or claggy cream. See for yourself with Anna Jane Kingston’s Celeriac, Thyme and Crispy Pancetta Soup recipe.
For the simplest but most perfect snack, shave thin slices with a knife, mandolin or even a vegetable peeler, toss your celeriac in a bowl with a glug of oil to coat, season liberally (I add a little garlic powder to sea salt and black pepper) and lay your slices out on a baking tray. Bake at 200C for 5 to 7 minutes until golden, crisp and beginning to curl at the edges. These add a wonderful textural dimension when used top soups and stews, if you can resist eating them straight off the baking tray as a snack.
The Hemsley sisters swear by spiralized celeriac to make their carbonara feel more like the real deal and I can concur, celeriac is streets ahead of courgette in a spaghetti replacement role. Sturdier than courgette and more subtle in flavour, celeriac noodles are a god send for the carb conscious and make for a heartier yet still healthy meal. In a similar vein, celeriac can be shaved on a mandolin to make lasagne sheets or open ravioli… and replacing pasta sheets with these surely means you can afford to add little extra cheese.
Finally, celeriac is a superstar root vegetable because it is as good raw as it is cooked, meaning you don’t have to patiently wait for it to roast – celeriac makes a fantastic base for a hearty and filling salad. The Honest Project’s recipe for Fennel, Celeriac, Pear and Candied Pecan Autumn Salad is as seasonal as it gets, packed with the best of the bounty October has to offer.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.