If you can't stand the heat: Skye Gyngell reveals how to get a top-note of warmth out of chillies

Chillies don't have to sear the mouth – dried, they give a delightfully comforting warmth
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Chillies are fascinating – their size, their variety, depth of flavour and complexity – but here I want to focus simply on the warm base note that dried chillies are able to provide at this time of year.

Sometimes I put freshly ground black pepper on my food just before I am to eat, but I almost never cook with it any more – instead I crumble a little dried red chilli into the bases of slow-cooked dishes, soups and the sauces we spoon over pasta. It creates a comforting blanket of richness rather than heat (that is where fresh chillies come in) – a subtle, satisfying, all-encompassing warmth.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com

Roasted autumn vegetables with dried chilli and lemon

The vegetables available at this time of year are beautiful when roasted – bitter leaves such as trevisse mellow and sweeten when cooked, as do squashes, fennel, onions and carrots. Just about any combination will do – served warm or at room temperature they are just right all on their own but also accompanied by simply grilled meat or fish.

Serves 8

1kg-1.5kg/2lb-3lb combination of veg (see above), washed, cleaned and prepped
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
2 dried chillies
A good pinch of sea salt
80g/3oz grated Parmesan
The juice and zest of one lemon

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Slice the vegetables into large slices but do not peel. Put in a bowl and pour over the oil, chillies and salt. Toss together well and lay in a roasting tray. Cover with foil and roast on the middle shelf of the oven for one hour, removing the foil and cooking uncovered for the last 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, squeeze over the lemon juice and sprinkle over the Parmesan and zest. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Potato and porcini soup

Of all the soups that I make during the colder months, this one is my very favourite – it has very little liquid and could almost be eaten with a fork. It's peasanty, yet has a certain sophistication about it.

Serves 4

1kg/2lb roseval potatoes
60ml/21/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bunch of rosemary
1 dried chilli, crumbled
Sea salt
100g/31/2oz dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 250ml/8fl oz warm water
150g/5oz grated Parmesan

Scrub clean the potatoes and, without peeling, cut into quarter-inch rounds. Place a heavy-based pan over a medium heat, add a tablespoon of the olive oil and add the shallots. Turn the heat to low and cook the shallots for five minutes, stirring from time to time. Now add the garlic, branches of rosemary and the dried chilli. Cook for a further 15 minutes over a low heat, then add a good pinch of salt and the potatoes. Pour in the water in which you have soaked the porcini and cook until the potatoes are tender. Don't worry if it seems as though there is very little water. Once the potatoes are tender, add the porcini themselves, the rest of the olive oil and the Parmesan. Taste for seasoning; it will need a little salt. Serve in warmed bowls with crusty, peasant-style bread.

Roasted quail with dried chilli, fennel and cumin seeds

Quail is the most delicious little bird, its skin and flesh often enhanced by rubs and spices that add to its natural flavour. Though they are small, they respond well to a slightly longer cooking time than would perhaps be imagined for something of its size. Fifteen minutes is generally perfect.

Serves 6

Sea salt
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 dried chillies, finely sliced
1 tbsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1 tbsp fennel seeds, roasted and ground
80ml/3fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
12 quail

Put the salt, garlic, chillies and ground seeds into a bowl. Pour over the olive oil and mix together well. Rub the mix all over the birds using your fingers. Put in a covered container and then in the fridge to let the quail marinade. This can be done as far ahead as the day before.

When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7. Put the birds on a roasting tray – but do not overcrowd; use two trays if necessary. Roast in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and let them sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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