The mouldy English strawberry I popped into my mouth a few weeks ago was the signal that that's it as far as summer ingredients go. So, let's put the shorts and factor 30 away and start figuring out how to cook with all the great autumnal gear. I love the shift from one season to the next, thinking about what's available and changing my foraging habits, heading to the woods for wild mushrooms and getting stuck into wild game.
British Food Fortnight starts this week. Game, especially from Scotland, is one of the great things about the British larder. Don't worry, though, I'm not going to bombard you with grouse recipes, because, as you may have heard, the heather beetle has been causing chaos in glens by destroying the red grouse's main source of food. As a result the birds are a hell of a price this year. Recently in Scotland I shot my first game bird on Ben Weatherall's estate, where much of the game for our restaurants comes from. I think I had beginner's luck, and I'm more comfortable with a fishing rod in my hand than a shotgun.
Anyway, I've got my mind on my garden at the moment. In Scotland I was full of admiration for Silvy Weatherall's garden, a modest plot with lots of local muck dug into it which produces amazingly tasty veggies. She won a couple of prizes for her onions and caulis at the local show the weekend I was up. Helping out with Sunday lunch I couldn't resist tweaking the old bashed neeps recipe by adding the leaves to the cooked root. In Italy, turnip tops or cime di rape, are a popular vegetable, while the white roots are more likely to go to the cows. So, you see, even food we don't think of as British can and should be.
Beetroot and feta salad with green olives
This nice refreshing salad relies on good quality ingredients. Feta can vary in quality massively and some of the best I've tasted recently is Minori and the barrel-aged feta available at Neal's Yard Dairy. Or occasionally I grab a block that's sitting in ewes' milk from a bowl in the fridge of one of the Turkish shops near where I live in London. Beware "feta" made in Denmark, the second largest producer in Europe after Greece. The EU has ruled that only the cheese made in Greece can call itself feta, although cheesemakers outside Greece are objecting. A British version of "feta" has been told it can't call itself that. But it doesn't matter what you call it. It's having a good quality, salty ewes' milk cheese that counts in this recipe. When it comes to buying the olives you need, try to get green ones with the stones still in. Whatever you do, don't go buying any with bits of pimento stuffed into them.
50-60g small salad leaves
A few mint leaves
A few coriander leaves
150g good quality feta
12 large green olives or more if they are smaller
12 fresh baby beets, cooked in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes, or until tender
for the dressing
1/2tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Toss the salad leaves, mint and coriander with the dressing and lightly season. Arrange on serving plates with the beetroot, olives and feta.
Autumn fruit cobbler
Although most of our colourful berries are over, there's plenty of seasonal fruit around: pears, apples, Dorset blueberries, various types of the plum family, and of course wild hedgerow blackberries which give everything a bit of colour.
1 medium cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
2 pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
120g caster sugar
for the cobbler
85g unsalted butter, softened
110g caster sugar
220g strong plain flour
1/2tsp baking powder
A good pinch of salt
1 small egg beaten
Put the apple and pears into a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the sugar and cook on a low heat for 5-6 minutes with the lid on, stirring every so often, until the apple begins to break down. Add the plums and continue cooking for another 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for about 10 minutes then stir in the blueberries and blackberries. Transfer the mixture into a large ovenproof serving dish.
Meanwhile make the cobbler dough. In a food mixer or by hand, cream the butter and sugar for a couple of minutes until it begins to turn almost white. Carefully fold in the flour, baking powder and salt until well mixed then gradually add the milk until the mix resembles sticky dough.
Pre-heat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5. Flour your hands and divide and mould the dough into 16-20 small rough balls and place on to a non-stick baking sheet, brush with the egg and bake for 6-7 minutes. Place them on to the fruit mix and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the dough is a golden colour.
Serve with thick cream or custard.
Deep-fried whitebait and prawns
Whitebait is the smallfry of herring and sprats which are usually sold frozen, or defrosted. A couple of times as a kid working in a pub kitchen I saw them fresh, landed by local fishermen. But to be perfectly honest we've come to live with frozen whitebait and they still make a perfect comforting starter and f snack. Whitebait used to be netted extensively in the Thames and whitebait feasts in Greenwich, at the Trafalgar Tavern and the Old Ship, were popular events during their September season. The tradition of celebrating whitebait extended into Essex, and in 1934 the Southend Chamber of Commerce revived the Whitebait Festival. A short service, known as the Blessing of the Catch, will be followed by an event giving thanks for the fruits of the sea on 4 October at Westcliffe-on-Sea Cliffs Pavilion. See you there.
I've added some tiny prawns caught in Lyme Bay, Dorset, available for a couple of months around now. I love cooking them like this as you can eat the whole crunchy thing. Darren at Shellseekers in London's Borough Market sells them. The smallest prawns you can find with their shells on, or crevettes gris (the brown shrimps used for potting) will also do.
200g small prawns with the shells on
Salt and a good pinch of cayenne pepper
Oil for deep frying
Lemon wedges for serving
Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Mix the flour well with a pinch of salt and the cayenne pepper. Flour the whitebait and prawns, shake off any excess in your hands and dip briefly in the milk then back into the flour. Ensure they are all well coated and shake off the excess flour again. Fry in 2 or 3 batches, depending on how many you're cooking, for 3-4 minutes until crisp then drain on to kitchen paper. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
Braised wild rabbit with ceps
A rabbit makes for a cheap autumn meal and with some seasonal, earthy mushrooms, a couple of rabbits will easily serve four people. I've used ceps as I picked some in Norfolk a few weeks ago, but it's easy to buy cultivated mushrooms like oyster and blewits instead.
Don't braise the rabbits' little saddle fillets with the legs, save them in the freezer to use in a salad. I made a great one the other day with grouse and rabbit fillets and tiny wild bilberries - or blaeberries as they call them in Scotland - where I picked them on the grouse moors in amongst the heather.
40g flour, plus more for dusting
8 rabbit legs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
6 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
100ml white wine
11/2 litres chicken stock, or a good-quality chicken-stock cube dissolved in that amount of hot water
3tbsp double cream
300g ceps or other seasonal wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2tbsp chopped parsley
Lightly season and flour the rabbit legs with a tablespoon of the flour. Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan and lightly fry them for 2 minutes on each side without colouring them too much. In a heavy-based saucepan, gently cook the shallots in 40g of the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the rest of the flour and stir well. Gradually add the white wine, stirring well to avoid any lumps forming, then add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, add the rabbit legs and lightly season. Simmer gently, covered with a lid, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the rabbit is tender. Meanwhile melt the rest of the butter in a heavy frying pan and gently cook the mushrooms, seasoning them lightly, for 4-5 minutes until they soften. Add to the rabbit legs with the cream and parsley and simmer for another 5-6 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve with some good mashed potato and autumnal vegetables.Reuse content