Young, sweet, green cobnuts appear in early September. Along with damsons they signal the arrival of autumn. Cobnuts are essentially young hazelnuts. Still unripened and green, they nonetheless have a crunchy sweet flavour that reminds me slightly of coconuts. They come in the prettiest clusters of three and have a russet-coloured, soft, downy outer coat that is easily removed. Their shells are so soft that they can be cracked between your teeth. They make a delicious and moreish snack just on their own, with drinks or to finish a meal. They are also wonderful with the first of the season's apples or pears – both of which are particularly sweet this year due to our strange, wet summer.
Here at Petersham all our cobnuts come from Kent and that's where they are mainly grown in this country. In Europe, they are known as Kentish cobnuts.
With days that are still warm, but cooler nights, autumn is probably my favourite season. No other time of year can compete with the bounty of produce that is available now. Wild mushrooms, pumpkins, gourds, the beginning of apples, pears, quince, and deliciously sweet grapes of so many varieties are all around now. Sweet, ripe tomatoes are winding down but are still absolutely at their best, and it is probably the nicest time of year for oily cold water fish, such as mackerel, sardines and anchovies.
Cobnuts are something I could eat by the bagful just on their own. But here are a couple of ways to incorporate them into dishes.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627. Her book 'A Year in My Kitchen', Quadrille, is the 2007 Guild of Food Writers' Cookery Book of the Year
An early autumn salad with girolles and cobnuts
This is a light and simple salad using all the ingredients that are good in the first few weeks of September.
2 sticks of celery, washed and dried and cut into fine slices
1 fennel bulb, fibrous outer leaves removed, and cut into fine rounds
A handful of mache lettuce
A handful of bull's blood or ruby chard (if neither are available, radicchio is also good)
20 girolles, wiped gently clean with a dry cloth (don't wash them)
The juice and zest of a lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
40ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
100g/3oz Parmesan, sliced finely
12 cobnuts, shelled and roughly chopped
80ml/3fl oz crème fraîche
1tbsp chopped curly parsley
Place the celery, fennel, mache, and bull's blood in a mixing bowl. Add the girolles, lemon juice and zest, and season well with the salt and pepper. Pour over the olive oil and toss together lightly with your hands. Add the Parmesan and cobnuts and toss again.
Divide half the salad among four plates. Spoon over a tablespoon or so of crème fraîche and top with the rest of the salad. Finish with the chopped parsley and serve at once.
Wigmore cheese with cobnuts and honey
Wigmore is one of the most delicious of the English cheeses. It is rich, creamy and delicate. I love it at this time of year as it works wonderfully with sweet young cobnuts. In this recipe, I sometimes substitute autumn raspberries for cobnuts – both work extremely well.
400g/13oz Wigmore cheese
This is really just a suggested combination. Remove the Wigmore cheese from your fridge a good 20 minutes before serving. I like to serve this as a shared dish, so place on a plate, arrange the cobnuts alongside the cheese, spoon over the honey and serve immediately.
Carpaccio of beef with Jerusalem artichokes and cobnuts
Carpaccio of beef, when done well, makes a sensual and elegant first course. It consists of not much more than thinly sliced and gently pounded beef, attentively seasoned. It's best paired with flavours that are low key and restrained. Here I have paired it with crystally, salty Parmesan, nutty sweet Jerusalem artichokes and young sweet cobnuts.
500g/1lb of the best quality fillet of English beef
8 Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean but left unpeeled
20 cobnuts, shelled
100g/3oz Parmesan cheese
The juice and zest of one unwaxed lemon
40ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil, plus a couple of tablespoons to drizzle
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6.
Start by trimming every bit of surface discolouration, fat and sinew off the meat. Place the meat in the freezer for around 15 minutes to firm it up, making it easier to cut into thin slices. Cut 8 sheets of parchment paper into 30cm (12in) squares. Slice the meat using your sharpest knife into slices roughly a quarter-inch thick. Lay the meat between two sheets of parchment paper and using a rolling pin, pound the meat evenly, working outward from the centre as you go. Do not be too aggressive as you will tear the meat's fibres and ruin its quality. When you are finished, the sheets of carpaccio should be about twice as big as the original slice of meat. Continue with all the slices of meat in the same manner. Refrigerate promptly.
Slice the Jerusalem artichokes finely lengthwise. Lay the shelled cobnuts on a baking sheet and roast in the hot oven for 6 to 8 minutes to tickle out their flavour and turn them a lovely golden brown.
Slice the Parmesan into long, fine slices – I do this with a Y-shaped peeler. Place the artichokes, Parmesan and cobnuts in a bowl, dress with the oil and lemon and season generously with the salt and pepper.
Remove the carpaccio from the fridge and carefully peel off one sheet of parchment from each package, lay its exposed meat side down on to a cold plate. Press to smooth, then carefully peel away the second sheet. Allow two to three slices per plate. Season the meat thoughtfully with a little salt and pepper, spoon over the remaining olive oil and arrange the dressed salad alongside the carpaccio. Serve immediately.
Apple ice cream with roasted cobnuts and caramel sauce
I love the idea of apple ice cream, but I have often been disappointed with the end result; it always seems to taste just a little too much like baby food for my liking. Recently I started experimenting; I was trying to come up with something that tasted very clearly of apple, with a clean, slightly lemony bite. This is what I created; I think it's quite good.
5 apples (I use a mixture of russet and cox)
The juice of one lemon
30ml/1fl oz apple brandy, or cognac
150g/5fl oz caster sugar
160ml/5fl oz double cream
For the caramel sauce
250g/8oz golden caster sugar
250ml/8fl oz double cream
A pinch of salt
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4.
Peel and core the apples and chop into small pieces. Place in a blender with the lemon juice and purée until smooth. Pour in the brandy, add the sugar and blend again, pour in the cream and process to
combine. Taste. It should be sweet and boozy with a sharp, clean apple finish. Pour into an ice-cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
For the caramel sauce, place the sugar and water in a small, heavy-based saucepan, place over a low heat, stirring once to combine and cook very gently until the sugar dissolves. Once it has dissolved, turn the heat up to medium and cook, without stirring, until a rich, dark caramel forms. This will take up to 10 minutes. Watch it carefully because it can quickly burn, but take it to a deep mahogany – undercooked caramel tastes very insipid.
Remove from the heat and pour in the cream; stand back as it tends to splutter. Once it has died down, throw in the pinch of salt, return to the heat and stir with a spoon; cook for a minute or so, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Place the cobnuts on a baking tray and roast until golden; this should take about six minutes. Remove and allow to cool, chop roughly.
To serve, scoop the ice cream into bowls, spoon over a little caramel sauce and sprinkle over the toasted nuts. Serve immediately.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer reveals where to find the freshest cobnuts...
Cobnuts are grown as part of a traditional orchard mix of apples, hops and cherries. Only specialist growers continue today due not least to the skill involved in maintaining the trees. They are also grown in Essex, Sussex and Hereford. Production has increased since the formation of the Kentish Cobnuts Association in 1990. The season lasts from the end of August until early October. Kentish cobs grow in the Ightham, Plaxtol and Maidstone areas. Cobnuts are available to buy direct from these suppliers throughout the season:
Allens Farm Plaxtol, Kent tel: 01732 812 215 www.cobnuts.co.uk
Orchard Farm Boxted, Essex, tel: 01206 728 629.
Maynards Windmill Hill, Ticehurst, Wadhurst, East Sussex, 01580 200 394.
Treberva Fruit Farm Much Birch, Hereford, tel: 01981 540 306.
Petersham Nurseries sells cobnut trees which are best planted from November to February. Tel: 0208 940 5230 www.petershamnurseries.comReuse content