Veggie might: Mark Hix cooks with hearty autumnal vegetables

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Our chef's advice? Treat them with respect, and whatever you do, don't boil them to death

It may seem a dull time of year for vegetables, but making tasty meals with roots, brassicas and squashes can present interesting challenges. Whether they are stand-alone vegetables to be eaten as a starter, or whether they appear in a soup or side dish, they should be treated with respect. There are so many types of vegetables on the market these days that deciding which one to pop into your shopping trolley is often a dilemma. It's also worth bearing in mind that the crazier-looking varieties can let you down on flavour. White and yellow beets are pretty, but often have less flavour than the deep red ones.

A plate of autumn vegetables

Serves 4

A selection of autumn vegetables doesn't have to be served just as an accompaniment. The varying flavours, textures and colours make a colourful and interesting starter. I've also used a few elderberries which I had stashed away in the freezer.

½ltr or so of vegetable stock

A sprig of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 young or baby parsnips, topped and tailed and skin left on it, cleaned
1 small or ½ a head of cauliflower, cut into florets and the good leaves reserved
250g yellow squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2cm chunks
2 small or 1 medium-sized beetroot, cooked and peeled
3-4tbsp rapeseed oil
1tbsp cider vinegar

Bring the vegetable stock to the boil with the thyme and simmer the parsnips for 6-8 minutes until tender, then remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate.

Add the cauliflower and leaves to the stock and simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until tender, then remove from the stock and transfer to the plate with the parsnips.

Cook the squash for 5-6 minutes until tender, then drain and mix f with the parsnips and cauliflower in a bowl, add the rapeseed oil and vinegar and season well.

Arrange the vegetables with the beetroot on one large or individual serving plates, scatter over the elderberries if using and any extra dressing.

Roast mallard with autumn greens and ceps

Serves 4

I do love wild duck; it's got a different kind of gaminess to the other game birds and has a flavour that suits all sorts of ingredients, from wild berries to earthy mushrooms.

2 plump wild ducks
60g butter
200-250g greens like curly kale, hispi or Savoy cabbage, trimmed and cut into 2cm chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ a glass of port
100ml chicken stock
1tbsp cornflour, mixed with a little water
150-200g ceps, or other wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced or quartered
½tbsp rapeseed oil
1tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. Put the ducks into a roasting tray, brush with a little butter and season with salt and pepper. Cook the birds for 30 minutes, then remove from the roasting tray and leave on a plate to rest and catch the juices.

Add the port and stock to the roasting tray and stir well and simmer for a minute, add the cornflour mixture to thicken a little, simmer for a minute, season and then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a saucepan.

Meanwhile, cook the greens in boiling, salted water for a few minutes, then drain, season and add a little butter and return to the pan with a lid to keep warm. While the greens are cooking, heat the rapeseed oil in a frying pan with a knob of butter and cook the ceps on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, seasoning them lightly as they are cooking and turning them in the pan so they cook evenly, then stir in the parsley.

To serve the duck, either chop each in half with a heavy kitchen knife and serve them on the bone, or remove the legs and then cut the breasts away from the bone and slice them into 2-3 pieces.

Spoon the greens on to serving plates, arrange the duck on top, spoon around a little sauce and scatter the ceps on top.

Lamb's kidneys with parsnips

Serves 4

6 small parsnips, topped and tailed
8 lamb's kidneys
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A little rapeseed or groundnut oil for frying
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1tsp Dijon mustard
A couple of knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the parsnips in salted water for 8-10 minutes or until tender, then drain and return to the pan with a lid to keep hot. Heat a heavy frying pan lightly brushed with oil and cook the kidneys whole on a medium to high heat for 4-5 minutes, keeping them nice and pink.

Remove the kidneys and transfer them to a plate. Add the shallots, vinegar and mustard to the pan and simmer for 20 seconds. Cut the kidneys into thin slices and add to the pan with the butter and gently reheat for 10 seconds or so.

To serve, cut the parsnips in half lengthways, or quarters if large, and lay on warmed serving plates; then spoon the kidneys and sauce on top.

Braised pork with cider and curly kale

Serves 4

A few butchers and good supermarkets are now selling pork cheeks. They're a great cut of pure meat and they have natural marbling, so the meat stays moist during slow cooking.

500-600g pork cheeks, cut into 4-5cm chunks or left whole if small
60g butter
1tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g flour, plus some for dusting
500ml dry cider
700ml chicken stock
250-300g curly kale, thick stalks removed and torn into 2-3cm pieces

Season and lightly flour the pork cheeks. Heat a heavy frying pan with a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil and fry the cheeks on a high heat for a few minutes, browning them on all sides, then drain on some kitchen paper.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onion for 2-3 minutes until soft, add the flour and cook on a low heat for a minute, then gradually add the cider and stock to avoid lumps forming; bring to the boil, add the pork cheeks, season and simmer gently for about 1-1½ hours or until the cheeks are tender.

The sauce should have reduced and thickened; if not, remove the cheeks and simmer the sauce until thick, then return the cheeks.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the curly kale for 2-3 minutes, or until tender; drain.

To serve, divide half of the kale up and place in the centre of serving dishes, spoon the cheeks and sauce on top, then scatter the rest of the kale over.

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