Try this autumnal feast instead of roast dinner on Sunday

The seasons have changed and so, too, have our appetites. Make the most of autumn’s glorious produce with this menu from David Tanis

Saturday 22 October 2022 06:30 BST
This hearty kale, squash and bean soup is a substantial main course
This hearty kale, squash and bean soup is a substantial main course (Getty/iStock)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


There is a tantalising display of fetching autumn produce appearing at the farmers market, just as the green beans depart.

The change of seasons is exciting. The air is different; there’s a cooler breeze. Our appetites change, too, as tomato salads give way to other possibilities.

Remember fennel? Beetroot? These cool-weather vegetables have a certain sweetness and play well together, especially in a lovely salad. Choose fresh, shiny fennel bulbs, and look for beetroot sold in bunches in various colours: red, pink, ivory, gold. I often go for the gold, which are as pretty as they are tasty. Tossed with a tart vinaigrette, the combination is completely appealing. For added interest, little toasts spread with softened herbed goat’s cheese, served warm, accompany.

You will want to cook the beetroot. Doing so isn’t difficult, but it does take time and some attention to detail. Roasted or boiled, they will take a good hour at least, so consider cooking the beetroot one day and making the salad the next. Then, dress them well. Beetroots are known for needing a lot of seasoning. A little more vinegar and salt are always welcome, as is a sit so they absorb the flavours.

I love soup for dinner, especially when the sun begins to set earlier. This one, filling and full of beans, is a hearty, satisfying main course. I would call it a potage. It’s a French term, from potager, meaning vegetable plot (or soup garden), referring to a hearty soup, often featuring beans or other legumes. I used cannellini, which I prefer to cook from dry because you get so much lovely bean broth, but a timesaving can is OK. As are a mixture of beans or all chickpeas for a Spanish feel.

Squash can lend substantial starch and body. I chose delicata, but acorn or butternut would be just as good. Then, add some leeks, some onions, some greens – kale or collards, but you can also put those beetroot greens to use here too – a little chorizo or kielbasa (Polish hot-smoked sausage), or neither.

This is the kind of soup that benefits from sitting. In other words, don’t serve it straight from the pot the moment it is done. If you can wait even an hour, you’ll taste deeper flavours. For that matter, make the soup a day or two in advance, as it reheats perfectly. You may have to add a touch of broth if it thickens too much. Adjust it to the consistency you like, not too thin. You will want crusty bread to accompany, and may I suggest a friendly bottle of pinot noir?

I prepare dessert only when guests are coming to dinner; it makes the dinner special. So if I’m craving dessert, I have a little dinner party.

I do like to make this light walnut sponge cake. It keeps for days, and it is endlessly versatile. You can increase or delete the spices to taste, or you could use a different nut, perhaps pecan. Serve it with softly whipped cream or barely sweetened crème fraîche, and seasonal fruit, like a few late raspberries perhaps, or some slices of pear.

But to celebrate the season, I chose two returning favourites: the pomegranate and the persimmon. Squatty Fuyu persimmons can be eaten raw like an apple (the pointy Hachiya type must be fully ripe and soft to eat). I like them best peeled and cut into wedges. As for the pomegranates, look for ones that have begun to burst, indicating the arils inside are red and juicy. Mix the two fruits together to adorn the cake.

You could always sit around the table with a bowl of new crop walnuts and a nutcracker, eating persimmons and pomegranates out of hand.

That could celebrate the season, too.

Beetroot salad with goat’s cheese toasts

A beetroot salad can be spectacular
A beetroot salad can be spectacular (Getty/iStock)

A beetroot salad can be spectacular if you roast your own beetroot, specifically fresh ones, not vacuum-packed or tinned. They take at least an hour to cook so it’s a good idea to make them early, even two days in advance. Then, this tasty salad can be assembled in a few minutes. Choose any colour beetroot, but the golden ones make an impression.

Serves: 4 to 6

Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes


4 medium golden beetroots (the size of a tennis ball), trimmed and scrubbed

Salt and pepper

1 small shallot, minced

1 small garlic clove, grated

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, plus more as needed

½ cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon chopped thyme

½ teaspoon chopped rosemary

½ teaspoon finely sliced chives

½ teaspoon lemon zest

115g fresh goat’s cheese, at room temperature

8 to 10 thin slices of baguette

1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed


1. Cook beetroot: place the beetroot in a small roasting dish, add water to a depth of about 2½cm and a generous pinch of salt. Cover tightly and bake at 190C for about 1 hour, until beetroot can be pierced with a fork (alternatively, simmer beetroot on the stovetop for an hour in well-salted water).

2. Let cool slightly, then slip off skins while the beetroot is still warm. Cut beetroot into wedges and place in a small bowl. Beetroot may be cooked up to 2 days in advance.

3. While the beetroots roast, make the vinaigrette: place shallot and garlic in a small bowl or jar. Cover with vinegar and add a pinch of salt. Whisk in olive oil and add pepper.

4. Prepare goat’s cheese: with a fork, stir herbs and lemon zest into goat cheese. Spread goat cheese mixture on baguette slices and set on a baking tray. When ready to serve, bake until crisp and slightly browned, 10 minutes in a 190C oven or toaster oven. Toasts do not have to be piping hot when served.

5. Whisk dressing and pour over beetroot, reserving 3 tablespoons. Add a pinch of salt and toss beetroot well. Leave to sit for a few minutes, then taste and adjust vinegar and salt – beetroots are notorious for needing more vinegar and salt.

6. Thinly slice the fennel crosswise. Toss with a little salt and the reserved dressing. Arrange fennel on individual plates or a serving dish. Place dressed beetroot on fennel, then fluff fennel a bit. Garnish with goat’s cheese toasts and serve.

Hearty kale, squash and bean soup

A substantial main course soup that usually contains beans or other legumes and lots of garden vegetables, call this soup a potage, if you like. Hard squash gives the soup body. Try acorn, Kabocha or delicata squash for a change from the ubiquitous butternut. This soup reheats beautifully, gaining character in the process, so it’s an ideal dish to prepare in advance.

Serves: 4 to 6

Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes


900g winter squash, such as acorn, Hubbard or butternut, peeled and cut into 1½cm cubes

Salt and pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 large leek, white and light green parts cut into small dice

2 medium onions, cut into small dice

225g semi-dry Spanish chorizo or smoked kielbasa, cut into thin coins

3 garlic cloves, minced

¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes

500g cooked cannellini beans, from 450g dry or use 2 (425g) tins, rinsed and drained

2L water, bean broth or vegetable stock, plus more as needed

450g kale, mustard greens or beetroot greens, tough stems removed, leaves blanched briefly, squeezed dry and cut into 1½cm ribbons


1. Heat the oven to 200C. Put the squash cubes on a baking tray, season with salt and pepper, and coat lightly with olive oil. Roast until tender and lightly caramelised, about 20 minutes. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a heavy soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. Add leeks, salt lightly and let cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until softened but still bright green. Remove leeks and set aside to stir into soup later.

3. Add a little more oil to the pot, then add the onions. Season with salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chorizo, garlic and red-pepper flakes, and cook for 2 minutes. Add cooked beans and 8 cups water, bean broth or vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, and cook gently for about 30 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.

4. Gently stir in the cooked squash, kale and reserved leeks, and cook for 10 minutes more on low heat. Add a little more broth or water if the potage seems too thick. Check seasoning and adjust as needed.

5. To serve, ladle into bowls. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Walnut cake with persimmons and pomegranate

This simple walnut sponge cake is quite versatile and keeps well. You can increase the spices to taste and substitute other nuts if you wish. Serve with a dab of whipped cream or crème fraîche and any kind of seasonal fruit. This autumn version calls for peeled firm Fuyu persimmons and bright red pomegranate arils for a gorgeous splash of colour.

Serves: 8 to 10

Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes, plus cooling


120ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan

130g all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan

100g toasted, roughly chopped walnuts

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground ginger

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 large eggs, whites and yolks separated and at room temperature

200g packed dark brown sugar, plus more as needed

120ml buttermilk or milk

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons rum or whiskey

3 or 4 small, firm Fuyu persimmons, peeled

80g pomegranate arils

Crème fraîche or softly whipped cream, for serving


1. Heat oven to 180C. Lightly oil the sides and bottom of a 22cm springform or cake pan. Place a parchment circle at the bottom of the pan and lightly oil the parchment. Dust with flour and shake off excess. Set the pan aside.

2. Place chopped walnuts in a bowl, and add flour, baking powder, ginger, salt, cloves and cinnamon. Stir and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff, about 2 minutes. With a rubber spatula, transfer the whites to a separate bowl.

4. Put egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add sugar and whisk on low speed until the sugar is dissolved. Then increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary, until the mixture is thick and pale beige in colour, about 5 minutes.

5. Beat in buttermilk, vanilla extract and rum, then slowly add the flour mixture at low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Slowly add 120ml olive oil and beat for a minute or so on low to combine. Using a rubber spatula, quickly fold in the reserved beaten egg whites (first, fold in ⅓ of the whites to lighten the batter, then fold in remaining whites until no streaks remain). Scrape batter into the prepared cake pan, put the pan on a baking tray and place in the oven on the middle shelf.

6. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 30 minutes, then run a knife along the pan’s edge and invert onto a cake plate. The cake keeps well for several days.

7. Cut persimmons into small, 1½cm-thick wedges and put in a small bowl. Add pomegranate and a pinch of sugar, and combine. Let sit for just a few minutes.

8. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Cut cake into wedges and serve with a spoonful of the fruit and a dab of crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.

© The New York Times

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