November and the landscape is starting to take on that familiar and bleak look of winter again, the clocks have gone back, the trees are loosing their leaves and the lawnmower has been moth balled till next year. If it is not raining today, then you could almost put money on it raining tomorrow. Thick woolly jumpers, Wellingtons (green ones of course) roaring log fires, and cool autumnal days all have me thinking of those heavier, rib-sticking, lip-smacking comfort foods we all love, such as hot-pots, casseroles, game pies, steak and kidney pudding, braised oxtail, braised belly pork, dumplings and suet puddings.
This month sees a complete change in the way I cook compared to recent months, not only am I more inclined towards these heavier dishes but I find the range of produce available more rewarding in many aspects. I adore the rich heart warming undertones one can create in a winters dish much more satisfying than the frivolous foods of summer, the complex flavours that can be introduced giving dishes so much more depth and character, oh! But I do like winter!
The game season is now well under way, with pheasant shooting all over our counties every weekend now through to the end of January. It has of course been possible to shoot pheasants since the 1st October, and while some are shot this early the majority of shoots do not start until at least the last week in October or even the first week in November. There has long been a very good case for changing the game season over here with almost every season best served if it were put back a full month. Early in the season pheasants tend to be a little on the small side and far too young but as the month wears on and the weather gets that little bit colder we will see them putting on weight, and in the case of the cocks, acquiring their distinctive long tails. Partridge too are still plentiful this month and we will start to see a lot more wild ducks for sale, while in the more rural areas other game such as woodcock, teal, widgeon and even snipe may also be offered for sale.
Root vegetables, that is what the winter months are all about with them all being so much better with a good hard frost on them. Very often these humble root vegetables are not seen as being as glamorous as their summer counterparts but, the reality is that one can probably do so much more with a winter vegetable than a summer offering. Parsnips, carrots, Swede and celeriac, all so wonderful, without them how would we make a broth or a stew, and how fabulous they are just as vegetables in their own right. What about garlic or have you thought about roasting them with sesame seeds, cooking them with orange zest and orange juice or roasting them with coriander or cumin seeds. Recently for a client I cooked Thai carrots, sliced carrots cooked in a sealed pan with coconut milk, lemon grass, red chillies, a little ginger and garlic and finished with fresh coriander, so good you need nothing with them, a meal in themselves!
Parsnips make great crisps, just peel off the flesh using a vegetable peeler into long thin strips, deep fry them at 140°c until the fat stops bubbling, drain on kitchen paper and lightly salt, I guarantee they will put you off potato crisps for life! Of course we all roast our parsnips with our Sunday lunch, don’t we? Next time try adding a little honey or brown sugar, this will intensify their natural sweetness while also helping them to caramelise better. As the winter draws on cut out the thick central stalks of the parsnip and use these for making soup, with the addition of a little curry powder and some apples it makes a fantastic warming winter bowlful. Swedes, for so many a vegetable only fit for animal food, yet it too is so versatile. They are great when braised in a little cream with a touch of sugar and cracked black pepper, they roast well as all roots do and also make the most wonderful fondants, being served either as a garnish or a vegetable.
Celeriac is not what one would normally consider a terribly common vegetable in this country yet it seems to be growing in popularity in recent years. I always feel that there is something rather old fashioned and slightly central European about them. These knobbly turnip-like roots have a delicate celery flavour and perfume to them and are fantastic when mixed 50/50 with mashed potato turning everyday mash into something more special while they also give any stew an intense depth of flavour. Try making a Salad Remoulade, it really is quite simple yet so tasty, great to eat with any roast game, game terrine or pie. For my part I like to serve it with roast partridge.
Cabbages are also an excellent example of a versatile winter vegetable, now notice I say cabbages and not cabbage, there are just so many varieties and all of them so different from each other, and at this time of year, with their fantastic array of colours, flavours, textures and uses, they are virtually indispensable. Anyone that ever-thought cabbage was boring should definitely think again, there are Savoy’s that can be so intense in their shades of green, from the yellowy glow of the centre leaves to the deep bottle green of the outer ones, there is Cavolo Nero, a relative new comer to these shores with such a deep green which is almost black in its intensity it makes its name ‘black cabbage’ so apt.
Then there are red cabbages so dark and rich of colour their deep purple positively glowing with health and vigour. White cabbages like footballs so hard and solid, one is better off trying to cut them using an axe rather than a knife. No, cabbage is not, by any stretch of the imagination, boring!
We see the start of the orange season this month, always at their best throughout the winter months, right through till Easter really. Not just oranges either but every type there is, such as satsuma’s, mandarins, clementines, tangerines and all the other hybrid varieties to be found these days. November is also the month for nuts, especially walnuts, which of course go so well with game as too do chestnuts. While these are readily available in the shops how about just popping out to the woods and picking your own (chestnuts that is not walnuts, how I would love to find a walnut tree though, green walnuts straight from the tree are something else, so different from the dried offerings we find for sale) – there we go, free food again! Freshly roasted they make a fantastic TV snack and are also great as a vegetable with most roast meats, then as well as being candied and pureed they are even made into flour. So if you thought chestnuts were only for serving with the turkey at Christmas – think again.
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