Five things I love this week #3

There's a definite autumnal feel to my 'five things' this week; that much is evident from the muted beige tones of these photos. After a wonderfully warm October, I think I'm finally ready to embrace the onset of autumn, and all the delicious produce it brings with it. 

1. Wild mushroom and truffle risotto. I've been craving risotto ever since I had a beautiful starter at the Yorke Arms last week: truffled partridge boudin with ceps and carnaroli rice. The rice was a gorgeous risotto-like concoction, heady with the musky fragrance of truffle, the rice still with a little bite to it, creamy and savoury and incredibly delicious. I couldn't ignore my truffle/risotto cravings any longer, and succumbed with this lovely recipe. 

It's a standard risotto to which I added chopped chestnut mushrooms when frying the onion and garlic; I also used soaked porcini mushrooms and added their soaking water to the chicken stock used to plump up the rice. The risotto is finished off with some pan-fried girolle and shiitake mushrooms (shockingly expensive, but a nice little luxury, and so much more interesting to eat and look at than standard mushrooms), a drizzle of truffle oil, lots of lemon thyme leaves and a hefty grating of parmesan. Savoury, umami-rich wonderfulness. 

2. Pumpkins and winter squash. It's easy to just pick up the knee-jerk butternut when planning winter squash recipes, but the other day I discovered these beauties at the farmers market. I think the pale blue one is a Crown Prince squash; the others I'm not too sure about. 

I cut them all into chunks (risking life and limb and a hernia in the process; who needs a gym when you can spend an evening hacking your way through an unyielding orb of orange?) and roasted them with olive oil, salt, pepper and lots of chopped fresh rosemary. They softened into intensely flavoursome, sweet, fudgy deliciousness. Their flesh was much more dense and full-flavoured than your standard butternut squash, while the skin went beautifully dark and caramelly. 

I served them alongside roast partridge (recipe to come) and also mixed them with some couscous, feta and cherry tomatoes for a salad. Winter squash are great with anything salty, like bacon, feta or goats cheese. The possibilities are pretty much endless. I'm definitely going to seek out different kinds of squash in future (and perhaps an axe to chop them with). 

3. Fig and orange cobbler. Figs and oranges are a surprisingly successful combination (my aim this autumn is to discover all possible partners for the wonderful fig - raspberries and oranges are two of my new finds). Mix sliced figs and segmented oranges (about eight figs and two oranges) with a little dark sugar and a splash of rum, orange juice or grand marnier in a pie dish. Dollop on this cobbler topping, then bake for half an hour or so until the fruit releases its beautiful garnet juices and the topping is crisp and crunchy. This also works wonderfully as a crumble, especially if you mix some oats and almonds or hazelnuts into the crumble mixture. The figs soften and the oranges become really sweet and flavoursome, and the combination together is juicy, fragrant and delicious. Add some good vanilla ice cream and devour: autumn in a bowl.

4. Porridge with apple and quince compote. A delicious, unusual and thoroughly seasonal way to start an autumn day. Simply simmer peeled, chopped quince in a little water and lemon juice until almost tender. Don't throw away the cores and peel - simmer those covered in water in a separate pan while you cook the quince. Add a few sliced cooking/Cox apples to the chopped quince (peel if you like - I only bother if they're quite big, otherwise it's too fiddly) and the water from the quince cores and peel, and cook until the apples start to disintegrate. You should have a lovely, pale gold bowl of fragrant goodness. You can add sugar, but I don't think it needs it - quince is sweet enough on its own. This is lovely on hot porridge scattered with a few blackberries.

5. The Great British Food Revival. A brilliant programme all about championing British produce that is in danger of being sidelined by foreign imports, putting us back in touch with our food heritage and urging us to save those traditional ingredients from extinction (think peas, pears, crab, pork, potatoes...). I loved the first series, and the second is just as good, judging from what I've seen so far: Gregg Wallace extolling the virtues of Yorkshire rhubarb, an ingredient very close to my heart and one that I hoard like a mad person during its short season. There's still some in my freezer. He comes up with some unusual and delicious recipes that I can't wait to try.

While on the subject, I love Gregg Wallace. I think he has an honest and immensely refreshing attitude to food. None of this poncing around with silly descriptions about umami, mouthfeel and acidity. He simply says "it's like a hug from the pudding angel". If that isn't a concise and accurate description of a dessert, I don't know what is. He is entirely unpretentious and seems like a genuinely nice, fun person. And I'm not just saying this because he likes rhubarb, though that does win anyone brownie points in my eyes.

I'm also looking forward to seeing Valentine Warner's contribution to the show, mainly because I had lunch with him a couple of months ago and am childish enough to get excited about having met people who appear on TV.

Two ways with pumpkin and squash

I found something wonderful at the farmers' market a couple of weeks ago. A big wooden table groaning under the weight of about ten different types of pumpkin. There were big, blue-grey crown princes, the aptly named Turk's Turban (I'd never seen one before, but it does actually look like a turban - it's the most amazing-looking vegetable - google it), some Halloween-esque large golden varieties, and then several baby squashes. Given that I have never strayed beyond butternut squash in any recipe calling for pumpkin, I thought it would be a good time to give them a go.

I bought these two little ones, hoping they wouldn't consist of nothing but string once I got past their lovely, rustic-looking skins. This was a challenge, as the skins were quite thick. I wasn't sure whether to peel them or not, so I took a gamble and just roasted them, skin on and chopped up, as I would with butternut. I put some butternut and red peppers in there as well just to bulk it up a bit, and covered the lot in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and honey. The whole tray of roasted pumpkin smelled amazing when it came out of the oven; the pieces had turned soft and sweet in the middle with lovely burnished corners where they the oil and honey had caramelised. The skins of the pumpkins hadn't been too thick: they had softened nicely and were perfectly edible.

One of my favourite things to do with roasted squash or pumpkin is a salad with goat's cheese. I normally use couscous, but I had some watercress and rocket in the fridge so used that instead. Pumpkin, roasted peppers, a few cherry tomatoes, chunks of goat's cheese, pumpkin seeds for something crunchy, and some roasted chestnuts that I had lying around. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and you have a lovely substantial salad. I think squash needs something salty to cut through its sweetness; goat's cheese works well, as does bacon.

And it is bacon that I used in my next recipe: soup. It's very easy to make and tastes wonderful, especially on a freezing cold misty day like today. Fry some chopped bacon, add a diced red onion and some cubes of fresh squash and cook for a few minutes until the onion is soft. Pour over enough chicken stock to cover, add a bay leaf and some thyme sprigs and dried sage, cover and simmer until the squash is soft (20-30 minutes). I then added the remained of the roast squash from the day before and left it to simmer for another ten minutes, but you can just stick with fresh squash if you can't be bothered to roast any first (though I find it is more flavoursome). Use a stick blender to liquidise the whole lot. I then added some more water to make it quite runny, and then put in a handful or so of pearl barley - I like soups with things to chew on in them, and it makes it go further. Simmer again for about half an hour or 40 minutes, until the barley is tender but still a bit al dente. Check the seasoning, add a bit more dried sage, and it's ready. I like to serve it with grated Gruyere cheese on top, but that is just because I have a weakness for soup with melted cheese on. I don't know why really.