It's time for warming, nourishing hotpots, casseroles and pies. As for vegetables, says Elaine Lemm, remember the humble sprout
The clocks have gone back, the days are shorter and it is time to slow down – at least in the kitchen. November is the month to pull out the winter clothes, stock up the log pile and dig out the soup pots, slow cookers and casserole dishes. Food rapidly puts on weight now as rich, comforting stews, soups, pies and puddings take over.
Plummeting temperatures are not something I am desperate for, except when it comes to winter vegetables. A hefty nip of frost on many root varieties means it is time to start eating them: no self-respecting gardener would dream of pulling up a parsnip, swede or sprout before this time as the veggies react to the frost by producing sugars, which turns them from bitter to sweet quite literally overnight.
So, though they are now available in the shops, it may be worth waiting for Jack to put in appearance before you buy (though you may not have long to wait if the snow storms raging in the US are anything to go by).
November has plenty of excitement in store for the foodie, with great fish and seafood. As the sea gets colder, lobster, mussels, scallops, monkfish, plaice and pollack get fatter and tastier.
Rabbit, hare, guinea fowl and venison play a starring role on the carnivore’s autumnal plate, and fruits come in the form of figs, satsumas and a long-overlooked fruit, the quince.
Quince was once the pride of the Victorian garden but the strange, furry, golden-coloured fruits were deemed far too fiddly for the modern kitchen. That is, until a few enterprising chefs got their hands on them and reacquainted the quince with game and fatty meats in jellies, cheeses and chutneys, and to the sweet trolley poached in luscious boozy syrups.
This month there is no avoiding the appearance of that butt of British food jokes, the Brussels sprout. Each year, 40,000 tonnes are bought in the UK (and, undoubtedly, 39,999 will be boiled to death). The humble veg has only graced these shores for a mere 100 or so years so just how it came to be part of a traditional Christmas dinner is anyone’s guess.
I love Brussels. I feel they are totally underrated, especially as not only do they taste good but they are stacked with vitamins (providing they are not boiled for 45 minutes).
On a trip to Australia recently, I was served Brussels sprouts with fish. This is not a way of serving I had ever thought of but, here, the sprout had been deconstructed leaf by leaf, steamed for one minute, wafted through salty butter and served alongside the fish with a caper sauce. Sublime.
If you have neither the time or inclination, or simply feel life is too short to deconstruct a sprout, you might like to give this recipe a try. I doubt you will be disappointed.
225g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and outer leaves removed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
55g smoked bacon cubes or pancetta
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts (optional)
Finely shred the Brussels Sprouts with either a sharp knife or in a food processor.
In a large frying pan, heat the oil and butter (do not overheat or the garlic will burn). Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes, add the garlic, stir, and cook for another minute. Finally, add the bacon pieces or pancetta stir and cook for another minute.
Add the shredded Brussels Sprouts and cook for 5-10 minutes until the leaves are cooked through. They should be slightly firm, not too soft. Season with salt and pepper, add the pine nuts if using, and serve.
450g Brussels sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
25g unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
100g diced pancetta or dry-cured bacon
100g cooked, peeled chestnuts
5-6 sage leaves, roughly chopped
120ml double cream
Bring a pan of lightly salted water to a boil and cook the sprouts for 4-6 minutes until al dente. Drain them and set aside.
Heat the butter with the oil in a frying pan and add the bacon. Fry gently for 2-3 minutes until starting to crisp.
Crumble the chestnuts roughly and add them to the bacon with the sage leaves.
Add the sprouts and cream and bring to a good simmer. Season to taste before serving.
Recipes courtesy of ThinkVegetables