What's in season: December

04 November 2015
What's in season: December

Fresh produce supplier James Wellock explains why now is the most wonderful time of the year for fruit and vegetables, while chef Madalene Bonvini-Hamel shares some seasonal delights

With any kind of fresh produce, location, location, location is everything, and I passionately believe that the right soil is one of the most important factors for root vegetables.

Take the humble sprout, for instance. We source ours from growers on the east coast, from Berwick up to Aberdeen, as this is the perfect environment. Sprouts grow better in dry, gravelly soil, and there is little rainfall in this area compared to the rest of the UK. The climate does not wildly fluctuate, so the ground temperature doesn't slip too far below zero, and as the crops are grown near the sea, they are protected from harsh, bitter frosts.

The correct soil is important for root vegetables, too. Parsnips, swedes, carrots and onions grow best in light, sandy soil with good drainage so they can grow straight down. This winter, the range will be great, from baby parsnips to red and brown onions the size of a golf ball - perfect for roasting whole. The flavours of these root vegetables are perfect for Christmas menus and versatile enough to be used in soups and stews.

For those likely to be serving the odd roast potato during the Christmas season, there are some fantastic varieties across the UK, such as Maris Piper, Markie and Sagitta, perfect for a crisp, golden fry. These are mainly grown around Lincoln which, again, has a soil texture all of its own. Further north in Scotland you'll find the red Rooster, which will not make as crisp a roast potato as it soaks up more fat, but it does retain an incredible depth of flavour.
Turning to fruit, we have a fantastic selection of oranges from Spain and Italy, such as navel oranges, easy-peel clementines, stocking-filler tangerines and my favourite, the vibrant and juicy blood orange.

Cranberries are a staple of Christmas dinner, but they are worth trying with red cabbage. Not only do the colours look fantastic together, but the sharpness of the cranberry works with the sweetness of the red cabbage.

From Italy, we have the very special leafy lemon arriving. The leaves from these lemons - and from clementines - are beautiful and can be added to many dishes to really enhance the flavour and taste.

We will also have lychees, peaches and nectarines throughout December. These fruits are rich in fibre and vitamins, and they add an exotic twist to dishes. Peaches and nectarines go wonderfully with Christmassy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and lychees are fantastic added to festive tipples or Champagne.

Finally, we get to the Passe Crassane - my all-time favourite pear - which comes into season in December. They come from the Rouen region and retain the most juice and best flavour of all pears - they are exquisite in mulled wine. Once again, location is key and, for me, these pears are always better from the Paris area than from the Alps. The stems are sealed with a blob of wax so that they will continue to ripen and won't dry out, and it's this that helps to keep the flavour and juiciness of the Passe Crassane all winter.

Partridge, potsticker, mushrooms and celeriac

Serves 10

For the partridge and the potsticker

  • 5 oven-ready partridges
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1tbs rapeseed oil
  • 2 banana shallots, diced
  • 100g mixed wild mushrooms, shredded
  • 80g grated raw celeriac
  • 2tbs soy sauce
  • 10 wonton wrappers
  • 1tbs sunflower oil

For the celeriac purée

  • 250g celeriac, peeled and diced into 1cm pieces
  • 1tbs unsalted butter
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 sprig of thyme

For the celeriac and quinoa balls

  • 30, 2cm-wide celeriac balls cut with a melon baller
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1tbs unsalted butter
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 150g red quinoa

To serve

  • 10 pickled silverskin onions
  • 200g hon shimeji, enoki and shredded oyster mushrooms, mixed
  • 2tbs unsalted butter
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

First prepare the partridges. Remove the legs from the carcasses. Remove the breast meat from the bone, place on a plate on one sprig of thyme and one garlic clove, and refrigerate until needed. Place the partridge legs in a vacuum pouch with light seasoning and the rest of the thyme and garlic, and seal on hard vacuum.
Cook the legs in a preheated waterbath at 82°C for six hours. Once cooked, chill in ice water, remove the legs from the pouch and discard the thyme, garlic and bones. Flake the meat and set aside.

Heat a non-stick frying pan with the oil and sauté the shallots, mushrooms and celeriac until golden brown and cooked - about seven to eight minutes. Add the soy sauce and simmer for 30 seconds. Transfer the mix to a bowl and combine with the flaked partridge. Adjust the seasoning, then leave to cool.

Once the partridge mix is cool, make the potstickers. Lay the wonton wrappers on a board and brush each with cold water from side to side. Place a spoonful of the partridge mix in the centre and fold one corner to another corner to create a triangle. Press to stick it together, and then use a round cutter to cut off the excess pastry. Shape all the potstickers and place them on a tray in the fridge until needed.

In the meantime, cook the celeriac purée and balls. Place the diced celeriac in a vacuum pouch and add the butter, seasoning and thyme. Seal on hard vacuum. Bring a medium saucepan with water to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Place the vacuum pouch in the water, and weigh it down with a plate. Cover the pan with a lid. Do the same with the celeriac balls, at the same time, but in two separate bags. Simmer the celeriac for about 20 minutes, remove the balls and chill over ice. Transfer the diced celeriac to a Thermomix, remove the thyme and blend the purée until very smooth on speed 10 for three to four minutes. Adjust the seasoning and keep warm.

Cook the quinoa in salted water over a high heat for 15 minutes until tender, then drain and set aside.

Cut the pickled onions in half, separate them into leaves, and just before serving scorch the edges with a blowtorch.

Cook the partridge, potstickers and mushrooms. Heat two non-stick frying pans. In one pan, heat one tablespoon of unsalted butter and sauté the mushrooms with seasoning until golden. Drain and keep warm. Then return the pan to the heat with another tablespoon of butter, season the partridges and place them skin-side down in the hot pan with foaming butter. Cook for about three minutes until the skin is golden, turn them over and cook on the other side for further three minutes until medium. Then drain and keep the partridges warm while resting.

In the second pan, over high heat, add the oil, place the potstickers in the pan and cook until they turn golden brown. Take care while turning them over, then add a splash of water and immediately cover the pan with a lid. Set a timer for two minutes and then remove the lid, turning them back over to the brown side-down in the pan, and cooking for another 30 seconds until they are crisped up. Transfer to a warm plate.

In the meantime, reheat the quinoa and decant the partridge balls to the same pan to heat through. The quinoa will stick to the balls.

To serve, spoon a tablespoon of warm celeriac purée onto each plate, arrange three celeriac quinoa balls, place one potsticker and one partridge breast on each plate, garnish with the warm sautéed mushrooms and serve.

Baked pumpkin cheesecake with ginger cake mousse

Serves 20

For the pumpkin cheesecake base

  • 500g small, round, firm-fleshed pumpkin (sugar or red kuri are best)
  • 150g plus 1tbs plain flour
  • 80g ground almonds
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 90g unsalted butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • Seeds from one vanilla pod
  • 400g full-fat cream cheese
  • 300g quark
  • 5 large whole eggs
  • Pinch of salt

For the ginger cake mousse

  • 400ml double cream
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 120g ginger cake, diced into 1cm pieces
  • 2 gelatine leaves, bloomed
  • 300ml Greek yogurt

For the pumpkin-seed crisp

  • 200g pumpkin seeds
  • 30g caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 35g cold water
  • 35g sosa maltosec powder

For the pumpkin oil powder

  • 100ml pumpkin seed oil
  • 50g sosa maltosec powder

Prepare the pumpkin. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, sandwich back together and wrap in foil. Place on a baking tray in a preheated oven for 1.5 hours. Once cooked, remove from the oven and scoop out the soft flesh. Place the cooked pumpkin flesh in a Thermomix and blend on speed 10 for two to three minutes until very smooth, before setting aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 150°C and line a 28 x 18cm frame with parchment paper and place on a baking tray. To make the crust, place 150g plain flour, almonds, dark brown sugar and ginger in a Thermomix and blend for 30 seconds on speed 10. Add the butter and blend until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Press the mixture into the base of the frame, smoothing it to create an even, thick base. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 160°C.
Weigh 400g of the cooled pumpkin purée into a Thermomix jug, then add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice, one tablespoon of plain flour, vanilla seeds, cream cheese, quark, eggs and salt and blend for 30 seconds on speed 10. Scrape down the sides and repeat the process until the mixture is smooth. Pass the mix through a fine sieve and pour into the prepared frame. Bake the cheesecake for 35 minutes, then turn the oven off and open the door, leaving the cheesecake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and leave to cool completely.

In the meantime, make the ginger cake mousse. Place the cream, sugar and cake in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat as soon as it boils, then whisk until the cake is dissolved into the cream. Add the drained, bloomed gelatine, then mix well and whisk in the Greek yogurt. Pass the mix through a fine sieve. Transfer to a cream whipper, charge with two gas charges and shake vigorously. Set aside to chill.

For the pumpkin-seed crisp, roast the seeds at 180°C for five minutes, leave to cool slightly, then chop until they are fine breadcrumbs and transfer to a bowl. Add the sugar, water, salt and maltosec powder. Mix well, transfer to a large piece of parchment and cover with another piece of parchment paper. Roll out thinly using a rolling pin to about 1mm. Bake in a preheated oven at 130°C for 35 minutes. Leave to cool; the crisp will become very brittle. Keep in an airtight container until needed.

For the pumpkin oil powder, measure the oil into a mixing bowl then add the maltosec powder a spoonful at a time. Mix well after each addition. Towards the last addition of the powder, cover your hands with gloves and use your hands to mix to a fine powder. Keep in an ambient airtight container until needed.
Remove the frame from the cooked and cooled cheesecake and remove the edges with a sharp knife. Cut it in half lengthways and then cut each half into 10 wide slices.

Place one piece per portion on serving plates. Scatter a spoonful of the pumpkin oil powder around the cheesecake. Place a piece of pumpkin-seed crisp on top, shake the cream whipper vigorously and squirt a bit of the ginger cake mousse onto each plate and serve.

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