As autumn turns to winter, some superb produce appears, says fresh food supplier James Wellock, while chef-consultant Madalene Bonvini-Hamel offers two seasonal dishes
The November frost brings with it some fantastic produce, and we go back to basics as the real winter vegetables begin to come into their own. Searching for the best crops at this time of the year is as exciting and rewarding as searching for the most extravagant ingredient. For many of our local growers, November is a great time for their chosen crops to excel, and the combination of local soil types and weather means they are producing some marvellous products.
Kale is one example and there are lots of varieties to choose from. Try the Red Russian, green, cavalo nero and red. Kale has had a massive surge in popularity over the past couple of years, thanks to the awareness of its health benefits. This is fantastic to see as at one stage it was pretty much only used for cattle feed.
Growers are now branching out into lots of exciting varieties of cauliflower. Look out for the green and pointed Romanesque, or the Violetta. Yellow, purple and green varieties are all available up until late December and will take cauliflower cheese to a whole new level.
Tender sprouting broccoli, both the White Star and the purple, are taking over from the standard woody-tasting broccoli. The white is the sweetest and most tender, but both look lovely on the plate and with no waste or prep to do, they're well worth the money. Growers are at the mercy of the weather but, as more varieties are developed to withstand extreme, cold temperatures, tender sprouting is becoming available all winter.
Rainbow chard, formerly known as Five-Colour Silverbeet, has now made a massive comeback in the UK. It comes in many vibrant colours - white, yellow, orange, pink, bright Yorkshire red and Swiss. It has a mildly flavoured stem and tasty leaves, so it's delicious in a winter salad.
The standard red beetroot is now joined by white, golden, and Chioggia or candy, which has amazing red hoops through the centre. There's also white Detroit and, the most exciting one for me, crapaudine. It's cone-shaped, sweet-tasting and beautiful.
Of course, no winter menu would be complete without parsnips, carrots, sprouts and swedes. They are at their best now. These all taste better after a frost and we have about 20 carrot options available in a blaze of colour, with bright orange, white, yellow and purple varieties, and not only in standard sizes. Carrots are available from microseedling, through various stages of baby, to bunched with the leaf still on, right through to donkey-sized.
This season, there's plenty of heritage potato varieties. Purple majesty and red King Edward 1916 - a rare version of the King Edward with a creamy texture and great flavour. Small potato options from UK growers are also endless, with the Ratte, Pink Fir, Vitelotte and baby red Rooster varieties all adding great flavour, colour and shape over the basic washed mid-season spuds. And since they are local, you are not paying the massive premium that sometimes comes with European produce.
We will be relying on Europe for some things this winter, such as citrus fruits and many 'lost' vegetables, most notably red meat radish and golden turnips. Red meat radish is becoming a firm favourite; it can grow as large as a cricket ball and, as part of the horseradish family, it packs a peppery punch.
November is fantastic for the citrus family. There's a lot to choose from, and all at a good price and fantastic quality. Look out for finger limes, pomelos, bergamots and cedrats. From Spain and Italy we'll get navel oranges, and all your easypeel clementines and lemons. For me, the Italian lemon is the best. Also from Italy comes the cime de rape and all the radicchios, Catalonia and chicory.
This is also a great month for apples and pears. Their flavours are superb and they'll be in season until January. You can choose from an immense range of varieties including King of the Pippins, Cox Orange, Braeburn, Antares, Golden Delicious pink, Royal Gala, Pink Lady, GoldRush, Clocharde du Mans, white Canada, Calville white, Canada grey, and Alexander. My favourite is GoldRush - it takes its colour from the extra sunshine it gets at the top of the tree, resulting in an amazing tart and sweet flavour. Perfect for a tarte tatin!
The pear selection is heavenly and it just gets better as we move through the month. The Provence quince is in its prime now but other great varieties are Armande, Passe Crassane, Doyenne du Comice, Packham's Triumph, Bartlett and Williams. Wild mushrooms will also be in abundance, with the winter Scottish chanterelle taking centre stage at a brilliant £16 per kilo, same as last year. Trompettes also will be cheap at £15, girolles around £20, Pied de Mouton £25, cep £35 - the choice is yours.
Pumpkins of all sizes and varieties are high quality from now until the start of February. Try the muscat squash or muscat pumpkin - delicious soft flesh with lots of fibre and a gorgeous dark yellow to orange colour. Squashes are at their best until the end of December for some varieties and until the beginning of March for others.
The choice this month is endless and with so many local options there's lots of great prices too.
Hare and pumpkin pastries
For the confit hare
- 2 hare haunches, bones in (approximately 480g)
- Coarse sea salt
- 4 large sprigs of thyme
- 2 garlic cloves crushed
- 4 bay leaves
- 10 black peppercorns
- 5 white peppercorns
- 2 litres duck or goose fat
For the hare and pumpkin filling
- 100g golden sultanas
- 100ml boiling chicken stock
- 1tbs duck or goose fat
- 2 banana shallots, finely diced
- 2 celery sticks, peeled and coarsely grated
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- Â½tsp nutmeg
- 1tsp ground mace
- 40g tomato purée
- 350g cooked flaked hare meat
- 150g coarsely grated firm orange-flesh pumpkin or butternut squash
- 2tbs chopped mixed winter savory and sage
For the empanada pastry
- 150g unsalted butter
- 500g plain flour
- Pinch sea salt
- 1 large egg and 2 yolks
- Water to bind
- To serve
- 100g pine nuts
- 1tbs chopped winter savory
- Freshly grated nutmeg
Place the hare haunches in a deep baking tray and heavily season with the sea salt, add half the thyme, garlic and half the bay leaves, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for three hours.
Remove the haunches from the dish, dust off the salt and place them in a deep casserole dish, adding the remaining thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns. Heat the fat in a separate pan until just melted, pour it over the haunches until submerged, place a cartouche directly onto the fat, put a lid on the dish and place in a preheated oven at 150Â°C for three hours. Test if cooked by wiggling the bone: if it comes loose, the hare is cooked. Remove the dish from the oven, lift the hare out of the fat and drain, pass the fat through a sieve and refrigerate for another use. Flake the hare meat from the bone and remove the bones.
For the hare and pumpkin filling, pour the stock over the sultanas and set aside for 10 minutes to rehydrate. In a medium non-stick frying pan, heat the duck fat and sweat the diced shallot, celery, garlic with seasoning and both spices over medium heat for six to eight minutes until softened and without colour. Increase the heat, add the tomato purée and cook for another two minutes, stirring to prevent it from catching. Add the sultanas and chicken stock, and cook rapidly until reduced. Place the flaked hare meat, herbs, grated pumpkin and the cooked mixture in a large mixing bowl, mix well, adjust the seasoning if needed, and refrigerate for an hour.
For the pastry, melt the butter and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Place the flour, cooled melted butter and salt in a mixing bowl, use a fork to mix well, make a well in the centre of the mixture and add an egg, using the fork to bring the pastry together. If the pastry is a bit dry, add a tablespoon of cold water at a time until it's right. Once a dough is formed, tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it gently until it all comes together and is smooth; do not overknead. Cover the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 200Â°C and line two baking trays with parchment paper. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to about a two-millimetre thickness, and cut discs 5cm wide. Brush the pastry with egg yolk, place a teaspoon of the filling in the centre, then lift the sides of the pastry and pinch them together leaving the centre slightly exposed; the pastry forms a boat shape.
Brush the pastries with egg yolk and place on the lined baking tray with a 3cm gap between each. Bake them in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown and cooked and the pastry is crisp. Let them cool on the baking trays for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.
In the meantime, scatter the pine nuts on a roasting tray and toast them in the oven for two minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then chop roughly.
Arrange the pastries on a serving platter, scatter over the pine nuts, chopped winter savory, a couple of pinches of sumac and a few gratings of fresh nutmeg, and serve.
Venison agnolotti with spicy arrabiata sauce
For the venison filling
- 1tbs rapeseed oil
- 500g venison shoulder, boneless
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 onion, roughly diced
- 1 stick of celery, roughly diced
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 star anise
- 1tsp coriander seeds
- 250ml chicken stock
- 30g dried porcini mushrooms
- 200ml hot water
- 1tbs duck/goose fat
- 2 banana shallots, finely diced
- 4tbs chopped mixed parsley, chervil and chives
For the pasta
- 275g '00' pasta flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1tbs olive oil
- 2 whole medium free-range eggs
- 3 medium egg yolks
For the arrabiata sauce
- 1 red pepper, seeds removed and roughly diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and roughly diced
- 2 onions, peeled and roughly diced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2tbs olive oil
- 1tsp dried chilli flakes
- 2tbs tomato purée
- 1tsp caster sugar
- 250ml red wine
- 300ml venison stock from cooking the meat
- 800g chopped tomatoes
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 15 cherry tomatoes or baby plum tomatoes
- 1tbs olive oil
- 3tbs pine nuts
- Parmesan cheese and olive oil to taste
Cook the venison in a pressure cooker. Heat the pan of the cooker over a medium heat with the oil and colour the meat on all sides and season. Remove the meat and set aside. Return the pan to the heat and brown the onion, celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, star anise and coriander seeds for eight to 10 minutes until golden. Return the meat to the pan, add the chicken stock, increase the heat, secure the pressure cooker lid and cook for an hour. Release the pressure using the quick release, then open the lid and take out the meat and liquid. Pass the stock through a fine sieve and set aside. Flake the meat and set aside; discard the herbs, spices and cooked onion.
Pour hot water over the porcini and set aside for 30 minutes. Heat a medium pan over medium heat with the duck fat and sauté the shallots with seasoning until transparent but not coloured - five to six minutes. Drain the porcini (keep the stock for the sauce), chop finely and add to the shallots. Cook for two minutes more, add the flaked cooked venison, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped herbs, adding seasoning if needed. Transfer to a container, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool, then refrigerate.
In a food processor, pulse-blend the flour, oil and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, blend until the dough comes together, tip out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for five minutes until smooth. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate for an hour.
In the meantime make the arrabiata sauce. Pulse-blend the pepper, carrot, onion and garlic in a food processor until puréed. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat with the oil, cook the chillies in it for 30 seconds, add the puréed vegetables, tomato purée, sugar and seasoning, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the wine and cook for five minutes. In the meantime, pass the chopped tomatoes through a food mill, discarding the seeds but keeping the pulp. Add the venison and porcini stock and the pulp to the sauce with a touch of seasoning, put it on a gentle simmer, stir occasionally and cook for 20 to 25 minutes until reduced and rich in colour; the sauce will have a glossy sheen. Keep warm.
While the sauce is cooking, toss the tomatoes in the oil, season with sea salt, scatter on an unlined baking tray and use a blowtorch to scorch the skin until lightly blackened. Then place in preheated oven at 200Â°C for five minutes to soften - do not let them lose their shape or collapse. Keep them warm. At the same time, scatter the pine nuts on a lined baking tray and toast in the oven for two to four minutes until golden brown. Set aside.
Roll the pasta out using a pasta machine, dusting the pasta lightly with flour as you roll it thinner and thinner. Cut it into squares using a 7cm square pasta cutter. Brush each square with egg yolk, place a teaspoon of the venison filling in the centre and close the parcels to form the agnolotti parcels; place them on a tray dusted with semolina while finishing off the remainder of the agnolotti.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil over high heat. Cook the agnolotti in batches for four minutes each, drain with a slotted spoon and toss in the boiling hot arrabiata sauce.
Serve three agnolotti per portion on warm plates and garnish with extra sauce, grated Parmesan, olive oil, toasted pine nuts and baked cherry tomatoes.