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Chestnuts

Chestnuts are traditionally given a special place at the Christmas table. These shiny brown nuts are delicious boiled or roasted – always split the hard skin first to stop them exploding while cooking – and eaten on their own. They are also good puréed and served as a side dish or mixed into stuffings. Tossed with freshly cooked Brussels sprouts, a knob of butter and freshly ground black pepper, they make one of the best vegetable dishes on the winter menu.
In southern Europe, they have a long culinary history, being used in breads, cakes and sweetmeats and to make a type of flour. Chestnuts have a natural affinity with chocolate and you will find many recipes for rich chocolate desserts, ice creams and cakes that include them.
Most recipes for chestnuts require them to be cooked and peeled, and although this is simple to do, you can buy ready-prepared chestnuts in cans or vacuum packs. These also have the advantage of being available at any time of the year.

Chestnut and hazelnut roast

Serves: 6-8
Ingredients:
100g/31⁄2oz hazelnuts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
225g/8oz mushrooms, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
225g/8oz chestnuts, cooked, peeled and finely chopped
85g/3oz white breadcrumbs
pinch of dried thyme
4 tbsp vegetable stock
juice of 1⁄2 lemon

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Grease a 900g/2lb loaf tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
  • Put the hazelnuts in a food processor and process briefly to chop finely, but avoid grinding to a smooth powder. Set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and garlic and gently fry for about 5 minutes, until tender. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. They should be moist, but not wet.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the hazelnuts, chestnuts, breadcrumbs, thyme, stock and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  • Press the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until golden.
  • Leave the roast to stand for about 5 minutes, then very carefully invert on to a board or serving platter, cut into slices and serve.

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Susannah Blake
Seasonal Food
Available from Nourish Books

 

 

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Arriving in autumn (but known as ‘winter’ squashes), cold-weather squashes are set apart from their summer cousins by their thick skins, orange or yellow flesh and large, tough seeds. In her book Seasonal Food Susannah Blake invites you to try autumn squashes suggesting delicious recipes. Read on her vegetarian suggestion, a delicious Barley risotto with butternut squash.

There are many different types. The pumpkin, with its dazzling orange skin, is widely available, as is the creamy, smooth-skinned butternut squash and the smaller acorn squash, with its fluted dark-green or bright-orange skin. Less common are the hubbard, the onion and the Asian kabocha squash.

With their sweet flavour and smooth texture, all squashes are delicious sautéed, roasted, baked or steamed in their own juices and can be added to stews, pies and soups, used to stuff pasta or tossed into salads. Their natural sweetness also makes them ideal for using in cakes
and pies, pumpkin pie being the classic dessert served at a US Thanksgiving dinner.

Buy only unblemished squashes that feel heavy for their size. Avoid really large ones, as they often lack flavour. To prepare, halve or cut into segments, then scoop out the seeds, which may be roasted, cracked open and eaten as a snack. If sautéeing or adding to a soup or stew, cut off the skin; if baking or roasting, remove the skin before or after cooking.

Barley risotto with butternut squashrisotto recipe

Serves: 4
Ingredients:
2 butternut squashes, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g/9oz pearl barley
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
80ml/21⁄2fl oz/1⁄3 cup white wine
125ml/4fl oz/1⁄2 cup vegetable stock
3 tbsp crème fraîche
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
25g/1oz Parmesan cheese, grated

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Put the squashes in a roasting tin, drizzle over about half the oil, tossing to coat, and
    season well with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning once or twice during cooking, until tender.
  • Meanwhile, cook the barley in boiling water for about 25 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.
  • Heat the remaining oil in a large pan, add the onion and garlic and fry gently for about 5 minutes, until soft. Stir in the drained barley, pour over the wine and stock, and leave to bubble gently for about 5–10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Stir in the crème fraîche, sage and Parmesan cheese, then fold in the squashes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

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Susannah Blake
Seasonal Food
Available from Nourish Books

 

 

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okra

The okra plant is native to Africa and its long, ridged seed pods are widely used in the cooking of that continent, as well as in the cuisines of the Caribbean, India and the Mediterranean. Okra is usually stewed, although it may be fried or steamed before combining with other ingredients. The seeds are coated in a slimy substance that is released into dishes containing chopped or sliced okra, giving them a somewhat gloopy consistency. This is relished by some and is often exploited as a deliberate characteristic of okra dishes. But if it is not to your taste, okra pods can simply be trimmed and cooked whole, so that the viscous liquid cannot ooze out. The end result will still capture the delicate but distinct flavour of okra and is truly delicious. When buying, look for small, bright-green pods that are firm and slightly springy when squeezed. To prepare them, trim off the stem without revealing the seeds, then either leave whole or cut up as required in the recipe.

Mediterranean okra and tomato casserole
This simple Mediterranean-style dish, mildly spiced with coriander, is the perfect way to enjoy tender whole okra. Serve it hot, warm or at room temperature – as a vegetable accompaniment or as an appetizer, with chunks of crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

SERVES 4 2 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, halved and sliced 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 2 tsp ground coriander 600g/1lb 5oz ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped 125ml/4fl oz/1⁄2 cup white wine 4 tbsp water salt and freshly ground black pepper 450g/1lb okra, trimmed large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion and garlic and gently fry for about 5 minutes. Stir in the coriander, then add the tomatoes, wine and water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir. Add the okra and gently fold in. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and leave to simmer gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the okra is tender. Check the seasoning and serve, with the chopped parsley sprinkled over the top.

 

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Susannah Blake
Seasonal Food
Available from Nourish

 

 

 

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