AS the leaves on the trees change into their rich colours and there’s a nip in the air, Neil Forbes of Cafe St Honoré craves hearty soups and stews
With the sun low in the sky and the leaves turning bronze and deep purple, it’s a sure sign that autumn is here. Now the harvest is coming, it’s a fabulous time for cooks, and also for gardeners who are clearing the soil and wondering what to grow next year. And as the leaves turn, the colours of the outdoors are reflected in our produce, with pumpkins and beetroots mirroring the hues of those majestic trees.
I must say, of all the seasons, autumn is my favourite – and not just because it’s my birthday in October. That nip in the air, yet still a touch of warmth from the sun, makes me feel good, and gets me set for the winter months ahead.
It’s a time for muddy wellies and thick socks, the crackle of wood on a bonfire and wading though drifts of fallen leaves. So, after a day spent outdoors I crave a good old-fashioned soup, something we do so well in Scotland. My recipe for this hearty soup, made with a rich ham stock and peasemeal (a wonderful old ingredient that we should all have in our cupboards) hits the spot every time.
We all love a sausage and they’re something else we do very well in Britain. Browned all over, under the grill or over a wood fire, they’re a great base for a true autumnal dish. My casserole-style recipe this week is the perfect partner to any sausage. Trust me.
I glanced over into my neighbour’s garden the other day and saw the most incredible sight. A pear tree laden with fruit. The branches seem to be struggling to hold the weight. When I looked back to my own pear tree (replete with one lonely, but well-groomed pear), I suddenly fancied a pudding of pears poached in red wine, a recipe I’m also sharing with you today.
A long, autumnal walk is made so much better knowing you have these dishes to come home to. So dust off those wellies, and I’ll see you outside.
500ml hot stock or water (ham stock is good)
a knob of butter
4 tbsp peasemeal
handful of leftover gammon or ham (or cook a ham hock and flake the meat off – after braising for three hours in just water, retain the stock for the soup)
salt and pepper
a large pinch of curly parsley, roughly chopped
Allow three sausages per person (I like a good old pork and herb banger)
2 medium-sized onions, roughly chopped
a splash of cold-pressed rapeseed oil
salt and pepper
¼ pumpkin (or butternut squash), roughly chopped
a few par-boiled potatoes (like a heritage Pink Fir Apple or Sharpe’s Express), cut into large chunks
a knob of butter
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 very large cooking apple (James Grieve or Bramley are excellent), cored and roughly chopped
a small handful of fennel fronds, roughly chopped
a sprig of rosemary
4 firm pears (if too soft, they’ll turn to mush)
½ bottle of good red wine (a nice claret is perfect)
180g dark brown sugar (or if you prefer white, that’s fine)
3 or 4 star anise
1 vanilla pod, split and scraped seeds out
a piece of cinnamon bark
a big dollop of ice cream or crème fraîche
PEASEMEAL AND HAM SOUP
Golspie Mill in Sutherland produces incredible stone-ground peasemeal flour made from ground yellow peas. It’s an absolute revelation, and simple to use. This traditional Scottish ingredient was popular in days gone by because it was cheap, filling and very tasty. Just by adding hot stock, butter and seasoning you’ll make a substantial soup, to enjoy on its own or with added ingredients like ham. By choosing peasemeal from Golspie Mill, you’ll ensure this tradition will be carried on. So, throw away those instant soup packets.
1 Boil the stock or water and season with salt and pepper. Add the butter.
2 Add the peasemeal flour to the hot liquid and whisk vigorously for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and add more butter if required.
3 Let it bubble for a minute then pour into warm bowls. If it seems too thick, just add a little more liquid.
4 Crumble on the ham, gammon or hock and garnish with the chopped parsley. Serve steaming hot.
SAUSAGE, PUMPKIN AND APPLE BAKE
We love to serve this one-pot-wonder in the Forbes’ household. Use proper, juicy sausages from a farm shop with heritage tatties and apples, some onion for background flavour, pumpkin for that sweet, earthy taste, and some sage to marry it all together. Oh, and remember to keep the skin on the apples and potatoes.
1 Heat the oil in a large casserole dish or oven-proof pan, and fry the onions and whole sausages. Season with salt and pepper.
2 Add the pumpkin to the pan. Keep stirring and moving the dish around to get colour on all the ingredients. Then add the potatoes, butter, garlic and apples.
3 Make sure everything is starting to colour nicely before placing in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes at 200C/Gas Mark 6 to cook further and brown.
4 Remove from the oven, add the fennel fronds and stir. Serve at the table in the dish you cooked it in – no time for pretty presentation here.
PEARS POACHED IN RED WINE
I love the texture of a pear, and it’s something we grow well here (although not by me, it seems). Try a Packham or a Conference, and always buy British when you can. They’re delicious ripe, served with strong cheese and oatcakes, but keeping with the autumnal theme, I’m suggesting you poach yours in red wine with sugar, cinnamon, star anise and thyme. The aromas will fill the house for days. The trick is to leave them in the cooking liquor and not to be tempted to remove them. This way they will soak up all the syrup. Serve them hot or cold with a dollop of ice cream or crème fraîche.
1 Wash and peel the pears and place in a pot large enough to hold them. Pour over the wine.
2 Add the sugar and place on a medium heat, bringing just to the boil before adding the spices and flavourings. I love star anise, cinnamon and vanilla here, but do experiment with other flavour combinations.
3 When it’s just about to boil, turn down the heat to a low simmer. Long and slow wins the race with this dish.
4 Poach the pears for 2 to 3 hours, keeping them warm on the back of the stove. Taste as you go, as it may need a little more sugar, or even a spoon of redcurrant jelly – it’s up to your tastebuds.
5 Serve the pears warm, drenched in the syrup, with some ice cream or crème fraîche on the side.