Almonds, eggplant, mushrooms, beetroot, pumpkin, fennel, olives, walnuts, pecans, quinces, pears, leeks, spinach, and figs – these are some of the flavours of autumn. In season, now starring at a farmer’s market or greengrocers near you (if you're Down Under).
Having access to the global supermarket of choice and convenience, I rarely used to give a second thought to the origins of the produce I tossed in my shopping basket. Too busy living the urban dream. Having read a lot of Michael Pollan now, I find it impossible to go back to enjoying those asparagus that travel halfway across the planet so they can make an appearance on my plate in the curtain call of autumn.
And I love this time of year, just look at this...
And the ingredients on hand! They are the foundation of comforting soups, pies, cassoulets, risottos and tarts. I’ll try and feature a few before the last leaves drop from the trees in the next month.
Eating seasonally and more locally are tenets of the Slow Food movement. So too a conscious effort to oppose the distractions, fast food, and shattered rhythms of modern living by slow eating, of which I’m a big fan – long lunches at a shared table, family, friends, a few drinks, and then some lolling about.
This Easter was the longest long weekend we’ve had here in Australia in memory so there was no excuse not to come almost to standstill, breathe, and impersonate a sloth. How was it for you? I’m sure there was a lot of eating, like at mine. I had my local crew over. Four friends, who at one time or another have flatted together, shacked up, or lived in the same suburb, on and off now for 15 years. There’s a new member, but since she’s only just started solids, and can’t sit up, she couldn’t partake, though she did enjoy rolling around on the floor, trying to stick her feet in her mouth, and the pumpkin in her purée was lip service to seasonal eating.
I also served pumpkin purée – well, soup. It was a bit blah, and I’m sure you’ve got your own favourite version of this, so I’m skipping straight to the main game.
This chicken dish, from Karen Martini, is simple as. Everything is thrown into the one dish and baked, and with its marinade featuring almonds and olives, I gave myself two gold stars for being in the right season at the right moment.
Roast Chicken with Green Olives, Almonds and Oregano
[from Where the Heart Is]
1 cup blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
80g pitted green Sicilian olives
1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 bunch oregano leaves, chopped
1 bunch oregano leaves, chopped
2 green chillies, sliced
6tbsp extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
2 small red chillies, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
a large pinch of sea salt
4 free-range chicken marylands, jointed
4 large desiree potatoes, peeled and finely sliced
2 red onions, sliced into rings
1/2 cup (125ml) water
1/2 cup (125ml) white wine
Preheat oven to 200 C. Combine almonds, olives, parsley, oregano, and green chillies in a large bowl, and drizzle with 2 tbsp of the olive oil. Stir and season with pepper. Set aside.
In another large bowl mix red chillies, garlic, lemon juice and zest, mustard, and salt and pepper. Coat the chicken pieces with the mixture, and set aside for 10 minutes.
Heat 4 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan over high heat, and add chicken pieces, taking care to brown on all sides. Remove from heat and rest for a minute on paper towel. Then add chicken to the almond marinade.
Grease an ovenproof dish and line with potato slices. Scatter the onion over the top. Top with the chicken pieces and pour the marinade evenly over the dish. Do the same with the water and wine.
Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes (I do this for 25 minutes to make sure the chicken is cooked). Remove foil and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until the chicken is golden and cooked. Serve immediately.
The main challenge, always, with a three-course meal is balancing the menu. Here, dessert had to fit a few criteria: no chocolate (the easter bunny having almost overstayed her welcome); not too heavy and creamy as the pumpkin soup had a dollop of sour cream added when served; no nuts since the main featured almonds, and no resorting to out of season fruit. Figs are in season, but they have a short shelf life and I err on the side of caution when entertaining.
So here is where I hit paydirt.
Torta di caffe
[from delicious magazine, March 2011, issue 102]
5 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups (500ml) full cream milk
1/2 cup (125ml) strong espresso coffee, cooled completely
Preheat the oven to 180C. Place six 150ml ramekins in a baking dish that allows enough space so they are all level.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl, add 1/3 cup sugar and whisk until the mixture is combined.
Combine vanilla, milk and cold coffee, and then slowly add while continuing to whisk. Strain the mixture through a sieve.
Place remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a small non-stick saucepan with 1/3 cup of water. Gently warm over medium-low heat, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 4-6 minutes until the syrup turns golden. (Be patient with this and don’t turn up the heat to rush it through. It can burn quite suddenly... as I found out.) Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.
Divide the syrup evenly among the ramekins. Allow to stand for 5 minutes to set, and then add the custard, dividing evenly between the ramekins.
Pour water into the baking dish until halfway up the side of the ramekins, taking care to not splash the water into the mixture. Place on the oven’s middle shelf and bake for 40-45 minutes or until each custard is almost set, but the centre is still a little wobbly.
Remove ramekins from baking dish and cool to room temperature. Cover and chill for 2 hours.
To serve, boil some water and pour back into the baking dish. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each custard and one at a time dip the bottom of each ramekin in hot water for 10 seconds to loosen, then turn out into individual plates. I find the best way to do this is to place the plate over the ramekin and then grip both and flip gently but quickly... good luck!
Not as sweet as creme caramel, this Italian version from Tobie Puttock, is dosed with espresso. Light, subtle, silky. An hour later, draped across the couch, there was even still room for chocolate.