I think we can say that winter has officially arrived. At this time of year I must admit I usually start to stray from my good intentions to 'eat local' and find myself in supermarkets buying all sorts of imported ingredients. With the cold weather and dark evenings come the daily cravings for comfort food and it takes a little more effort to not reach for the canned soup / ready meals / takeaway menu (delete as appropriate). Not this year. My foodie reference books, Seasonal Food by Paul Waddington and The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, are keeping me on the straight and narrow. With their help, I'm starting my November with a notebook full of seasonal ingredients and high hopes for creating some comforting recipes to see me through winter.
One of my favourite arrivals at this time of year is the British chestnut. For me it marks the start of the run up to Christmas and cosy nights in with glasses of mulled wine. The sweetness of roasted chestnuts always surprises me - best enjoyed warm after roasting in their shells in a hot oven for 15 minutes - as does their versatility. I'm planning to serve roasted chestnuts with Brussels sprouts and bacon, add them chopped with chilli flakes to a winter salad, and attempt a chestnut stuffing to accompany a Sunday roast. They're a great addition to braised red cabbage, too.
Another simple winter treat, but packed full of flavour, is the seasonal squash. Butternut squash is a popular, heartwarming vegetable for roasting or making soup and there are many more varieties of squash to experiment with. Keep an eye out for winter squash varieties such as the spaghetti squash; serve the pale yellow stringy flesh roasted with a robust tomato sauce or a spicy winter salad for a quick and impressive winter supper.
People often forget about fish and seafood dishes as winter approaches, favouring warming combinations of rich meats, seasonal root vegetables, and indulgent jellies and sauces, but buttery broths of juicy mussels can be a real treat on a cold day. I always used to associate mussels with the summer, probably after enjoying them on many sunny holidays with chilled white wine and a big bowl of frites, but the British mussel is actually best enjoyed in autumn and winter. In his November chapter of Seasonal Food, Waddington advises us to snap up mussels this month when they are at their fattest and best, to cook them simply, and serve with a local beer and some hot chips.
However, we shouldn't forget to rely on traditional casseroles and stews to satisfy winter cravings for warmth and nourishment. Easy to make and great with seasonal game such as pheasant and venison, slow cooking a big pot of casserole with lots of red wine, meat, root vegetables and seasoning can be a very therapeutic way to spend a dull and dreary afternoon. This month I'm experimenting with wild rabbit casserole, using a whole rabbit and some good advice from the chaps at the Wild Meat Company who I met at the Aldeburgh Food Festival a few weeks ago.
A final tip for your November shopping list from Mr Waddington is to seek out some quinces and I've managed to stumble upon some local quinces for sale at Radmore Farm Shop on Chesterton Road. This relative of the apple is not one for eating raw but has a very delicate and intoxicating aroma and can be added to apple pies, sweetened and baked or poached to serve as a luxurious dessert, or made into a preserve to serve alongside a cheese board. Recipes to follow!
What will you be eating this month?...
You can read my post about October's seasonal food here.