Flavours of October

Autumn is well and truly underway and the excitement grows at the prospect of all the wonderful vegetables coming our way. I always think it is a time to move on from salads and embrace the flavours, textures and aromas of the vegetables we all love.

Many of the chefs I know can’t wait to get their hands on the classic pumpkin. The Muscade de Provence has a superb flavour and it is incredibly versatile. It looks at first glance like a huge wheel of cheese and you see it sold in French markets in great wedges. It doesn’t have the orange skin we have come to expect and is a kind of earthy green colour. It is amazing in soups and will also keep well. Great for baking, too. It’s worth pointing out that pumpkin really is a healthy option on your menus, with masses of beta carotene, an important antioxidant which is converted by the body into vitamin A and helps protect against cancer, heart disease and ageing. It is also low in calories, high in fibre and even the seeds are good for you – they are rich in protein, iron and B vitamins.

The crosne continues the ‘unusual looking’ theme. Sometimes called the knot root or Chinese artichoke, crosnes look like small caterpillar grubs, but don’t be put off! They have a wonderfully crunchy texture and earthy flavour, similar to a Jerusalem artichoke in taste. This gives way to a nutty sweetness and juiciness. They can be eaten raw, or boiled, baked or steamed. In a similar vein is the oca de Perou. Sometimes called the New Zealand yam, it comes in a range of colours, including yellow, orange, pink, apricot, and the traditional red. They can be eaten raw with just salt, lemon, and hot pepper. The flavour is slightly tangy with a texture ranging from crunchy (like a carrot) when raw, to starchy or mealy when fully cooked. Futhermore, English jeruslem artichokes will also be appearing this month.

Another versatile colourful vegetable is the purple kohlrabi. It has a squat bulb and antennae-like shoots – like it’s arrived from another planet. Its flavour truly is out of this world though. The mild, sweet flavour is somewhere between a turnip and a water chestnut, with a crisp, crunchy texture. Usually, you see the pale green variety, but the purple ones are less common and are definitely worth trying. They can be eaten raw, roasted, steamed or made into soup. Try them as a fritter, you might be pleasantly surprised!

There has been huge growth in the varieties of organic squashes from local growers – each type has a different twist: Harlequin, spaghetti, table star, orange kabocha, crown prince, blue ballet, pattison strie, sunburst, casperita, gem, delicata, sweet dumpling, sweet lightning, blaze – the list is almost endless! If I had to choose a favourite it would be the spaghetti. It makes an excellent side dish and is a great healthy substitute in both Asian and Italian thin noodle recipes.

The aroma of autumn black truffles as they are being unpacked is unbeatable. There is genuine excitement at the prospect of one of nature’s miracles arriving. Towards the end of the month, the first fresh chestnuts and cranberries will begin to appear and there are also lots of amazing plums, figs, kiwis and muscat grapes to keep an eye out for.

UK onions will be here – and it pays to go for these over the large, easy-to-prepare but flavourless Spanish option. English onions have far less water content – and they really are full of flavour. The choice is yours but I recommend you give the local onion a chance!

You will also have a superb choice of baby potatoes – ratte, belle de fontenay, vitelotte and grenaille all from France, plus heritage pink fir apple and Scottish anya from the UK.

Enjoy the fruits of October.