Flavours of October
Autumn is coming around again, and there is lots of new produce this month. Pumpkins are the classic autumnal choice as they abound at this time of year. The French Musque de Provence pumpkin seems to have become the chefs’ favourite over the last few years. It has a great flavour and less water content than the traditional Halloween pumpkins previously used. The pumpkin is in fact a berry; it belongs to the same family as cucumbers, squashes and melons. They are an extremely healthy option, 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. They are also low in calories, high in fibre and even the seeds are very good for you – they are rich in protein, iron and B vitamins. All in all, you will be looking after your customers by having pumpkin on your menu.
There has been a big growth in the varieties of 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 – the list is almost endless! Squashes will be available alongside mixed gourds and wee-be-little and munchkin pumpkins. All are around a £1 per kilo, meaning they’re good from a gross profit point of view too.
October is all about roots and tubers. Jerusalem artichoke started last month, and is now joined by the Chinese artichoke tuber or the crosnes if you prefer. These small tubers have a delicious nutty flavour and a little crunch. Their price will come down as we get further into the season.
Parsley root will now be at its best – serve it in soups and stews, stir fries or grated in salads – it tastes similar to a carrot but has a stronger flavour. Before 1920, the parsley root was used widely across Europe, but died away as production methods were unsustainable. It is now firmly back on every chef’s most-wanted list.
Chervil root is another root making a comeback. The edible root looks like a dark grey carrot with yellowish-white flesh and can be boiled, fried or mashed. Another favourite of mine is salsify, which becomes available from October. Believe it or not, it belongs to the sunflower family – as does the Jerusalem artichoke. Skirret is also back on the menu – it can be stewed, baked, roasted, fried in batter as a fritter, creamed or grated and used raw in salads.
Nasturtium root or mashua has a reputation for its strong flavour – and as an anaphrodisiac. Roasted mashua tubers are considered a delicacy, and the raw tubers can be shredded thinly and added to salads to add a spicy flavour and crunchy texture.
We will still have wonderful cobnuts but make sure you make the most of them now as they’re coming to the end of their season.
From Italy we will have some brilliant puntarella, which is used in a traditional Roman salad. This is prepared by stripping leaves and soaking the shoots in cold water until they curl. The pleasantly bitter salad is served with a dressing of anchovy, garlic, vinegar, and salt pounded together and emulsified with olive oil. The fantastic cime di rape, a very popular vegetable in the south of Italy, is about in October, and I just love this vegetable – it smells amazing and the flavour is outstanding.
It would be remiss to forget the leafy lemons from Sicily – they are full of flavour, have juice in abundance and the leaf is not just decorative – when rubbed it gives off the most amazing smell and oil.
We will be getting some great pears now with comice, william and conference being the main choices. With any type of fruit, I believe that it should be picked when it’s almost ready to eat and the flavour and juice are just bursting out. For me, the best choice here is the comice.
The aroma of autumn black truffles as they are being unpacked is unbeatable. It fills the air as October continues, and is a sure sign that autumn is well under way. Another clear sign is the first fresh chestnuts and cranberries, which will appear towards the end of the month. There are still lots of amazing plums, figs, kiwis and muscat grapes.
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 – they feel like iron and make your eyes water. The choice is yours but I recommend you give the local onion a chance!
You will also have a great choice of baby potatoes – ratte, belle de fontenay, vitelotte and grenaille all from France and heritage royal kidney and Scottish anya from the UK.