There is something so joyful about eating food at its very best. Damsons as the nights draw in, apricots when the nights are at their longest, watermelon on a searing hot day, squash at Halloween. It is about an ingredient at its peak, the apex of its flavour, but more than that it’s about a time, a place and the memories of summers, Christmases and days past that are wrapped up in every bite of food we eat.
The this country, the ebb and flow of the year is so apparent, the seasons come and go with force and how we eat changes dramatically. As a young chef, learning to cook with the seasons was truly the most miraculous discovery.
For me a year divided into four seasons feels too vague. Anyone who has stepped into a greengrocer on the winter side of spring and then again at the summer end will tell you that the two are very different. There are so many more subtleties to what’s growing than spring, summer, autumn and winter. It’s this rhythm, this relationship with nature, which I encourage you to foster. No June is the same, wild garlic will fill the hedgerows up at different times each year, the French apricots will arrive a few weeks later. The seasons are a useful tool but our eyes and taste buds should be our guide.
My new book “A Modern Cook’s Year” is written in six chapters, which roughly knit together two months at a time, but let your senses, and the fruits and vegetables you find at your market, lead you. As each year comes and goes I am led to cook dishes at slightly different times and find the very best day for an ingredient does vary. With this in mind I encourage you not to think too rigidly about the seasons and use the produce on your doorstep to make the food that you feel like eating. If that’s macaroni cheese in July, so be it.
As much as the ripeness and readiness of an ingredient, and how it is cooked are important, the feeling at a certain time of year can inform how I cook too. Right now its bowl of soup eaten with a spoon from a cushion balanced on a lap is homely, comforting and grounding like autumn. A morning bowl of baked apple porridge, a salad with the last tomatoes and some charred corn. Or this tart, packed with the last of the blackberries and warming bay.
Eating with the seasons naturally leads us to putting vegetables at the centre of our tables. This is how I eat every day and increasingly how many of us are eating. In the five years since I started writing my first book, the food landscape of how we eat has changed dramatically for the better. Vegetable- focused meals a few nights a week have become the norm for many and for that I am deeply grateful. We have damaged this planet, there have been decades of misuse and eating mostly vegetables, and shopping and eating in season and locally, are huge personal steps we can take in a better direction.
BEST OF AUTUMN
- Pumpkins and squashes
- Cavolo nero
- Borlotti beans
- Crab apples
Blackberry, bay and honey tart
FOR THE PASTRY
- 200g light spell flour, plus extra for dusting
- A pinch of flaky sea salt
- 50g ground almonds
- 2 teaspoons runny honey
- 125g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 large organic egg yolk, beaten
- 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
- 6 tablespoons runny honey
- 3 medium organic eggs
- 150g ground almonds
- 3 tablespoons plain flour (I use white spell)
- The zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- The zest of 1 unwaxed clementine
- The seeds from 1 vanilla pod
- 350g blackberries
- 4-6 bay leaves
- 4 heaped tablespoons Greek yoghurt
- 1 unwaxed lime
- A squeeze of runny honey
- Here an easy almond and spelt pastry hugs honey-sweetened almond frangipane, a generous layer of quick blackberry compote and a scattering of blackberries. If your blackberries are particularly tart you can toss them in a little sugar or honey to sweeten. The bay here is subtle and unlike when it cooks in stews it imparts a gentle flavour so you can be quite bold with the amount of leaves you use. Damsons would work really well here too.
- You can make your pastry by hand or in a food processor. Put the flour, salt, almonds and honey into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg and gently work everything together using your hands until you have a ball of dough. Remember not to work the pastry too much at this stage or it will be chewy. Wrap the dough in cling film and pop it into the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
- Butter a 22cm non-stick loose-bottomed tart tin. On a lightly floured surface roll out your pastry, turning it every so often, until it's about 1hcm thick. Carefully roll your pastry around the rolling pin, then unroll it carefully over the tin. Ease the pastry into the tin, making sure you push it into all the sides. Trim off any excess, then prick the base of the pastry case all over with a fork and pop it into the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Get yourself a large square piece of greaseproof paper, scrunch it up, then unwrap it and use it to line your pastry case. Fill the case right up to the top with uncooked rice or ceramic baking beans, and bake blind for 10
- minutes in the hot oven. Take the case out, carefully remove the rice and greaseproof paper (you can save the rice to use for blind baking another time), then return the case to the oven to cook for a further 5-10 minutes, until it's firm and almost biscuit-like. Leave to cool.
- While the pastry case is cooling, make your frangipane. Mix the butter and honey until soft, then add the eggs one by one and stir well. Mix in the almonds, flour, citrus zests and vanilla and mix until you have a smooth thick paste.
- Puree half the blackberries with a stick blender and pour over the cooled tart base, then top with the frangipane. Scatter over the remaining blackberries and push them into the frangipane a little, then lay the bay leaves on top and push these in too. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the frangipane is set and golden brown. If the edges of the pastry or the top of the tart look as if they are browning too fast you can cover them with foil.
- Mix the yoghurt with the zest of the lime, a little of its juice and the honey and keep in the fridge until needed.
- Allow the baked tart to cool before taking it out of the tin and removing the bay leaves. Serve just warm in generous slices, with spoonfuls of the lime yoghurt.
CHECK BACK HERE FROM MONDAY 9 OCTOBER WHEN WE’LL BE REVEALING A RECIPE FROM ANNA’S NEW BOOK EVERY DAY AT 4PM.