The seasons change so quickly and I sit here asking myself can the world please stop, I want to get off. October has come and gone and we're already in the last week of the month. I'm wearing boots again; a sure fire sign that it is colder and wetter than it has been for a number of months. Although I am being stubborn and still wearing a light coat, not a full winter coat just yet. It hasn't quite been cold enough for that.
I had an interesting learning session with some children from a local school yesterday morning which got me thinking: why do so many people think that autumnal and winter food is bland and boring? I started off by asking them what vegetables they like to eat and got the usual answers such as carrots, broccoli, potatoes and pumpkin. I then asked them when they think of autumn, what food do they think of? Again pretty standard answers like pie, soup and stews. What colours do they associate with autumn and winter? Brown, orange, grey and so on. So pretty boring, not too interesting and pretty much the answers you would expect from middle school kids. Little did they know their understanding of autumnal food was about to change...
I pulled out kohlrabi, celeriac, purple and orange cauliflowers, romanesco, heritage carrots, raddichio, endives, yellow marrows, rainbow kale and just about every colour in the rainbow too. This was a whole new world to them. A discovery of colour, taste and texture. "Do purple carrots taste different to the orange kind?" "Is that really a cauliflower?" "That looks like an alien, can you eat that?" They had so much fun handling the veg, tasting it and I was inundated with questions from children and teachers alike about where they could buy these cool, weird and funky veg. I was so pleased that they took the lesson on board and got excited about their food and what a variety their really is.
I realise more and more just how lucky I am to have been exposed to so many different foods and flavours in my life and also the array of produce I have had access to. With the rise of farmers markets in the greater London area, veg box schemes, city "farms" and "pick your own" I can only hope that more children and more adults are seeing the beauty that we can get in Britain from our own producers. All Hale Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for their Wonky Veg adventures and war on waste!
So how do I incorporate all this lovely veg into my autumn menu I hear you ask? Well look no further because here is the recipe:
Autumn Vegetable Canneloni
2 medium sized organic free range or free range eggs
1 cup of whole or semi skimmed milk
1 cup of plain English flour
pinch of salt
500 gr fresh organic or free range mince (look for the RSPCA or Red Tractor logos)
1 medium red onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 heritage carrots or regular, scrubbed and grated
3 fresh tomatoes of your choice, I used a selection of heritage tomatoes, roughly chopped
150 gr mixed mushrooms, forest and field, cleaned and roughly chopped (I used trompettes de la mort, button and portobello)
2 tsp dried, mixed herbs
1 tsp La Chinata Spanish Paprika
3 Tbsp tomato puree
2 Beef stock pots
250 ml water
300 ml double cream
100 gr plain soft cheese
100 gr grated cheddar
100 gr grated parmesan
1 Tbsp Greek yoghurt
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
Ground black pepper
Finely chopped and deseeded red chilli
Cracked black pepper
Cavalo Nero (Black Kale)
1 tsp caraway seeds
Red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius, 180 degrees Celsius fan assisted, gas mark 6 or 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sift the flour and salt together. Beat in the eggs and milk until the batter is smooth and the consistency of double cream. Heat a non stick pan on the stove over a medium heat. Pour the batter in to make a thin, even layer in the pan. Once all the bubbles have popped flip the pancake over to gently cook the other side. Repeat this until your mixture is finished and you should have 7-9 lovely thin, golden pancakes. If necessary reduce the heat under the pan if the pancakes are cooking too quickly. Set these aside to cool.
In a large pan on a medium heat heat some olive oil and butter and gently sweat your onions and garlic until they are translucent. Add the beef mince and cook until it is brown and is gently caramelised. Add the tomato puree, mixed herbs and paprika. Stir until it is all evening distributed through the mince. Add the grated carrot, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes. Cook like this for 5 minutes on a medium to low heat. Add the stock pots and water, cover with a lid and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Beat all the ingredients for your topping together.
To assemble; grease an oven proof dish. Lay a pancake flat, place 1 heaped spoon of the mince mixture length ways down the centre of the pancake and then roll it up. Lay flat in the baking dish. Repeat until you have used all your pancakes and you have an even layer of pancakes or if using a smaller dish 2 layers of pancakes on top of each other. Don't worry if you have mince leaking out the ends, this mixes with the topping and creates lovely crunchy bits on the sides. Pour or spread the topping over the pancakes and even out so that all the pancakes are covered. Place in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling.
For the sides; trim the romanesco, wash, break it up into florrets and steam in a pot on the stove for no more than 5 minutes. The colour needs to hold and it should still have a crunch. Melt some butter in a pan sprinkle the chilli in and let it bubble. Flash the romanesco in the pan until it is coated in the lovely chilli butter, add some salt and pepper to taste. Wash the cavalo nero, trim the hard stems from the bottom. Then roll the leaves up and slice into approximately 1 cm pieces. Add some olive oil to a pot on a medium heat and add the caraway seeds and black pepper. Add the cavolo nero and let it wilt in the oil and caraway mix. Add a splash of red wine vinegar to get some flavours going and it is ready to serve.
You can serve either a whole pancake per person or cuts into squares and serve so that you can see the lovely layers of the pancakes, the mince and the cheese. The bright greens on the side add to the colour and the texture and all in all a warming, hearty and colour filled meal. We drank this with a Warwick First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon. A unpretentious, smooth and rich red from Stellenbosch, South Africa. It has the right amount of fruit, good body and worked really well with the flavours of autumn. This wine is available from Sainsbury's and I could drink it by the boat load.
As always if you try and test the recipes please do let me know what you think, I'd love to hear from you.
Bon Appetit my lovelies!