So Halloween is over and the countdown to Christmas begins. How does it come about so quickly?! When the weather starts getting colder, we all tend to go into hibernation mode and crave comfort food. Luckily, this is the season for comfort food. Root vegetables are at their best and there’s nothing better than roasted root vegetables on a cold evening, or when they’re blended into soup. And of course there is the the humble potato…
Nutritious, delicious and unbelievably versatile, the potato has become a staple in our diets. What would a roast dinner be without golden roast potatoes? Or a steak without chips? Or bangers without creamy mash?
Potatoes can be baked, boiled, mashed, steamed, fried, sautéed, roasted…anything you want. They can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. They are great in salads, in soups, casseroles, curries…the list goes on and on.
When sliced, they can be used to make potato dauphinois, probably one of my favourite ways to eat potatoes. I also like to mix white with sweet potatoes with my dauphinois. When its cold outside, sausage and mash is the perfect pick me up. I love to mash the potato with generous amounts of butter, sea salt and pepper, a good splash of double cream then stir a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard through.
Personally, I think that the best way to cook potatoes is to roast them. I was stunned a couple of years back when an American friend of mine, now living in London, told me that Americans don’t roast their potatoes. If they’re having a roast dinner, such as at Thanksgiving or Christmas, they have mashed potato. Madness! Having lived in London for years, she is of course very familiar with the roasted potato and taught her family how to make them when she went back to visit them. This makes me feel very sad. I can’t believe that a whole nation is missing out on roast potatoes!
My trick to make perfect roast potatoes every time is very simple. First I pop a baking tray in a hot oven (about 220°C) with a couple of tablespoons of goose or duck fat while I start preparing the potatoes. I tend to use Desirée potatoes. If I can’t get my hands on them, I’ll use Maris Piper. Simply peel and cut into even sized pieces. Par-boil for about 4 or 5 minutes. Drain, then sprinkle with a little flour and sea salt and give them a good shake with the lid on. This should fluff the edges up. Then place them into the hot tray, tilting it to make sure that each potato is completely coated with fat. Turn the oven temperature down to 180°C and roast the potatoes for about 45-50 minutes, keeping an eye on them and tossing them occasionally. They’re ready when they’re deliciously golden brown and crunchy on the outside, and pale and fluffy on the inside. What can be better than that?
Another favourite root vegetable of mine is the sweet potato which, as the name suggests, has a gorgeous sweet flavour, but also an incredibly light, smooth, creamy texture. There are two types, one with bright orange flesh, the other with pale cream flesh.
Sweet potatoes are among the most nutritious foods you can eat. They are rich in fibre, vitamins A, C and B6, and an excellent source of carbohydrates. The orange-fleshed variety are also rich in betacarotene. Like potatoes, they are incredibly versatile to cook…you can bake them, roast them, mash them, or add them to soup, risotto, pasta or curry. Personally, I love them roasted. Again, just peel them, cut into even chunks and place in the oven, this time with with a little olive oil. What you get are golden crunchy bites with the most beautiful sweet and soft centre.
Along with my sweet potatoes, I will always serve parsnips with a roast. I adore parsnips. Again, there is that hit of sweetness, but also a nutty earthiness.Parsnips are also pretty versatile. Great roasted, mashed or added to soups and curries. Lots of people will add some honey to them to make them even sweeter but I don’t think they need it, I think they’re perfect as they are. Just peel them, cut and remove the woody middle then par-boil for a couple of minute before popping them in the oven until they’re golden brown and crisp around the edges.
Parsnips have a unique growing season. Where other crops and vegetables thrive in the spring, the peak season for this hardy root vegetable is in the autumn and throughout winter. They can withstand freezing temperatures. In fact, parsnips taste better and sweeter when they are harvested after the first frost. They need the cold to convert the starch content into sugar.
And then there’s beetroot. With its earthy, rich and sweet flavour and vibrant colour, beetroot is beautiful with both sweet and savoury dishes. Too often associated with harsh-tasting vinegary pickles, beetroot is best raw, roasted or lightly cooked.
Beetroot can be easily pickled or made into borscht (an Eastern European style soup). Alternatively, you can use it to accompany other rich flavours such as duck or lamb. Its delicious served raw in salads but I think baking or roasting it develops beetroot’s true flavour. and really brings out the sweetness. It also works incredible well with chocolate. You can see a recipe for chocolate beetroot brownies here.
artichokes (globe and Jerusalem), beetroot, brussel sprouts, cabbages (various green varieties, red and white), carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, horseradish, kale, leeks, marrow, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes (maincrop), pumpkins (and squashes), rocket, salsify, spinach, spring onions, sweet potatoes, swede, turnips.
apples, butternut squash, chestnuts, clementine, cranberries, elderberries, fig, hazelnuts, juniper berries, mulberries, pears, quince.
MEAT & GAME
beef, duck, goose, grouse, guinea fowl, hare, mallard, mutton, partridge, pheasant, pork, rabbit, turkey, venison, wood pigeon.
FISH & SHELLFISH
clams, cod, crab, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, lobster, mackerel, mussels, oysters (native and rock), prawns, scallops, sea bass, sea bream, shrimp, sprats, squid.