Mellow fruitfulness: comforting recipes for autumn
Carmel Somers: Soupe au pistou, spiced green beans, and a moreish monkfish dish
Soup au Pistou. Photograph: Emma Jervis Soup au Pistou. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – Keats captured the mood of the beckoning autumn so eloquently.
I have always found September, with its farewell kiss to summer, a period of re-orienting day-to-day priorities. There is an element of loneliness wrapped in September’s embrace. I spend these weeks desperately trying to cling on to the bounty of summer, bracing the cold sea and cooking outside. It’s the month we start to move inside as the temperature drops, and for the cook it heralds the end of our major growing season for many vegetables and salads.
September is an adjustment month, when organisational skills for working parents with children at school and college need a shift in gears.
There are such great bargains to be had at our markets – now is the time to bulk buy and prepare to store the last of the summer harvest of onions, tomatoes, basil, beans and courgettes, before we lose these fresh beauties. I think of September as the start of soup and stew season, happiness in a bowl when you return home on a cold gust of wind in the evening.
These are the weeks when I eat as many greens as possible, fill my freezer and stock up my fridge with little jars of sunshine. I find comfort in this process as it helps ease me into those winter months with the gift of ready meals to hand.
SOUPE AU PISTOU
This is such a clever soup, a French classic, and can be adapted to suit any time of the year. So make a few batches of the sauce and store in jars sealed with oil for the months ahead.
For the soup
150g green beans
2 medium courgettes, diced
100g potatoes, washed and diced
150g spring onions or fresh onion
Salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, chopped
4 large leaves basil, chopped
100g orzo pasta
150g cooked haricot or flageolet beans
For the pistou sauce
Big bunch basil leaves
3 large cloves garlic
75g grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper
1 First, make the soup by putting all the vegetables, the basil and seasoning into a saucepan along with enough boiling water to cover them generously. Simmer for 30 minutes.
2 Add the pasta and the beans and cook until the pasta is just soft.
3 In the meantime make the pistou. In a blender, add the basil, garlic and Parmesan. Blend it for a minute and then add enough oil until you have a dropping consistency. Season with salt and pepper and allow to stand for 15 minutes for the flavour to develop.
4 The pistou can added into the soup just before serving or served separate for people to help themselves. Serve with some extra cheese on the side.
SPICED GREEN BEANS
There is always something refreshing about green beans, the ultimate clean-eating ingredient. Served with a bowl of rice, it makes an ideal supper dish as well as the perfect side for meat or fish.
700g green or fine beans, topped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
Small handful of curry leaves
1 medium red onion, chopped
1tsp dill/fennel seed
2tsp medium curry powder
1tsp chilli powder
2tbsp coconut oil
1tsp black mustard seeds
1 Mix together the beans, garlic, curry leaves and onion; then, in a separate bowl, mix all the spices – except the black mustard seed – with the salt.
2 Heat the coconut oil in a pan and add the black mustard seed and cook until you hear it pop.
3 Add the bean mixture and then the spice mixture, then stir-fry briefly.
4 Add just enough water to nearly cover the contents of the pan, bring to the boil and cook for 12-15 minutes until the water has evaporated.
5 Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
ARAB-ANDALUSIAN MONKFISH WITH SAFFRON AND HONEY
This recipe is adapted from one by the amazing food writer Diane Henry. You will find it’s still a treat without the addition of the pine nuts if you don’t have them to hand. The combination of cinnamon, spice and honey is a winner, creating depth and warmth. It has often featured on my menus over the years, especially at this time of year when onions are fresh and sweet from the ground. Make the sauce in a large quantity and freeze in batches, which is ideal for that quick fish supper.
3tbsp olive oil
2 large onion, finely sliced
½tsp ground cinnamon
¼tsp dried chilli flakes
175ml fish or shellfish stock
4tbsp runny honey
75g raisins, plumped up in hot water
700g monkfish tails
100g pine nuts, toasted
Bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
1 Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onions and cook on a medium heat until they soften and start to release their juices. Add the cinnamon and chilli flakes and cook for a couple more minutes. Pour on the stock and add the vinegar and honey. Drain the raisins and add to the mixture and mix well. Season, add in half the coriander. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes.
2 Heat another pan until nearly smoking. Season the fish and sear it on each side. Remove the fish and place on top of the onion mixture, spooning some of the juices over it. Cover the pan and cook on a very low heat for about eight minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. Scatter with the rest of the coriander and the pine nuts.