Autumn sees a bamboozling array of oddly shaped roots, gourds and marrows and we have the complete guide for what to do with all that knobbly veg.
Throughout the upcoming months, the autumn harvest will see the landscape change dramatically, as alien-like growths emerge from the muddy depths of British soil. Prepare to stand in unison with other shoppers as you contemplate unidentifiable vegetables lining the grocer’s shelves. From squat squashes and twisted turnips, to purple sweet potato and gnarled kohlrabi, the range on offer can be overwhelming.
Don’t be tempted to stick with your faithful friends the carrot and new potato, however. Relish the gastronomic opportunities and new beginnings being offered to you this autumn. The unusual and relatively unknown vegetables and fruits harvested in the coming months are versatile and nourishing, perfect for those hearty dishes we crave as the nights draw in.
To celebrate the season, we’ve delved into the world of weird and wonderful autumn edibles. Read on for a guide to identifying what’s what, plus a couple of inspirational musings. We were lucky enough to gain some great insight and cracking tips from top chefs on why autumn is the unBEETable season for colourful food.
A short guide to seasonal gourds, cucurbits and root vegetables
The term gourd refers to the hard-shelled fruit harvested and sold in abundance during autumn. A cucurbit refers to the family that includes courgettes, marrows and cucumber. Pumpkins, squash and cucumbers are all a part of the gourd family, and are treated more like vegetables than fruit in recipes. Winter gourds can be used for food or decoration – think Halloween pumpkins and hand-crafted gourd lamps. Food guides our interest here, however, so it will be the incredible edible varieties we are concerned with.
Arguably the best-known gourd due to the jack-o’-lantern tradition. The shell is bright orange and rock hard, the inside is full of nutritional seeds and firm flesh that can be cooked into a creamy, soft texture.
Butternut squash is the favoured edible cousin of the pumpkin. It has a light beige outer shell, and thick yellowy flesh. Once cooked, or roasted, it takes on a rich sweet taste and works well in spiced savoury dishes.
This overgrown monster of a courgette is the perfect vegetable for stuffing, and has a robust flavour. They take a little longer than courgettes to cook, but are well worth the baking time.
The sweet, earthy flavour of this bright and beautiful root vegetable makes it the season’s highlight (in my opinion). Bake it, roast it, pickle it, use it in salads, soups and tarts – this little round veg holds endless opportunity.
We spoke to several chefs across the country that welcome autumn with open arms and fill their kitchens with a plethora of these weird and wonderful root veg. For Hendrik Dutson at The White Horse in King’s Sutton, autumn produce ‘sums up Britain’ and its cooler weather. He notes that ‘our food style naturally leads us to make warming stews, broths and soups’ and that these dishes ‘lend themselves perfectly’ to the pub restaurant. He is proud of The White Horse kitchen, and the team’s knowledgeable use of ‘root vegetables, game meats and wild mushrooms’ in the dishes served.
At Jam Café in Nottingham, beetroot often takes centre stage on the ever-changing menu. Chef Matthew Scott labels autumn as his favourite time of year because ‘foraging is high along hedgerows’ and the ‘colour on the ground’. For Matthew, ‘it’s the peak time for comfort food and happy warm atmospheres’, and in recognition of this, he created a popular dish called Celebrate the Beetroot at the café this time last year. This autumn, the Jam Café continues to serve delicious, seasonal dishes such as beetroot tarte Tatin with roasted shallot and goat’s cheese, and a dish of whitebait bhaji, mango and creamy butternut squash purée with coriander.
For Giuseppe Esposito, head chef at Browns restaurant in Bath, autumn produces some of the best ingredients and dishes. His favourite vegetable is beetroot, as he loves its ‘depth of colour and the rich earthy sweet taste’. He went onto note that it’s ‘versatile and healthy, great roasted, hashed or pickled’. Giuseppe also shared a special recipe with us, passed down to him from his mother, which makes use of autumn’s crop of courgette.
1 pack of baby courgettes
200g of ditalini pasta
2 small shallots
3 tea spoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 handful of grated Parmesan cheese
- Dice the courgette and shallots, then shallow fry in the oil on a low heat until coloured.
- Cover with water, reduce until thickened sauce achieved.
- Boil the pasta, add a pinch of salt and cook till al dente. Drain and add to the sauce.
- Next, add the cheese and mix well.
- Serve with a crisp glass of white wine.
Keen for a few more recipe ideas? Check out our recipe ideas featuring autumn vegetables & fruits. Why not try out Michelle’s vegetable Moroccan stew for a great taste of the range autumn offers.
So pop to your local grocery store now, and bung a couple of pumpkins in your basket. Turn a vegetable that looks too gourd to eat into something truly delicious.