Sunday, 1 November 2009


Now is the time to be eating pomegranates, a so-called superfood with a leathery skin and fragrant sweetsharp juice that has been used in Central Asian and Middle Eastern kitchens for centuries.

There are about 800 juicy seeds in an average fruit which is high in vitamin C, antioxidants and iron.

A generous sprinkling of the ruby-red pomegranate seeds adds a festive flavour to a whole range of dishes from starters to desserts. Try the fruit capsules with a warm duck breast salad or Shaun Hill, co-owner of the Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, Wales serves a winter salad with pomegranate, pine nuts and chicken livers.

As well as adding a fruity kick to muesli or hoummous, pomegranate seeds go well with other Middle Eastern ingredients such as honeyed almonds, dates, rose water and lemon juice. Crushed with ice they make a refreshing and good-looking base for a number of aperitifs - Jamie Oliver whizzes up a pomegranate and gin cocktail shot in his early tome Jamie’s Kitchen. For a seasonal toast, try floating fresh pomegranate seeds in champagne, sparkling cider or ginger ale


Leeks have been lurking for centuries in our regional dishes such as cock-a-leekie (made by simmering beef with a capon, leeks and prunes), Welsh mutton pie and Cornish leek pie.

Small and medium sized leeks are best for cooking as they tend to be sweeter and more tender than chunkier ones. To clean, remove the outer leaves, the tough green tops and stringy root. Cut along the length of the stalk, halfway through, and put into a bowl of water; swill around a bit so that any dirt will be washed out of the leafy layers.

Try shallow frying leeks with a pinch of thyme or tarragon, some shredded spinach, and grated carrots or beetroot. Lightly blanched leeks can be baked with ham in a cheesy sauce or added to salads and pair well with seafood.

The Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, voted best regional restaurant in Wales according to Hardens 2009 restaurant guide, serves poached leeks cold in a mustard dressing with shavings of parmesan and black truffle. Chef Shaun Hill recommends an unoaked Louis Jadot Nuits-St.-Georges pinot noir for its jammy farmyard flavours.

A simple leek and potato soup is a good match for a glass of rose. Eyes peeled then for ex-footballer and winemaker David Ginola’s soon-to-be released Coste Brulade, a rosé from his Provencal vineyard, which won a silver award at this year’s International Wine Challenge.

Quince upon a time

Forgotten member of the apple and pear family, the quince is an ancient fruit native to the warmer climes of southwest Asia.

Quince trees are now relatively rare in Britain but Norton Priory, in Cheshire, oversees the national collection, protecting more than 20 varieties.

Although the trees are aromatic, the fruit is bitter and hard when eaten raw. When cooked, however, quinces release a sweet, fragrant flavour. They also contain pectin, which make them ideal for jams and jellies.

Norton Priory hosts a quince festival this weekend with tours, tastings and recipe demonstrations ( Like Spanish membrillo, the jelly is best eaten with cold meats and Manchego cheese or used in fruit tarts with apples. Quinces poached with sugar and lemon juice are a good match for Greek yoghurt and honey or a soft goat’s cheese.

Bramley and Gage produce a quince liqueur (£11.64;, that won “best drink” in the Taste of the West awards last year. This home-grown version of a dessert wine has aromas of dates and figs and uses the pear-like “vranga” variety grown at Clay Barn Farm in Essex.


Gusty early November is the perfect time to go gathering nuts. Rule number one for nutty foragers is not to confuse edible chestnuts with conkers. A wild sweet chestnut is one third of the size of most conkers with a pointed end.

Chestnuts differ from other nuts in that they have a high starch and water content, but low protein and fat levels, so they can be dried and ground into a meal for breads, batters, cakes and stews.

The majority of chestnuts available in supermarkets are from Europe rather than Britain, so look for home-grown chestnuts at farmers’ markets.

If you don’t have a toasty open fire, remove the prickly green husks, make a small incision in the chestnuts (so they don’t explode) and “roast” them in a dry frying pan for about 10-15 minutes. Make that two minutes if you’ve got a George Foreman-style grill contraption.

Use fresh chestnuts in risotto, mash or stir fried with Brussels sprouts and pancetta. They work well roasted alongside game and root vegetables, as a stuffing for turkey and pork or to give a savoury-sweet autumnal stamp to a chocolate torte topped with spiced pears.

Core values - Britain's best cider

With the cider harvest in full swing, CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, is celebrating National Cider and Perry Month with farm-gate tastings and orchard events nationwide (

Unlike chilled and fizzy, artificially produced ciders, real cider and perry, which are produced naturally from apples or pears and are neither carbonated nor pasteurised, are becoming harder to find in pubs. As a result, CAMRA is introducing a new window sticker initiative to make it easier for punters to recognise a genuine cider bar.

Setting the standard is the winner of this year’s CAMRA National Cider Pub of the Year, the Orchard Inn in Bristol. The judges described it as like visiting a daily “mini cider festival”.

The runners up were the Arkwright Arms, in Derbyshire, Penrhyn Arms, in Gwynedd, and the Stand Up Inn, in West Sussex.

For a truly mellow tipple, or three, try Rosie’s Triple D Cider, from Llandegla, in Denbighshire, Seidr Dai Painted Lady Perry, made in Cardiff and Gwatkin Blakeney Red, from Abbey Dore, Herefordshire.

Tuck in to parsnips

Root vegetables are in season and parsnips are plentiful, relatively cheap and full of flavour. They also have a natural sweetness that combines well with beef when roasted together. Avoid huge ones that tend to have a woody core.

Abel and Cole’s golden parsnip and parmesan gratin feeds 4-6 people and makes a handsome supper served with cold ham.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6. Butter a gratin dish. Peel 500g parsnips and slice as thinly as possible into rounds. Boil for 5 minutes or steam for 5-10 minutes until soft. Layer roughly in the gratin dish.

Mix together 175ml double cream, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard and a good grating of nutmeg. Season well. Pour over the parsnips and press down so the liquid oozes through the vegetables. Dot the top with butter and cook in the oven for 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and cap generously with Parmesan. Return to oven for 10 minutes, until golden and bubbly.

Celeriac - roots and shoots

Celeriac is in season now and is one of those vegetables that bridge the gap between late summer and winter. The delicate nutty flavour of celeriac works well shredded raw in salads or cooked until soft and creamy in soups and casseroles or with mashed potato.

This seasonal soup combines the subtle flavour of celeriac with the freshness of pears.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan, add 4 shallots, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and finely chopped square-inch chunk of ginger and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened but not coloured.

Add about 800g celeriac, peeled and roughly chopped, 4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped and 1 litre of stock, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the celeriac has softened enough to mash easily.

Blend the soup until super smooth. A small knob of butter gives it a silky finish. Season and serve sprinkled with parsley.