Autumn is probably my favourite time of the year. Don’t get me wrong, the summer is dreamy, but with its crisp morning air, beautiful warmth in the daytime and a cosy chill at night, this time of year has a certain kind of magic. I always look forward to the structure autumn brings and the exciting sense of new adventures. Perhaps because my birthday falls right at the start of the season, along with the new school year, the idea of it being a time of fresh beginnings is deeply ingrained in me. Autumn really is a thriving time . . . and I haven’t even got started on the trees!
It’s also a great moment for a little spruce-up in the kitchen. Now’s the time to move slowly away from raw salads and to say hello to our ovens more frequently, and to new produce in the markets. Although I get a little sad about saying goodbye to plush summer tomatoes, the excitement about getting my hands on autumnal favourites quickly overrides it. I fantasize about picking blackberries on long meandering walks, eating the majority of them en route while admiring the new colours on the trees. The versatility of autumnal produce is a real highlight. There is an abundance of recipes you can make with just a pumpkin, for example (and no need to chuck away the seeds).
On the subject of pumpkin, I haven’t given it enough credit in this post yet and it most certainly deserves it. Pumpkins come in many shapes and sizes and, depending on the climate and your whereabouts in the world, a broad variety. They tend to be known more commonly as squash, with only the larger ones being referred to as pumpkins. Spaghetti, acorn, sweet dumpling, butternut, delicata, ambercup, sugar, golden nugget (my all-time favourite name) and green Hubbard (a close second)…it’s no wonder they’re associated with Halloween. My love affair with them goes way back. What glee when my dad would tell us he was roasting one to turn into soup, made simply with fresh earthy herbs and a generous swirl of yoghurt for good measure, along with some fresh crusty bread. They are also perfect for creating a simple purée (boil them in just enough water to submerge them with a pinch of salt for about twelve minutes, until soft and tender, then blitz until smooth) a thick béchamel, and of course offer endless baking possibilities, including the heavenly creamy pumpkin pie. Here are three of my favourite ways to make the most of pumpkin before the season is out.
There are many dishes I could eat more than once a week and dal is very high on the list. I like to make it in big batches and serve it with different things each time I have it. This dal is particularly special, made in the way I’d jotted down after spending time with a local Sri Lankan family, with half of the pumpkin blended to make it even creamier. I love using yellow split peas, mostly for their texture, and they really enhance the dish, adding a bit more bite and an almost nutty taste.
At weekend meals with family over, this one has always gone down a treat. I tried it in a few different ways before settling on this recipe. Black rice is great for jazzing up a dish and adding a sweet and earthy aroma. Once prepped, you can simply wait for it to cook in the oven. The flavours and juices from the pumpkin seep into the mix, making it feel very luxurious and tasty.
I made this dessert for one of my first major catering jobs, served in tall glass ramekins I’d bought especially for the event and prepared really carefully. I’d seen something similar when roaming around the internet, and recreating it at this time of the year seemed like a must. It’s not too sweet but can be quite rich, so you don’t need a lot of it, which is why it’s a perfect sweet at any time of the day – dessert doesn’t just have to be at dinner!
From the book
Sophie’s celebration of seasonal, zero-waste plant-based cooking, The Whole Vegetable, is out now.