Seasonal Crossfire

September is here. There is a crispness to the morning air that reminds me of going back to school, falling leaves and blackberry picking, even here is Antibes where it gets up to 25 degrees by 10am (all right, I’ll stop rubbing it in…). For any cook this time of year is an exciting time as, weather permitting, there is a wonderful overlap between the lushness of summer and the settling of autumn. This is seasonality from a slightly different angle and for the inventive cook it presents an interesting challenge. Beginnings and endings overlay one another all the time in the garden, but a good September is often especially rich in such tasty coincidences. Of course it is almost completely at the mercy of the weather, however with some careful garden management it is entirely possible to grow raspberries all the way into November. Good husbandry, and the use of a poly-tunnel or green house, can ensure harvests of pea shoots in March, courgettes in early June and salad leaves all through the winter months. Seasonality that is stretched with a little organic coaxing is quite different from air freighting strawberries in December and tomatoes in January.

So its time to have a look at some of the ingredients that may very well get caught up in the seasonal crossfire and end up in a shotgun wedding of culinary heaven.

Nettle and Celeriac Soup

Its not just in the garden that some clever seasonal overlap can be taken advantage of. Nettles are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and make an excellent base for soup that is lifted to a new height by the addition of sweet, nutty celeriac.

Stock: Bones from last nights roast chicken, celeriac peelings, celery, carrot, onion, bay leaf or two, 10 black pepper corns, salt. Cover with water and simmer until reduced by half.

Soup: Celeriac, nettle tops (picked from above waist height and away from main roads), stock, onion, garlic, butter, fennel seeds, salt, pepper, croutons.

Fry the onion and garlic in the butter and add a few fennel seeds, cooking til the onions are soft and sweet and the fennel seeds pop. Chop the celeriac into small cubes and boil in the stock until soft. Add the nettles at the last minute, rinsed and roughly chopped. Nettles are just like spinach in that a whole dustbin full will yield like, a fork-full of cooked results so be generous. Stick the zizzer in the pan and blend or put it in a blender bit by bit until the result it a thick, smooth soup. Thin out with a little more stock if the soup is too thick, or add some cream if you aren’t too concerned about your waistline. Serve with thick crusty bread and croutons (yes you can have both).

Duck with a Summer Berry and Port Sauce

Duck hunting starts inland on the 1st of September in the UK and friends of mine have already been posting pics of unlucky ducks and asking for advice on recipes. Duck and fruit are a common mix and the sweet yet tart raspberry, deeply flavoured black currant and the tender blackberry create a heady, fragrant mix.

Duck breasts (skin on), handfull of raspberries, black currants and blackberries (freshly foraged if you can), port, redcurrant jelly (homemade of course), cornflour.

For the sauce, bring 200ml of port to the boil then simmer until reduced by half. Add a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly and allow to melt into the sauce. Whisk a little knob of butter in and add the cornflour (blended with a little water to make a paste), mixing until light and glossy. Add the berries and cook for another couple minutes so that they soften and the sauce has thickened slightly.

Lightly score the skin of the duck and salt then set aside for half an hour. Coat the duck breasts in oil and place in a large frying pan over a high heat skin-side down. Fry for two minutes, then turn over and fry for a further two minutes. Transfer the duck to a roasting tin and bake for ten minutes, the middle should still be pink. Set aside for a further ten minutes to rest. Serve drizzled in the sauce with potatoes and parsnips roasted in duck fat.

A few other excellent combinations are artichoke hearts and wild autumnal mushrooms, apple and raspberry crumble, late summer plums and goose, courgette and lemon, hazelnuts and raspberries, squash and fennel bulb. Have a play and see what you can come up with.