A Year of Flavour: A time to draw inward to the warmth of our home

In her monthly column, A Year of Flavour, KATE RYAN looks at what bounties are on offer as the year draws to a close - what to grow, cook, and eat, this time of year, November
A Year of Flavour: A time to draw inward to the warmth of our home

Purple Cauliflower: Picture: Kate Ryan

OUR food year draws to a close as winter arrives. November begins with Samhain, the ancient Celtic festival that celebrates harvest and welcomes in darker days. Long ago, when Celtic traditions held significance, Samhain marked the beginning – not the end – of a year. Just as all life begins in darkness - babies held in the protective darkness of the womb - so it was believed the year began when light was at its most scarce.

When, for many, life was dependent on what happened in the fields, November signified when all the work of a year was done. Crops and grain harvested, stored, and preserved; meat barrelled and salted; stores readied for the long winter ahead. A time for people to draw inward to the warmth and security of their homes.

There must be something of these traditions embedded in our DNA. From now, we all feel the need to draw in; cosy nights beside the fire, slow cooked food that blankets and comforts us from inside, to feel nestled and secure in our homes.

The actions of our ancestors are mirrored in nature, and the foragers’ year nears its end. Remnants of leaves and berries should be left for the birds.

Roots are the last vestige for the seasonal forager, as are nuts. Horseradish and dandelion roots; chestnuts and hazelnuts – cobnuts, too, if you know how to find them. That whatever is left to forage is either hidden underground, else protected by a hard shell, signifies all we need to know about the food season ahead: We hide and protect ourselves from winter as the wild foods hide and protect themselves also.

But as foraging ends, there is new life in my garden, and it comes in the form of garlic! Whereas, earlier this year, I planted for late summer garlic, this time I’m falling in with the typical planting regime to plant in November.

The bright green tips are already poking through; to be sure, when everything else is falling back to earth, the sight of the bright green shoots is a welcome sign that the cycle of life will begin again.

12 Hour Cider Braised Pork Cheek. Picture: Kate Ryan
12 Hour Cider Braised Pork Cheek. Picture: Kate Ryan

This month, my current obsession of cooking with cider continues unabated, and patient tenacity in sourcing pork cheeks was rewarded too. The result is a joyful dish of 12-hour Cider-Braised Pork Cheeks, Celeriac Puree and Gravy, which is zero effort if you own a slow-cooker. See recipe below.

At this time of year, when the range of fresh, local vegetables and fruits contracts, it’s important to think creatively about how to cook them to stave off any boredom. Make use of spices, and if you dried herbs this year, they add great depth of flavour to foods that cook slower and longer.

Embrace warming and sustaining spice in your food. The humble carrot is a fantastic carrier of other flavours – especially cumin and coriander. Give my Spiced Carrot Dip a go and see for yourself!

Let’s delve into what November foods are in store…

GROW IT YOURSELF

I’ve already waxed lyrical about the joyful site of the garlic doing its thing in the raised bed, but there are still tasty treats growing, so I must not get distracted by what is new and shiny! I’m incredibly proud of how well my Pak Choi is growing, drawing remarks on its ‘good venation.’. After quickly checking what that meant, I discovered it referred to the ‘veins’ of the plant leaves, indicating my Pak Choi are healthy indeed!

Celeriac is a champion winter vegetable. Whatever you do with it, its sweet, nutty, anise flavour delights.

Eat it raw, roasted, poached, or pureed and served with rich, slow cooked meats.

The Kohlrabi are too small still for harvesting, but putting in fantastic growth, forming little spheres that will swell and sweeten over time. They are hardy, so even when the weather takes a chillier turn, they will continue to thrive.

By the end of the month, I will have plucked the last scallions. Despite their near refusal to grow earlier in the year, when they eventually got going, they provided sweet, piquant, allium delight for nearly six months. I’ll be sad to see them finish – adieu...

Kale is really enjoying life in the raised bed. Rich in Iron, B and C vitamins, the ultimate nutrient booster veg and essential for keeping up good health during the winter.

The last of the beetroot has been pulled too, roasted, and used to make a Beetroot Risotto heady with the flavours of fennel and chilli.

For an extra umami boost, I used West Cork Garlic’s award-winning Black Garlic to compliment but not overpower the natural earthy sweetness of the beetroot.

Try my recipe below.

FORAGE FOR IT

I rarely go picking wild foods at all this time of year. Hawthorn berries and Sloes will be about the only things still abundant enough to pick; souse in alcohol and sugar to make festive liqueurs!

Although I’ve never foraged for them, Dandelion and Horseradish are the roots to locate this month.

A little horseradish goes a long way, so clean, peel, then grate the whole root, bag and pop it in the freezer. This preserves all the flavour while ensuring none of it is wasted.

Dandelion root is said to be a good caffeine-free alternative to coffee. Having never tried it, I can’t comment if this is the case, but they are ubiquitous so if you were minded to try there would be little harm done.

SHOP FOR IT

Carrots, Onions, Chicory, winter Cauliflower, Cabbages and – yes – Brussel Sprouts are all in season now too, and delicious!

If you’re giving my Spiced Carrot Dip a go, try eating it scooped onto green or red leaves of Chicory.

These slightly bitter leaves pair excellently with the intense sweetness and spiced flavours of slow roasted carrot.

But my heart belongs to onions! Irish onions are at their best now, and I can think of no better way to cook and eat them than as a slow cooked soup. Try my ‘soup-er’ simple Irish Onion Soup with Templegall Crouton, see recipe below.

12 Hour Cider Braised Pork Cheek. Picture: Kate Ryan
12 Hour Cider Braised Pork Cheek. Picture: Kate Ryan

COOK IT

12-hour Cider-Braised Pork Cheeks, Celeriac Puree and Gravy This is one for the slow cooker. Pork Cheeks are not easy to come by and best sourced from a craft butcher. Expect to wait up to a week for them to come in.

Ingredients (serves 4 people)

2 sticks of celery, trimmed, finely sliced

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 large / 2 medium carrots, peeled, finely diced

1 tsp each of dried sage and dried rosemary

Olive oil

2 pork cheeks, trimmed (your butcher will do this for you)

Fennel-salt (or sea salt)

250ml Longueville House Cider

Enough chicken stock to cover

1 celeriac bulb, peeled, cut into 2cm dice

Olive oil, butter

1 tbsp buttermilk

Sea salt and pepper

Method:

  • For Pork Cheeks and Gravy Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, add 2 tsp olive oil, celery, onion, garlic, carrot, dried herbs. Sauté for 5 – 10 minutes until everything has softened and begins to caramelise. Spoon into the slow cooker.
  • Season pig cheeks with fennel-salt (or sea salt) and ground black pepper. Place into slow cooker.
  • Pour over cider and stock, place on the lid, set to low, allow to cook for 12 hours.
  • When cooked, remove cheeks from slow cooker. Place all cooking liquid and vegetables into a blender and blitz until completely smooth. Pour into a saucepan, add a final splash of cider, check for seasoning, adjust, heat through before serving.

For the Celeriac Puree

Spiced Carrot Dip

Like with all good winter recipes, this is simple to make but needs time!

Ingredients

100g salted butter, room temperature

1.5 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp ground coriander

3 large carrots, cleaned, peeled, topped, and tailed

1 tbsp of crème fraiche

Black pepper

2 heads of green or red chicory

Method;

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  • Place butter into a bowl and add ground spices. Mix to combine – easiest using your fingers. Pat carrots dry, then paste spiced butter generously over each carrot.
  • Place a piece of parchment paper or foil onto a baking tray, lay the buttered carrots on, fold parchment to create a parcel so carrots will steam as they cook. Place in oven and cook until all the way tender.
  • When cooked, chop carrots into smaller pieces and place into a blender with the buttery cooking juices and blitz. Add crème fraiche a little at a time, continue to blitz until smooth.
  • Check for seasoning, add black pepper and more salt if needed. Spoon into a bowl and present with chicory leaves.

Beetroot Risotto . Picture: Kate Ryan
Beetroot Risotto . Picture: Kate Ryan

Beetroot Risotto

I love switching up the flavours for risotto, and the last of my garden beetroot was a perfect choice. Beetroot loves aniseed flavours, this recipe has three types: vermouth, fennel seeds and fennel herb.

Ingredients (serves 2)

4 – 6 beetroots, depending on size

1 medium sweet onion

2 cloves of black garlic

1 tsp fennel seeds

Pinch chilli flakes

1 cup of risotto rice

50ml white vermouth (you could also use ouzo or raki)

1 ltr vegetable stock

Method:

  • Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Place each beetroot onto a small piece of foil, drizzle a little rapeseed oil and sea salt, and wrap. Place onto a baking sheet, cook for 1.5 – 2 hours – maybe more, depending on size of beetroots.
  • When cooked, peel off skin with a spoon, top, tail, slice, and cube into 1cm pieces. Set aside.
  • Heat a frying or sauté pan over a medium-low heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add onion, black garlic, fennel seeds, chilli flakes and cook until onion is translucent.
  • Increase heat to medium, add rice and stir to coat. Add vermouth, allow to cook off. Begin adding stock a little at a time waiting until liquid has been fully absorbed by the rice before adding more. Stir constantly.
  • When half the stock has been added, add cooked beetroot. Continue to add stock and cook rice until tender.
  • Spoon risotto onto warmed plates. Crumble over Velvet Cloud’s Rockfield Sheep’s Cheese and add some freshly chopped dill.

Irish Onion Soup with Templegall Crouton

Time to get the slow cooker out again. This takes so little effort it’s laughable, but the result is one sweet and delicious soup - a celebration of Irish-grown onions!

Ingredients (serves 4 – 6 depending on portion size)

1 tbsp salted butter

3 Irish-grown Roscoff Onions, peeled, halved, thinly sliced

3 Irish-grown shallots, peeled, halved, thinly sliced

1 clove of Irish-grown garlic, sliced

1 tsp dried thyme 250ml

Longueville House Cider

Enough vegetable stock to cover

Salt, black pepper

Bread for croutons

Sliced Hegarty’s Templegall Cheese

Method:

  • Into the slow cooker, add butter, onions, shallots, and garlic. Sprinkle over dried thyme, add cider and stock, cover and place on high for 2 hours, then low for 6 hours.
  • Taste for seasoning. I find an extra pinch of salt lifts the flavour of the broth. Add a couple grinds of black pepper. Place lid back on, cook on low for a further 2 hours.
  • Make the crouton by toasting bread on one side under a grill until golden. Turn bread, top with cheese, place back under grill until melted and golden.
  • Serve up your Irish Onion Soup into a warmed bowl. Top with Templegall Crouton.

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