I always think of September as a bit of a ‘new start’ – summer’s over and people return to work with a fresh focus for the last few months of the year. For those with families, it’s the start of a new school year and so a whole new calendar cycle. With this in mind, we’ll all be looking to our food for something to invigorate us – to fuel our brains and bodies with goodness.
September also marks the start of autumn, which just so happens to be one of my favourite months of the year for produce. For this Season’s Eatings post, I want to focus on the best ingredients this season has to offer that will boost your mood, fuel your brain and reinvigorate your body to kick-start the new season.
What’s in season right now?
The old adage that ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ may sound like an old wives’ tale, but in reality it’s not too far from the truth. Apples themselves are rich in antioxidants and mood-boosting flavonoids, while pears are high in fiber to support your digestive functioning. Plums – in my opinion, one of the edible jewels of the season – are rich in potassium, which helps keep all things blood- and heart-related healthy.
Delicious in crumbles, muffins, sweet pies, compotes, and cobblers – the list is endless. They’re rammed with vitamin C – just a cupful of raw blackberries contains 30.2 milligrams, which is half of your recommended daily intake. Whizz them up in a smoothie for a hit of goodness. There’s a growing body of research claiming that berries such as blackberries may be among the most potent cancer-fighting fruits. Blackberries are rich in cyanidin 3-glucoside, ellagic acid, lignans, and the flavonoid myricetin – substances that may have cancer-protective properties.
Heritage beets and their rainbow of yellow, purple and pink hues look beautiful on a dinner plate – just seeing them lifts my mood in an instant. Beetroot juice is packed full of nitrates, which help lower systolic blood pressure and help boost your stamina, while the vegetable itself is a unique source of betaine, an amino acid that helps protect cells, proteins and enzymes from environmental stress and has anti-inflammatory properties. It also aids the body’s natural detoxification process, helping to purify the blood and the liver. Don’t just use the root vegetable, though – beet greens are high in vitamins A and C and iron – in fact, they have more iron than spinach.
Purple sprouting & tenderstem broccoli
Almost all purple and blue produce (blue smarties don’t count!) can be called a superfood, as the dark pigments reflect high levels of antioxidants and nutrients. Purple-sprouting broccoli is no exception and has a wonderful bite to it. Tenderstem too contains more minerals than regular broccoli (which itself is already full of goodness!), particularly those linked to better bone health.
Late summer squash
Late summer squash like the pattypan squash are a seasonal highlight for me, with their flavour and texture somewhere in between the tender juiciness of summer squashes and the nutty, heavier textures of the winter ones. Squash as a family of food tend to be rich in potassium, manganese and potassium as well as vitamins E, B and B6. So, lots to tick off there.
Low in calories, lacking entirely in fat and high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals – it’s no wonder this leafy green has become something of a superfood and media sensation in recent years. For all its healthiness, it’s also delicious – a fact which is not always given the spotlight it deserves.
I like to think of cavolo nero as kale’s sophisticated older sibling. The Italian leaf is a close relative of the trendy superfood, but its leaves have a more complex, rich and slightly sweet flavour. As its dark colour indicates, it’s packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It just needs to see a hint of heat to wilt down and become tender, or you can whizz it up raw into a smoothie for maximum goodness.
You might associate corn-on-the-cob with summer barbecues, but its seasonality runs through to the early autumn. It’s rich in nutrients – particularly beta-carotene and lutein, which give it its colour and are linked with improved vision. So if you’re sick of eating carrots to help you see in the dark, try reaching for a husk of corn instead. It’s naturally gluten-free and can be ground into a wheat-alternative flour, whilst also being a good source of the phenolic flavonoid antioxidant, ferulic acid. Research studies suggest that this plays a vital role in preventing cancers, ageing, and inflammation.
Being high in fibre, eating figs keeps you feeling full and reduces hunger and cravings. They also contain prebiotics, which aid gut health and help improve digestion. They’re high in natural sugars, minerals (including potassium, calcium, iron and copper) and soluble fibre, and are a good source of vitamins A, E & K. Their nutritional value actually increases after being dried, so they’re excellent for preserving at home. But beware – figs contain high levels of oxalates – an effective laxative – so eat in moderation!
These glamorous-looking arrowheads of florets are often seen in baby-form on haute-cuisine plates alongside smears of puree and spoonfuls of foam, but they don’t need all that flourish to be beautiful. As a member of the brassica family, Romanesco is rich in Vitamins C and K, dietary fibre and carotenoids, and helps to strengthen your immune system and keep your skin healthy.
Also known as green beans, Bobby beans are an English garden staple this time of year. They’re rich in fiber as well as protein, so make a great substitute for anyone looking to cut back on their meat consumption.
If you know anyone with a vegetable patch, they’re probably dashing to show off their horde of gourdes right now, with courgettes the star of the show. Though you mostly see green ones in the supermarket, the sweeter, younger yellow ones are particularly delicious.
The danger involved in mushroom foraging might seem thrilling, but it’s wise to always go with someone who knows exactly what to look for, and – most importantly – what varieties not to touch. This time of year is prime season for fungi, with truffle season just around the corner too. Oyster mushrooms are perhaps the easiest to identify, and rich in iron.
It’s no secret that nuts are good for you, so keep your eyes peeled this time of year for fresh hazelnuts, cobnuts and walnuts growing on the tree. Fresh cobnuts have a greener, fresher ‘crunch’ to them than a dried nut, and like all nuts, are full of healthy fats.
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids – great for pregnant women, as they help encourage healthy brain growth and development – but also for your own brain health, thanks to their neuroprotective compounds. They contain the amino acid l-arginine, which helps lower cholesterol and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Their melatonin content can help you get a good night’s rest, while B7 helps strengthen hair, so they might just stop you from going bald!
Tomatoes – technically a fruit – are known for their richness in vitamin C, which helps boost your immune system and also reduce stress. As with heritage beets, the yellow varieties indicate an even higher antioxidant content than the others.
Here are the dishes I’ll be cooking this month, as a nod to everything in-season.
Quick suppers and elevated TV-dinners
Truffle-buttered wild mushrooms on brioche toast with poached Burford Brown eggs – Utterly comforting and equally good as a weekend brunch.
Tenderstem broccoli sautéed with olive oil, anchovy, garlic & chilli, on toasted poilâne – Alternatively, skip the bread and serve as a side with steak, pork or lamb.
Fig tartine, Crozier blue cheese, watercress, hazelnuts & London honey – As impressive as it is quick to throw together – this also makes the perfect dinner party starter.
Autumn tabbouleh of shaved Romanesque, blackberries & walnuts, packed with chopped flat leaf parsley & lemon zest, & crumbled with feta – Each mouthful a reminder that it wasn’t summer all that long ago!
Cavolo nero, chicory, bobby beans, tarragon & buttermilk dressing – If you get the chance to raid a friend or family member’s vegetable patch, this dish will show off your haul perfectly. Serve with grilled chicken or fish.
Raw heritage beetroot, apple & horseradish with cold roast beef & ham or smoked fish – Guaranteed to put you in a good mood instantly thanks to its combined deliciousness and nutritional content.
Sautée finely-chopped shallots and garlic in olive oil with soft bread crumbs and use to stuff baby summer squash, English courgettes and heritage tomatoes. Top with grated Parmesan, fresh marjoram and lemon zest and juice.
Bake until cooked through and crusty on top, let cool, and serve warm with lettuce and lovage salad.
Whole-roasted Romanesco cauliflower (Sicilian-style!) in a fruity tomato sauce with green olives, capers, anchovy and chilli. Serve sprinkled with a crunchy pangrattato.
Give an aromatic Sri Lankan daal an autumnal twist with wilted kale, garlic, chilli, ginger and toasted coconut.