December by Lia Leendertz

THE KITCHEN

Cheese of the month – Beauvale

Stilton is a winter cheese, and this is the same for Beauvale, a creamy, naturally spreadable Stilton made by traditional Stilton makers Cropwell Bishop in Nottinghamshire. The reason for the timing is the quality of the milk. In August and September the cows have been out all summer and their milk has settled into the perfect combination for blue-cheese making: low in fat but high in protein. (When the fat level is higher – for instance, at the end of winter when the cows have been indoors eating a richer diet – the butterfat restricts the good drainage of the curds that gives a nice smooth and creamy finish, and so the resulting cheese is dry and crumbly.) At the start of maturation, Beauvale likes a warm and humid atmosphere, and so a late-summer start also works perfectly to develop its best flavours. Beauvale needs to mature for 12 weeks, putting this best batch on the table – hopefully with a bottle of port and some crackers – just before Christmas.

In season

Cranberries, satsumas, clementines and pomegranates are arriving from southern Europe and the US ahead of Christmas. There are still plenty of home-grown apples and pears, and some quince.

Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, beetroot, leeks, parsnips, cauliflowerBrussels sprouts, kale, winter cabbage are still available, as are stored maincrop potatoes, borlotti beans and winter squash.

Nuts are plentiful: hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts and walnuts. The woody winter herbs – rosemary, sage and bay – are excellent now.

Black truffles are in season.

Ask specialist butchers for duck, goose, grouse, guinea fowl, partridge, pheasant, venison and wood pigeon. There is – fairly obviously – lots of turkey to be had.

Stilton and Stichelton are at their best.

Brill, sardine, skate, clams, mussels and oysters are plentiful.

THE GARDEN

Planting by the moon

  • New moon to 1st quarter: 26th November–4th. Sow crops that develop below ground. Dig the soil.
  • 1st quarter to full moon: 4th–12th. Sow crops that develop above ground. Plant seedlings and young plants.
  • Full moon to 3rd quarter: 12th–19th. Harvest crops for immediate eating. Harvest fruit.
  • 3rd quarter to new moon: 19th–26th. Prune. Harvest for storage. Fertilise and mulch the soil.
  • New moon to 1st quarter: 26th–31st. Sow crops that develop below ground. Dig the soil.

Job of the month – pack away for winter

Dahlia tubers need to be lifted, dried off, packed in dry compost or sawdust and stored somewhere frost-free for winter. Chrysanthemum plants should be pruned back, lifted, potted up and moved to a greenhouse or porch. Tender plants now need wrapping in horticultural fleece or bringing indoors, and containers should be given ‘pot feet’, little pieces of terracotta that lift them from the ground and allow winter rains to drain away.

Glut of the month – beetroot

Beetroot will stand quite happily on the plot all winter – just lift it as you need it. If you have grown colourful yellow and candy-striped varieties as well as the classic deep purple, you have some colourful plates ahead of you.

  • Candy-striped salad: Cioggia beetroot is beautiful finely sliced with a mandoline as part of a salad with walnuts, leaves and slices of a rosy apple. Dress the salad at the last minute or the pink rings will run.
  • Roast beetroot, carrot and onion: Cut chunks of beetroot and carrot, and quarter some onions. Roast in extra virgin  olive oil and a good splash of vinegar, at 190°c, Gas Mark 5, turning until all are soft and caramelised.
  • Beetroot broth: In Poland, this broth, known as Barszcz Wigilijny, is often the starter for the traditional supper held at Wigilia, eaten once the first star has been spotted. Soften a chopped onion in butter, then add garlic, carrot, celery and diced beetroot, vegetable stock and a splash of vinegar. Cook until all is tender, then season, strain and serve.
RECIPE

Borlotti and winter squash casserole with rosemary and cheese dumplings

This is warming, filling, herbal and comforting on a cold night. A Parmesan rind is good for adding rich, savoury flavour to slow-cooked vegetable dishes, so always keep them (they freeze well) when you reach the end of your cheese.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the casserole

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, diced

Half a butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 5cm chunks

5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 tins cannellini beans, drained (or about 440g cooked beans)

2 tins chopped plum tomatoes

700ml vegetable stock or water

3 bay leaves

A Parmesan rind

1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

100g cavolo nero, leaves stripped from stems and sliced into ribbons

Salt and pepper

For the dumplings

200g self-raising flour

100g grated mature Red Leicester or Cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

pepper

About 10 tablespoons water

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°c, Gas Mark 4. In a large casserole on the hob, heat the oil and gently fry the onions until they start to turn translucent. Add the butternut squash and the garlic, and fry for around 10 minutes or until the squash edges start to soften and caramelise. Add the beans, tomatoes, stock or water, bay leaves and Parmesan rind, and bring to the boil.

Leave the lid off the casserole and transfer it to the oven. After 50 minutes take it out of the oven and add vinegar, salt and pepper, then taste and add more if needed. Once you are happy with the flavour, mix in the cavolo nero and put the casserole back in the oven while you make the dumplings.

Put the flour, grated cheese, rosemary, salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl and add the water, stirring to combine, but being careful not to overwork. Add a little more water if necessary to bring everything together into a sticky dough.

Take the casserole out of the oven and put spoonfuls of the dumpling mixture onto the surface of the stew (try to make even numbers for everyone). Return the uncovered casserole to the oven for about 2025 minutes, or until the dumplings look well cooked and slightly golden on top. Serve hot.

 

Extract from The Almanac: A seasonal guide to 2019 by Lia Leendertz 

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