Unpacking my shopping basket, the kitchen table looks like a Dutch still life. There are late, locally grown tomatoes; the last of the gold and ruby plums; and long, pink-skinned onions.
The autumn raspberries are with us now and yet there are still some fat cucumbers, small beetroots and herbs from the garden.
For someone who buys as much of their food as possible from small independent shops and farm boxes, there couldn’t be a more satisfying time of year.
I can’t think of it as a sad event that such good things are coming to an end. (I must admit to packing boxes of damsons and blackcurrants in the freezer.) Other ingredients will be along soon. Nevertheless, there is a feeling that we should make the most of what is still here before it disappears.
I will be particularly sorry to see the outdoor tomatoes go. They have been plentiful this year, full flavoured and juicy. I can’t remember eating quite so many tomatoes before. There are a few stragglers left, but their swansong this week was a platter in all colours and sizes, grilled till they were scorched, and eaten with a chilled cucumber and beetroot raita.
And the plums sang their last song, too. They were baked until their juices ran, then eaten hot with a maple and ricotta cream.
Grilled tomatoes, cucumber raita
The contrast of sizzling tomatoes and ice-cold raita is particularly pleasing. I use iced water to mix with the yogurt but will often add a few ice cubes to the dish as I bring it to the table to ensure it is thoroughly chilled. Serves 4
For the raita
onions 2 small
groundnut oil 2 tbsp
curry leaves 12
natural yogurt 200ml
iced water 80ml
white-wine vinegar 3 tbsp
mint leaves 12
parsley leaves a handful
Peel the cucumber, lightly shaving off the dark green skin with a vegetable peeler, then slice it in half down its length. Using a teaspoon, scrape and discard the seedy core from each half. Coarsely grate the cucumber into a large sieve, sprinkle with a little salt and leave to drain over a bowl.
Switch the grill on. Cut the tomatoes in half and place them cut side up on a grill pan or baking sheet lined with foil. Lightly season with salt. Cook the tomatoes under the grill for 10 minutes or until their cut edges start to brown.
Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the onions. Warm the oil in a shallow pan, add the onions and fry over moderate heat till crisp and golden. Add the curry leaves and fry for a minute or so till they curl, then lift out them with a draining spoon and drain them on kitchen paper.
Put the yogurt in a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk in the iced water with a fork, cover and refrigerate. Peel the beetroot, then coarsely grate it into a small bowl. Sprinkle the white-wine vinegar over the beetroot and set it aside. Finely chop the mint and parsley leaves and add them to the beetroot.
Squeeze the moisture from the grated cucumber, fold into the yogurt with a fork, then add the beetroot, stirring briefly. (If you stir too much your raita will turn bright pink.) Tip into a serving bowl and add the fried onions and curry leaves.
Transfer the grilled tomatoes to a serving dish, then spoon over the juices from the grill pan. Serve with the cucumber and beetroot raita.
Cinnamon baked plums, ricotta maple cream
Baking is a gentler way to cook plums than in a pan on the hob. The fruit has less tendency to collapse when left to bake – and, better still, the skins toast lightly in the heat of the oven. I use no water, just fruit, sugar and spices, but add a few spoonfuls of liquid if you want more syrup. Water will do, but marsala or a medium-dry sherry would be good, too.
The ricotta maple cream needs only a brief stirring, so you get ribbons of maple syrup and cream running through the ricotta. If you stir too enthusiastically the mixture will seize.
caster sugar 40g
ground cinnamon 1 tsp
cinnamon stick half
bay leaves 3
For the ricotta cream:
double cream 150ml
maple syrup 3 tbsp
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Wipe the plums and put them in a baking dish or roasting tin in a single layer. Sprinkle the caster sugar and ground cinnamon over the plums then tuck in the cinnamon stick and the bay leaves. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the plums have started to split and a syrup has formed in the bottom of the dish. Remove the plums from the oven.
While the plums are baking, make the ricotta-maple cream. Pour the double cream into a chilled bowl and whisk until it starts to thicken. Stop when it will sit on soft folds, before it is stiff enough to stand in peaks.
Fold the ricotta into the cream with a fork carefully, making sure not to over-mix. A gentle stir with a fork is enough. Pour in the maple syrup and turn once or twice, so as to leave ribbons of syrup through the cream. Cover and chill in the fridge until the plums are ready.
Serve the baked plums while they’re warm, with a bowl of the ricotta-maple cream. Add a spoonful of the cream to the plums at the table, letting the cool cream melt into the warm, syrupy plum juices.
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