Summer has slowly slipped away like honey falling from a spoon.
I hold on as long as I dare, ignoring the first turning leaves. I refuse to buy pumpkins, even butternut squash, until I smell the first bonfire. There is still some warmth left in the sun.
Early autumn always brings with it boxes of late plums and raspberries and the very best of the tomatoes and peppers. Sweetcorn will also have benefited hugely from the long, sunny days. I like to temper the sweetcorn’s sugar hit by tossing the golden kernels with the last of the climbing beans and the sourness of pomegranate molasses.
There are also some fat bunches of basil around at a reasonable price. For pesto, of course, but I use the peppery, clove-scented leaves whole, too, tucked into salads of thickly sliced tomatoes and silver anchovies. This week I fancied them in a tart of roast peppers and milk-white ricotta, probably the last lunch we will eat outside, save for the odd plate of bread and cheese while I’m taking a besom to the fallen leaves.
Our homegrown soft fruits are gently winding down for the year, but you can still find a decent plum to bake under a crumble crust. I grill them, too, sprinkled with sugar or honey, scooping up every last drop of their juice.
But we should hurry – the apples, nuts and pumpkins are here already.
Ricotta, pepper and basil tart
It is a bit of a faff to line the pastry case with baking beans and prebake it before adding the filling, but it does ensure a perfectly crisp base. It is worth your time. Putting a spare baking sheet in the oven on which to bake the tart tin will help, too. Serves 6
red peppers 5, medium to large
puff pastry 320g (1 sheet)
garlic 1 large clove
basil leaves 50g, plus 12g to serve
parsley leaves 20g
eggs 2, lightly beaten
plain flour 2 heaped tbsp
You will need a baking tin (or swiss roll tin) measuring 20cm x 30cm.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Put the peppers in a roasting tin, leaving a little space between them, then roast for a good 45 minutes until they are blackened and have started to collapse. Remove the tin from the oven, cover and leave the peppers to soften in their own steam. This will make removing their skins easier.
Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured board and line the base and sides of the prepared tin. Trim where necessary. Place a layer of baking parchment on top of the pastry and fill it with baking beans, then chill for 20 minutes.
Place a baking sheet in the oven and turn the heat up to 220C/gas mark 7. Place the pastry case in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes until the edges are dry and lightly crisp. Carefully remove the beans and paper. Lower the heat to 200C/gas mark 6.
Put the ricotta in a bowl, season with freshly ground black pepper. Peel the garlic, then add a large pinch of salt and pound to a paste using a pestle and mortar, then add to the ricotta. Finely grate and add the parmesan. Remove the basil and parsley leaves from their stems, finely chop and add. Stir in the 2 lightly beaten eggs, then the cream and flour.
Spread the mixture over the pastry in the baking tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 35-40 minutes until just firm. The filling should still wobble a little.
Peel the skins from the peppers, remove the stems, cores and seeds, then place on top of the tart. Tuck the basil leaves among the peppers, then trickle over any juices left in the roasting tin from cooking the peppers. Leave the tart to settle for 20 minutes before slicing.
Grilled corn, green beans
I grilled the corn whole, in its brown husks, but you could also boil it if you prefer. Pomegranate molasses – sweet, sharp and treacly – is available from large supermarkets and Middle Eastern grocers. Serves 4
tomatoes (assorted) 350g
pomegranate molasses 1 ½ tsp
red wine vinegar 3 tsp
sweetcorn 2 large heads
climbing French or runner beans 150g
coriander leaves a handful
mint leaves a small handful
Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally, then place them in a single layer, seed sides up, in a grill pan. Season with black pepper, then cook under an overhead grill until on the point of collapse, with their skins tinged black. The slight charring adds a smoky note to the dressing.
Tip the tomatoes into a large mixing bowl, crush them roughly with a fork, then stir in the pomegranate molasses, a little salt and the red wine vinegar. Set aside, covered, for 15 minutes or so.
Heat a griddle pan, slightly loosen the sweetcorn husks, then place them on the pan. Leave to cook over a moderate heat, the husks slowly crisping and blackening, until the corn inside is deep golden yellow and tender. Remove the heads of corn from the heat, discard the husks, then slice off the sweet kernels. I find the easiest way to remove the kernels from the cob is to cut off the stem, hold the cob upright on a chopping board, then slice down its length with a large knife.
Tip the corn kernels into the tomato dressing. Put a pan of water on to boil, lightly salted. Top and tail the beans, then thinly slice them. Tip the beans into the water, cook for a couple of minutes, until the beans change colour, but still have a little crispness, then drain and rinse briefly under cold, running water.
Roughly chop the coriander and mint leaves, then fold into the tomato dressing with the beans.
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