The days may be drawing in, and the temperature's dropping, but rather than planning on hibernating for a few months, I really look forward to autumn. Why? Easy. It's probably my favourite season for cooking. Autumn (and winter, but winter's not as pretty. And doesn't have my birthday in it) is a great excuse to start making comfort food for those cold, darkening nights. It's a great excuse to get working in the kitchen for an evening, getting a bunch of friends would and warm yourself up with good food and conversation.
Soups are the obvious point to start. Nothing's better than a hearty broth with some crusty bread after a long day at work. Tomato and butterbean is one of my favourites, while it's nice and simple to whip some salsify and shallots into a quick soup. Chick pea, spinach and pasta soup with a dash of nutmeg is a filling concoction that acts like a food comfort blanket.
But by far and away my favourite is the squash family. Pumpkins, butternut squashes and vegetable spaghetti all make excellent, flavoursome soups that act as a real warmer. Soups take so little effort as well and you generally only need your chosen veg, onions, stock and whatever herbs or spices you're throwing into the mix.
But the squash family isn't just soup-er - they make a great side dish, or full meal for vegetarians. I particularly like halving them, scooping out the seeds and sticking a garlic clove in the hole, brushing with olive oil, throw a bit of rosemary on top, then leave to roast for a bit. Take out when soft, mash together with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper, scoop back into the skins, coat with honey and a drop of gooseberry oil and putting back in to bake for another half an hour. Meat eaters can add bacon or lamb to the stuffing. Whatever, the result is comforting and exceedingly filling.
In fact, roasting squash is so simple, it's hard to go wrong. Even a roast squash lasagne takes minimum of effort for maximum taste. I know hardened carnivores who've kept coming back for the squash version as opposed to a meat lasagne.
You can even take that classic spring/summer dish - the risotto - and make it much more comforting by swopping your mushrooms and peas for roast pumpkin.
For meat eaters, now's the time to truly indulge in those bold and brassy stews and roasts for a cold weekend. Don't forgot the essential autumn/winter veg accompaniment - the mash. Make your potatoes as buttery as you like, or simply swop for the delicious taste of mashed swede (with plenty of pepper). And no Sunday roast is complete without a few browned parsnips sitting alongside.
Be sure to make room for dessert though, and autumn isn't just about veg. It's a time when fruit gets a lot more serious. Apples, in particular, are brilliant at this time of year and there's nothing more comforting than the sight of a warm apple cobbler coming out of the oven. If you're lucky enough to have any rhubarb still left over from the end of the summer, stick it together with the apples in a crumble.
Apple pie is always a safe bet, or alternatively you could stew them with some sugar and sultanas. And while we're on apples, although we're not talking puddings here, try using cider instead of white wine in some dishes. Bollocks to the summery commercial ciders - what you want now is a proper country scrumpy.
Poached pears with figs are another treat, while if you get the chance to head to the countryside, make sure you take a bag and fill it with blackberries. These are one of my favourite fruits and it's hard to resist not to eat them before you get home to stick into a crumble, or blend and pour over icecream. And, frankly, there's nothing more autumnal than a good bramble jelly.
I've already stepped up my efforts in the kitchen over the past couple of weeks and, as the winds turn colder, I'll be more inclined to spend some some reacquainting myself with some old cooking favourites.
I genuinely couldn't care what the weather's doing outside. If it's cold and wet, I'll cook. If we get some glorious autumn sunshine at the weekends, I'll put in something that can slowly bake while I head out and kick through the leaves.
October, November - it's good to have you back.