The seasons change so fast. The long heady evenings of golden sunlight have passed, and now the nights are drawing in, the rain has come, and there is the distinct smell of Autumn lingering in the air. Just as the long days have been exchanged for long nights, so too our crisp summer salads, alive with various shades of bright green, are replaced with warming soups and crunchy buttered sourdough.
The produce of Autumn is (I think for many of us) the most distinctive of all seasonal fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears and quinces, in all the colours of the earth, are filling orchards and market, and there’s an excited child-like buzz when the first squashes and pumpkins, in all their various eccentric shapes and sizes, start appearing for the first time. They promise Halloween, cosy evenings spent indoors, and they also remind me of my personal favourite celebration, Guy Fawkes Night. Much of October’s prize produce is hardy and thick-skinned, allowing you to gather a collection of seasonal squashes for decoration as well as food – white pumpkins for a simple Scandi autumn, Crown Prince pumpkins for a country cottage feel, and bright orange Jack-o-Lanterns for the more traditional households with children.
It isn’t just the pumpkin that shines during October: the last of the beetroots are bulging in the vegetable beds, begging to be picked and lend the grey days something of their luminous, rich purples and reds; and the humble turnip, a quiet vegetable, perhaps not as beautiful as the squash, nor as colourful as the beetroot, but as hardy and delicious as both combined. The poor turnip is often neglected, used to bulk stews or mix into mash, but it has a far more significant role in the tale of Halloween than one might suspect.
Until Halloween, however, there's plenty of use for these autumnal jewels. This suggestion for a warming Autumnal soup, balances the sweet flavours of the unassuming turnip, and the dramatic colouring of the bold beetroot.
Beetroot and Turnip Soup
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
2 large beetroots (about 550g), peeled and chopped into 3cm cubes
2 large turnips (about 400g), peeled and chopped into 3cm cubes
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
1½ tbsp olive oil, for roasting
2 medium brown onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil, for frying
1.5 litres of homemade vegetable stock
Crème fraise, for serving
Chives, for serving
Salt and pepper, to season
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
Place the cubed beetroot and turnip into a shallow roasting dish and sprinkle with the sprigs of thyme. Gently coat with the olive oil and season with salt. Toss to make sure all the vegetables are coated evenly. Place the dish in the oven to roast for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and turn the vegetables. Place back in the oven for another 20 minutes. Then remove from the oven and set aside.
During the second half of the roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large deep saucepan on the hob, and add the chopped onion. Fry on a low-medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion softens but does not brown.
Then add the roasted vegetables to the saucepan making sure you remove any long woody thyme stems, and stir to combine. Cook for a minute or two before adding the vegetable stock. Bring it to the boil, and then turn down to simmer and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes, or until the turnips have softened.
Remove from the heat and use a hand blender to purée the vegetables thoroughly. Taste, and add more seasoning if required. Serve the soup hot in bowls, garnishing with a swirl of the crème fraiche and the chopped chives.