Food to match the season

Go for gold this autumn with spicy citrus cakes and succulent baked squash, Nigel Slater recommends.

I continue to eat my greens, but what I really want right now is golden food. Deep bowls of chilli-spiked pumpkin soup; lasagne with a shining ochre crust; crisp-crumbed fishcakes or chicken wings, bronzed and burnished, hot from the oven will do.

And I’d like a shining pudding, too, please: steamed ginger sponge or Eve’s pud; baked apples with honey and dried fruits; or a tray of little cakes spiked with lemon syrup, their surfaces glistening with candied peel.

This week I baked cubes of pumpkin in papillot, as you might do a piece of fish.

The paper parcels gave the squash a chance to cook in its own steam, which then wafted out in a sugary, bay-scented fug as we tore the baking parchment open like a Christmas present.

I made a properly spicy chilli sauce to pour into the opened package as well, giving our cheap dinner a faint sense of theater. A dish of steamed brown rice, freckled with black peppercorns and cinnamon, was the only addition.

There was a need for cake this week, too – a craving which has been brought on by the arrival of dark evenings. Soft, citrus-soaked sponge cakes, with shards of candied peel.

Parchment-baked pumpkin, spiced tomato sauce

I’m not sure it matters which chilli paste you use here. I like the deep blast of heat from Korean gochujang, but otherwise just use your favorite and adjust the quantity accordingly. Tweak the amounts to suit your taste, bearing in mind that it needs to balance the sweetness of the pumpkin.

Serves 4

500g, peeled weight, pumpkin or butternut squash

400g tomatoes

4 Tbsp olive oil

8 bay leaves

For the sauce:

400g cherry tomatoes

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

2 tsp red chilli paste

2 Tbsp white wine or cider vinegar

Set the oven to 200degC. Cut 4 pieces of baking parchment or kitchen foil about 30cm x 30cm.

Peel the pumpkin or squash. Cut the flesh into cubes roughly 2cm square and put them in a large mixing bowl. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the pumpkin flesh with the olive oil, bay leaves and a generous grinding of salt and black pepper.

Divide the mixture between the sheets of baking parchment, then pull the side edges in to form a parcel. Secure the paper with string or a paperclip. If you are using foil scrunch the ends together to seal and place on a baking sheet.

Bake for 50 minutes until the pumpkin is soft and translucent.

While the squash bakes, make the sauce. Roughly chop the cherry tomatoes. Heat the oil in a wide, shallow pan over a high heat, add the tomatoes and let them cook until their skins soften and juices flow. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and stir into the tomatoes together with a little salt and a few twists of pepper. Continue cooking, with the occasional stir, until the sauce is thick, then stir in the chilli paste and continue cooking for 5 minutes, then stir in the vinegar and check the seasoning. If you wish, run it through the blender for a silky finish.

Take the parcels from the oven, open each one at the table, so the sweetly scented steam wafts up and then spoon in some of the tomato chilli sauce.

Orange and poppy seed cakes

These golden cakes have wonderful sweet-sharp notes.

Serves 8

For the cake:

225g butter, softened

225g golden caster sugar

grated zest of 1 orange

grated zest of 1 lemon

110g plain flour

generous half tsp baking powder

115g ground almonds

4 eggs

20g poppy seeds

For the syrup:

50g crystallized orange peel

1 lemon

1 small orange

100g golden caster sugar

2 bay leaves

You will need a 12-hole bun or muffin tin, each hole lined with baking parchment. Set the oven at 180degC.

To make the cakes, put the butter into the bowl of a food mixer, add the sugar and cream together until soft and fluffy. Grate in the orange and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour and baking powder then stir in the ground almonds. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly. Slowly add the egg to the butter and sugar. If it curdles slightly, add a spoonful of the flour and almond mixture. Continue adding the flour mix until thoroughly creamed then mix in the poppy seeds.

Transfer the mixture to the lined cases. Put in the pre-heated oven and bake for 20 minutes until a skewer, inserted into one of the little cakes, comes out without any raw cake mixture attached.

While the cakes are baking, make the syrup. Cut the crystallized citrus peel into matchstick-sized pieces. Finely grate the remaining lemon. Squeeze the lemon and the orange into a small saucepan, add the caster sugar and the bay leaves and bring to the boil. Add the strips of candied peel.

Remove the cakes from the oven. Still in their cases, pierce them all over with a metal skewer or fine knitting needle. Spoon the reserved orange syrup and peel over the surface, letting the syrup trickle though the holes. Leave the cakes to cool and remove from their cases.

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