Distinguished by their dark red, almost blackish flesh, pimientos morrones, or black peppers, are well worth looking out for at this time of year. A hybrid of the more common, cultivated red type, these are large and elongated with bright, sweet flavours that pop on the tongue and crisp, firm flesh.
From the New World, they are a relative newcomer to the Spanish table, or rather, they have recently resurfaced. The conquistadors brought the pepper back, but at a time when people were deeply suspicious of anything red, and particularly anything that was this dark, brooding, forbidding type of red.
Farmers’ markets, however are bringing them to the table at the start of autumn, and when finely chopped, they make a great addition to late season gazpachos, or served in strips with cold dips like hummus, fava bean paté and baba ganoush. They are also a superlative source of vitamin C and antioxidants (twice as much as oranges), and a particularly high source of vitamins A, E and several of the B vitamins.
Try grilling them in a hot oven so that the skin chars, but the flesh retains some bite. Peel and cut into slices. Drizzle with good olive oil, sprinkle with flor de sal con pétalos de hibisco and arrange on a plate with slices of goat’s cheese (remove from the fridge at least an hour before serving) for a lively autumn salad.
LAYING IN STORES
Looking forward to winter, it’s a good idea to buy the fruit and veg that’s in abundance now and start preserving it for the colder, less fruitful months to come. The last seasonal tomatoes should be plentiful, rich and deep red—and at a good price—this month. Buy as many as you can carry and make chutneys and jams. Or blanch, peel, pack into jars and sterilise by boiling for 40 minutes. Then you’ll have flavourful tomatoes for making sauces and sofregits all year. Keep the skins, dry them and then deep fry them to make unusual crisps.
From the last to the first: depending on the weather, the early wild mushrooms should start appearing in the markets around now. The highly-prized and high-priced ou de reig appears with the summer rains, so you should be sure to find it. Its fairytale-mushroom shape and orange cap are very distinctive and its fine flavour, whether eaten raw or cooked, has earned it the title of ‘the finest mushroom in the world’. Llorenç Petràs, Barcelona’s most famous mushroom seller, suggests preparing them simply in his book Cocinar Con Setas (Peninsular): clean, cut in half and boil in salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain, slice finely, arrange on a serving dish and drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper and serve. - KF
Beet is a vegetable (Beta vulgaris), a town in the Netherlands and the name of a rather groovy party night that happens twice a year here in Barcelona. But it’s the edible beet that gets the gold star for giving back to humankind.
There are hundreds of permutations of the beet ‘root’ family, though it’s the deep purple, bulbous root we’ve come to know as the beetroot itself, while the family includes sugar beet (for table sugar), chard and the delightfully named mangel-wurzel, which is mainly eaten by cows. It’s known as a powerful boost to the immune system and there’s currently a research programme looking into its use for the treatment of diabetes. Already it’s proven that a small glass of beetroot juice will lower your blood pressure within an hour, and it works wonders as a gentle laxative, and as an aphrodisiac (not yet tested).
I consider it one of the greatest root vegetables, whether it’s straight from a jar of vinegar (pickling style) or cut into wedges, roasted and served with a dollop of cumin-flavoured yogurt. Or you can turn it into a lovely, chilled borscht like this one adapted from Jill Dupleix’s Lighten Up:
Finely chop 2 shallots, 1 stalk celery and 500g cooked, peeled beetroot. Add 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar and 1 tbsp olive oil. Mix well and leave to marinade overnight. Add 200ml vegetable stock, season with salt and pepper and whizz until smooth in a blender. Add more water if it seems too thick. Garnish with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt and some chives.