A seasonal menu for late autumn

Alice Hart makes the most of abundant seasonal produce in easy yet impressive dinner party fare.

My strategy when cooking for friends is always the same: I want to be able to prepare as much as possible in advance, so that I can concentrate on socialising rather than worrying about the food; I want the recipes to be relatively simple, yet impressive; and I want the menu to focus on seasonal ingredients that my guests will love. It’s not difficult to tick all three boxes at this bountiful time of year. Having a fabulous dessert in the bag is also a boon, so I have chosen a cheesecake and a panna cotta, both of which must be made ahead.

See more recipe ideas in our entertaining section

WARM SALAD OF JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES, WILD MUSHROOMS, SPINACH AND CRISP SAGE WITH A LEMON AÏOLI DRESSING

November dinner party

Image credit: Laura Edwards

Serves 6

When preparing the Jerusalem artichokes, drop the peeled wedges into a bowl of cold water with a few slices of lemon to prevent them blackening.

Ingredients

500g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into wedges
2 tbsp olive oil
40g butter
Handful of sage leaves
500g mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ garlic clove, crushed
150g baby spinach leaves

For the dressing
1 egg yolk
½ garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Juice of 1 small lemon
100ml light rapeseed oil

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Steam the artichoke wedges for 10 minutes. Transfer to a roasting tin, toss with the olive oil and season well. Roast for 30 minutes, until tender and golden.
2. For the dressing, whisk together the egg yolk, garlic, sugar, salt and 2 teaspoons lemon juice in a bowl. Whisking continuously, add the oil, drop by drop, until the mixture begins to thicken, then add the rest in a thin stream. Whisk in the remaining lemon juice and 2-3 tablespoons water to thin the consistency slightly. The dressing can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept covered in the fridge.
3. Heat 10g of the butter in a frying pan and add the sage leaves. Cook for a minute or so until translucent, but not browned, then drain on kitchen paper to crisp as they cool.
4. Heat the remaining butter until it foams, then add the mushrooms and season well. Add the garlic and cook over a high heat for 4-5 minutes, until golden in places. Add the artichoke wedges and toss to combine.
5. Spoon on to serving plates with the spinach leaves, scatter with sage leaves and spoon over plenty of dressing.

See warming pumpkin and winter squash recipes

7-HOUR BEER ROAST LAMB WITH PARSNIP GRATIN

November dinner party

Image credit: Laura Edwards

Serves 6-8

Marinating the lamb will enhance the flavour. If you don’t have time, simply roast as below with the same ingredients.

Ingredients

2.5kg (large) leg of lamb, part-boned
and tied with string
500ml pale or golden ale
300ml chicken or lamb stock
8 cloves garlic, skin on, bruised (bashed slightly)
2 tbsp chopped rosemary, plus 3 rosemary sprigs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch baby or young carrots, scrubbed, trimmed
2 red onions, peeled, thickly sliced

For the gratin
400ml crème fraîche
200ml whole milk
Butter for greasing
1kg parsnips, peeled and sliced into rounds
100g Gruyère cheese, grated
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
A good grating of nutmeg

Method

1. Put the lamb in a sturdy food bag or non-metallic dish and cover with the ale and stock. Add the garlic and chopped rosemary and marinate for 8-48 hours. When you are ready to cook the lamb (and gratin), pre-heat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4.
2. For the gratin, combine the crème fraîche and milk in a bowl and season lightly. Butter a medium baking dish and cover the base with one third of the parsnips and one third of the cheese. Season with salt, pepper and a little rosemary and nutmeg. Spoon over one-third of the crème fraîche mixture and cover with parsnips, cheese and seasoning, as before. Repeat the layering, reserving the last third of the cheese. Cover tightly with foil and cook for 40 minutes, then remove and set aside.
3. Remove the lamb from the marinade and pat dry. Rub the lamb with the olive oil, season well and put in a large baking dish or roasting tin that is deep enough to hold the beer and stock.
4. Roast the lamb for 30 minutes, until beginning to brown. Spoon any fat from the dish and discard, then add the marinade, carrots, onions, rosemary sprigs and 150ml water. Cover tightly with two layers of foil and reduce the heat to 140°C, gas mark 1.
5. Cook the lamb for 6-6½ hours, until extremely tender. Check after 4 hours and add more water, if needed. Transfer the lamb and vegetables to a warmed serving dish, cover with tea towels and rest for 40 minutes. Spoon the fat from the juices in the roasting tin and reduce the remaining liquid to create a rich sauce.
6. Turn the oven up to 190°C, gas mark 5 and scatter the remaining cheese on the gratin and bake, covered, for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 5-10 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve with the lamb, steamed, buttery greens and the sauce.

AUTUMN SALAD OF ROAST SQUASH WITH SERRANO HAM AND MANCHEGO

November dinner party

Image credit: Laura Edwards

Serves 6

This is a real crowd pleaser: simple, but substantial enough to serve as lunch for four. The squash and pumpkin seeds can be roasted a few hours in advance. Heat the squash through in a warm oven when needed or serve at room temperature.

Ingredients

600g butternut or coquina squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into cubes
3 tbsp olive oil
50g squash or pumpkin seeds
½ tsp paprika
150g sliced serrano ham
2 handfuls of watercress, thick stems removed
50g Manchego cheese, rind removed

For the dressing
1 garlic clove, peeled and bruised (bashed slightly)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of caster sugar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, season generously and spread out on a roasting tray. Roast for 30 minutes, until golden and soft. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
2. Meanwhile, toss the squash or pumpkin seeds with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the paprika and a little salt. Spread out on a separate baking tray and roast for about 6 minutes, until lightly toasted.
3. To make the dressing, put the garlic clove, vinegar, mustard, sugar, oil and a little salt and black pepper in a lidded jam jar and shake vigorously. The dressing can be made up to 4 days ahead and kept in the fridge.
4. To serve the salad, gently toss the squash, ham and watercress with the dressing in a large bowl. Shave the cheese over using a vegetable peeler and scatter with the roasted pumpkin seeds to finish.

BRINED CHICKEN WITH CIDER, PEARS AND PUMPKIN

November dinner party

Image credit: Laura Edwards

Serves 4-6

Brining the chicken seasons it throughout and keeps it juicy after roasting. Serve this with mashed potato for a filling supper or peppery salad leaves for a lighter meal.

Ingredients

1 large, free-range chicken (about 2kg), untied, giblets removed
10 shallots, halved and peeled
4 fresh, small bay leaves
5 thyme sprigs, plus extra leaves to serve
50g butter, softened
1 small pumpkin or round squash, deseeded and cut into wedges
3 small pears, halved and cored
2 tbsp olive oil
150ml dry cider

For the brine
200ml dry cider
100g demerara sugar
2 tbsp rock salt
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
3 fresh bay leaves, crushed

Method

1. Make the brine by mixing all of the brine ingredients with 200ml water. Put the chicken in a large, zip-lock food bag and pour in the brine. Seal the bag, set it in a bowl or dish, and refrigerate for 6-24 hours, turning occasionally.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C, gas mark 5. Remove the chicken (discard the brine), rinse in cool water and pat dry. Put four shallot halves, 1 bay leaf and 1 thyme sprig inside the chicken. Loosen the skin from the breast and put a pat of butter and the bay leaves underneath. Spread the rest of the butter over the breast and legs. Put the chicken in a large roasting tin, cover with foil and roast for 20 minutes.
3. Uncover the chicken and arrange the pumpkin, pears and remaining shallots and thyme sprigs around the base. Drizzle with the oil, season and add the cider to the dish. Reduce the heat to 180°C, gas mark 4 and roast for 50 minutes, covering the chicken with foil if it browns too quickly. To test for doneness, insert a skewer into the thigh: the juices should run clear, not pink. If not cooked, cover and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
4. Rest the chicken on a board, tented with foil, for 10 minutes before carving. Serve with the pumpkin, pears and juices from the pan, and a few fresh thyme leaves scattered over.

WHITE CHOCOLATE, RASPBERRY AND CARDAMOM PANNA COTTA WITH FIGS

November dinner party

Image credit: Laura Edwards

Serves 6

Easy yet elegant, slightly unusual and not too filling – this is a fabulous pudding to prepare ahead for a dinner party.

Ingredients

For the sauce
200g fresh or frozen raspberries
2 tbsp caster sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

For the panna cotta
650ml double cream
325ml whole milk
½ vanilla pod
1 tbsp caster sugar
4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
180g white chocolate, chopped
4 gelatine leaves
3 ripe figs, to serve

Method

1. To make the sauce, blend the raspberries, sugar and lemon juice with 2 tablespoons water. Pass the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds. Chill the sauce until needed.
2. Have ready six 150ml pudding moulds (grease these very lightly with a flavourless oil if you wish to turn out the panna cotta) or small cups, glasses or bowls (no need to grease if you wish to serve the panna cotta in them).
3. Put the cream, milk, vanilla pod, sugar and cardamom pods in a saucepan, slowly bring to the boil and immediately remove from the heat. Set aside to infuse for 20 minutes.
4. Drop the gelatine leaves, one by one, into a bowl of cold water. Set aside to soften for 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, strain the cream to remove the vanilla and cardamom pods. Return the cream to the pan, add the chocolate and warm over a low heat, but do not allow to boil. Stir until the chocolate is melted.
6. Drain the gelatine leaves and squeeze out any excess water. Stir the gelatine into the warm cream, off the heat, until completely dissolved.
7. Divide the mixture between the six containers. Chill for 4 hours or overnight, until set. If not turning out, spoon the sauce over the top to serve.
8. If turning out the panna cotta, dip the outsides of the moulds in hot water for a few seconds, then turn out on to serving plates and spoon sauce over the top. Serve each panna cotta with a torn fig half.

BLACKBERRY AND SOUR CREAM CHEESECAKE WITH A GINGERNUT CRUST

November dinner party

Image credit: Laura Edwards

Serves 10-12

Blackberries work wonderfully with the ginger base and the vanilla and soured cream filling, but you can use any fresh or frozen berries.

Ingredients

150g fresh or frozen blackberries
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp plus 5 level tbsp cornflour
200g gingernut biscuits
70g unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of salt
750g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
300ml sour cream, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
or extract
5 large free-range eggs, at room temperature

Method

1. Put the blackberries and sugar in a small pan with 1 tablespoon water. Heat gently, stirring, for 5 minutes, until the berries begin to soften and burst. Purée the berries using a stick blender, or blitz in a blender and return to the pan.
2. Mix 1 teaspoon cornflour with 1 tablespoon water to make a paste and combine with the berries in the pan. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then simmer for 1 minute until thickened. Set aside.
3. Pulse the biscuits in a food processor to a fine crumb. Combine with the melted butter and salt. Press the mixture evenly over the base and a little way up the sides of a 23cm round springform cake tin. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 120°C, gas mark ½. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth. Using a wooden spoon, beat in the sour cream, 5 tablespoons cornflour, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one by one, stopping when the mixture is just smooth.
5. Pour half the mixture over the biscuit base and dot a few teaspoons of blackberry purée over the top. Cover with the rest of the cream cheese mixture and level the surface. Drag teaspoonfuls of the remaining blackberry purée over the surface, running a skewer or spoon handle through it to create a marbled pattern.
6. Place the tin on a baking sheet. Bake the cheesecake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 1¾ hours, until set but slightly wobbly in the middle.
7. Turn off the oven, prop the door ajar and leave the cheesecake to cool completely. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. Run a knife around the edge and remove from the tin before slicing.

Styling/ Ali Brown 

Photography/ Laura Edwards

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