Time to turn the oven back on! Nigel Slater’s recipes for tomato chilli noodles, roast duck and grapes, creme caramel and raspberry sauce | Autumn food and drink

Summer is sliding deliciously into autumn. Fragile mushrooms, their gills in soft shades of ivory, buff and apricot, their caps like suede and so delicate you must brush not wash them, are here. You can toss them in a shallow pan with sweet, pale butter and a single clove of garlic, or wrap them in parchment and bake them with a tuft of thyme and a slice or two of butter. They taste of autumn, the bosky flavours of the slow wind-down of the year.

This has not been a memorable year for tomatoes, and my answer has mostly been to roast them with olive oil and ripe scarlet chillies then crush them into a rough sauce. The scorching heat of the oven deepens their flavour, however little sun they may have seen. Toss them with the thicker pastas such as wide ribbons of pappardelle, or fat chewy noodles such as udon or the beefy ones often labelled Shanghai thick noodles. Gnocchi can be a winner here, too. Fine, thin pastas will get lost, so head for the most robust in the cupboard.

As the weather cools a little, I find myself wanting sweet and toothsome meat dishes, such as roast pork or duck legs. Meat whose flesh will marry with sherry or marsala and with fruit in the form of roast figs, late plums or grapes. The grapes around at the moment are particularly sweet and muscat scented, their juices enriching the roasting juices of the meat.

Raspberries have rarely been better. They love a bit of damp weather and I have taken to making simple sauces with them, sweetening them slightly with icing sugar and using the resulting sauce as a marinade for strawberries or for mixing the creamy butterscotch notes of creme caramel.

Noodles, chilli tomato sauce

The warmth comes at you in waves – first from the steam rising from the noodles and their bubbling, brick-red sauce; then the crisp hit of the flaked dried chillies in oil – Lao Gan Ma – and lastly the deep warmth from the fresh, ripe chillies that have roasted with the tomatoes.

You could any use noodles for this, but the fat, starchy version such as Shanghai thick noodles feel most appropriate for such a rough-textured and robustly seasoned sauce.

Serves 3
tomatoes 750g
large red chillies 2
olive oil 5 tbsp
coriander 10g, a small bunch
Lao Gan Ma 2-4 tsp and to taste
fresh thick noodles 400g

Preheat the oven to 200C fan/gas mark 7. Put the tomatoes, large ones cut in half, into a roasting tin with the whole chillies and the olive oil. Season with salt and roast for 40-45 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and juicy and have coloured a little here and there.

Put a deep pan of water on to boil and salt it generously.

Using a blender, and taking great care not to overfill the jug, process the tomatoes and chillies, minus their stalks, to a thick puree. (Keeping some of the tomatoes back and mashing them with a fork will add a pleasingly rough texture to the dish.) Check the seasoning. Roughly chop most of the coriander leaves.

Stir 2 teaspoons of the Lao Gan Ma into the sauce, more if you like things very spicy. Drop the noodles into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes, or according to packet instructions, then drain in a colander.

Toss with the tomato chilli sauce and the coriander leaves and pass a little pot of the Lao Gan Ma at the table.

Roast duck, grapes and marsala

Roast duck , grapes and marsala. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

Take the duck from its packaging and let the skin dry in the fridge overnight if you can. It will be all the crisper for it. I use marsala or sherry, both dry, to give a deep, fruity note to the cooking juices.

Serves 4
juniper berries 8
sea salt 1 tsp
thyme leaves 2 tbsp
duck fat (preferably) or olive oil 3 tbsp
duck legs 4
onions 2 medium
dry marsala 100ml
stock chicken or duck 200ml
grapes muscat or black 250g

Grind the juniper berries, salt and thyme together using a pestle and mortar, then rub it all over the duck legs and set aside for a couple of hours in cool, dry place.

Warm the duck fat or oil in a roasting tin over a moderate heat, then add the duck legs and cook for 8-10 minutes or until they are starting to colour on the outside, turn them over, cook for a further 5 minutes, then remove the duck from the heat and set aside. Peel and thickly slice the onions.

Set the oven at 180C fan/gas mark 6. Return the shallow casserole to the heat, add the onions and let them cook, with an occasional stir, until they are soft and pale – about 10 minutes. Place the duck legs on top of the onions and roast for about 40 minutes till the onions are golden brown and the duck is cooked through. Remove the duck and let it rest in a warm place. Add the marsala to the pan and place it over a moderate heat, leaving it to bubble for a couple of minutes, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, add grapes and leave to simmer for a few minutes till the grapes start to soften. Correct the seasoning with salt and black pepper, return the duck to the pan.

When the duck is thoroughly hot and the sauce is bubbling, put the duck on a serving plates and spoon over the sauce, onions and grapes.

Parchment baked mushrooms

Nigel Slater’s baked mushrooms with garlic and thyme.
Nigel Slater’s baked mushrooms with garlic and thyme. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

To the experienced mushroom gatherer, the damp and humid weather has been a gift from the gods, but those of us who get ours from the shops are spoiled for choice, too. Shimeji, enoki, ceps and oyster mushrooms are much more widely available now and cook in minutes. I like to trap their fragrance by baking them in a parcel, releasing the smell of mushrooms, garlic and herbs as the paper is unsealed.

Serves 2
sea salt butter 100g
assorted mushrooms 350g
garlic 4 cloves
thyme sprigs 8

Place two squares of foil, approximately 25 x 25cm on the work surface. Place a similarly sized piece of kitchen parchment on top of each. Set the oven at 180C fan/gas mark 6.

Divide half the butter between the parcels. Trim any tough stalks from the mushrooms and check carefully for any compost or grit, removing it with a soft brush if necessary. Divide them between the parchment and season lightly with salt and black pepper.

Flatten the garlic cloves then tuck them among the mushrooms and then add the thyme sprigs. Place the remaining butter on top of the mushrooms.

Scrunch the paper and foil together to loosely seal then place on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes till the mushrooms are soft and fragrant.

Creme caramel, raspberry sauce

Nigel Slater’s creme caramel and raspberry sauce.
Nigel Slater’s creme caramel and raspberry sauce. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

Introducing a bright tasting fruit sauce to this classic adds a refreshing element, and the raspberry and caramel sauces blend deliciously on the spoon.

Take time to chill the custards properly before turning them out, carefully running a small palette knife around the edge of their tins or ramakins before flipping them out.

If you turn each one upside down on a shallow dish, hold the dish and ramekin tightly and firmly shake both once or twice. You should hear the custard slide out.

Makes 4
For the creme caramel
full fat milk 500ml
vanilla extract a couple of drops
egg yolks 4
whole eggs 2
caster sugar 75g

For the caramel
caster sugar 150g

For the sauce
raspberries 250g
icing sugar 2 tbsp
You will also need 4 x 250g china ramekins or tins

Pour the milk into a saucepan. Just before the milk starts to rise up the sides of the pan, remove from the heat, add the vanilla extract, cover and set aside.

Make the caramel: put the sugar and just enough water to cover it into a saucepan and boil, over a high heat, until the caramel turns a dark honey colour. If it isn’t dark enough, your puddings will be pale; if too dark, they will be bitter. Pour the caramel into the moulds, ensure the bases are evenly covered then set aside.

Set the oven at 130C fan/gas mark 2. Put the ramekins or tins into a roasting tin. Lightly beat together the egg yolks, eggs and caster sugar. Place a fine sieve over the eggs and sugar then pour the vanilla-infused milk into it, mix well then ladle or pour into the caramel-lined moulds.

Boil the kettle. Pour the just-boiled water into the roasting tin to come just over halfway up the sides of the moulds. Carefully place the tin in the oven and cook for 35 minutes until the custards are lightly set. They should quiver slightly when jiggled.

Remove the custards from the water bath and leave to cool. Chill for 4 or 5 hours.

Make the raspberry sauce: put the raspberries and icing sugar in a blender and process for a few seconds until you have a thick sauce.

Unmould the custards, letting the caramel flow around them then spoon over the raspberry sauce. Add raspberries to finish.

Tahini yoghurt slice with figs and honey

Nigel Slater’s tahini cheesecake with figs and honey.
Nigel Slater’s tahini cheesecake with figs and honey. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

A thin, cardamom-scented, crisp biscuit with a layer of tahini-marbled cheesecake style cream on top, this is a delight for tea or dessert. The yoghurt brings lightness to the party, the tahini a change of texture. I have tried every biscuit imaginable for this sort of crust and come back time and again to old-fashioned digestives, though other plain biscuits will work too.

Makes 12
For the cheesecake slice
digestive biscuits 250g
green cardamom pods 10
butter 90g
cream cheese full fat, 350g
Greek-style yoghurt 150g
mascarpone 100g
caster sugar 75g
vanilla extract 1 tsp
tahini 100g

For the figs
ripe figs 6
honey 12 tsp

Reduce the digestive biscuits to fine crumbs in a food processor. Crack open the cardamom pods with a pestle or other heavy weight and remove the black seeds. Crush the seeds to a powder in a spice mill or with a pestle and mortar. Set the oven at 130C fan/gas mark 2.

Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan then stir in the ground cardamom. Let the mixture warm for a minute till fragrant then stir in the crushed digestives. Stir to coat all the crumbs with cardamom butter then tip into the lined 20cm square baking tin and smooth flat without compressing the mixing too firmly. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Make the filling: put the cream cheese, strained yogurt, mascarpone, caster sugar and vanilla extract into the bowl of a food mixer then mix briefly but thoroughly until all the ingredients are combined. Tip the mixture into the tin on top of the crumbs and smooth flat. Drop teaspoons of the tahini into the filling at regular intervals, then, using the handle of a teaspoon, swirl the paste through the cream cheese filling to give a marbled effect.

Return to the oven and bake for 30 minutes till lightly set. If it quivers a little in the middle, that is fine. Remove from the oven and leave to settle and then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours (overnight won’t hurt) then cut into 12 equal slices.

To make the figs: heat an overhead (oven) grill. Cut the figs in half and place on a baking sheet. Place a teaspoon of honey on each cut surface then place under the grill till the figs are soft and turning golden here and there. Serve a couple of the fig halves with each slice, spooning over the warm honey as you go.

Follow Nigel on Instagram @NigelSlater

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