There’s a punnet of blackberries on the kitchen counter. Clusters of diminutive baubles blink with the deepest shades of black and burgundy, so tender that they burst between the fingers, staining your palms with blood-like droplets.
They feel like a luxury – but back home a walk around the nearby woods to pick these ink-staining berries is a late summer ritual before breakfast. You could easily fill a jug in one go.
A good marriage of fruit and meat just works. Think a dab of apple sauce at Sunday roast, the squishy sharpness of an apricot in a Moroccan tagine or a succulent leg of duck roasted to perfection with tart blood oranges.
Fruit and its juicy freshness is often the best way of paring down the fattiness of some of the richest cuts of meat. In this instance, the blackberries mingle with the umami, rosemary-scented pan juices from the pork fillet as I squish them together into a wine-stained gravy.
My vehicle of choice for the sauce is pumpkin gnocchi; so wonderfully seasonal – brilliant yellow, tender and fragrant with fresh nutmeg. If you’re lucky enough to have some left over, fry them up in butter, adding a couple of springs of rosemary as you wait for the gnocchi to crisp up.
But here, cooked plain, they do so well at soaking up all of the sharp, savoury juices from the meat. The dish needs nothing more than a simple side of bitter leaves, dressed in a raspberry vinaigrette. This is autumn on a plate.
Fillet of pork, 1 medium-sized
Rosemary, a couple sprigs
Juniper, 3-4 berries
Sea salt flakes, fresh pepper
Onion, one medium-sized
Garlic, a clove
Olive oil and butter, a teaspoon each
Balsamic vinegar, a small glug
Fruity red wine, 85 ml
Blackberries, a large handful
Sugar, a pinch
Cinnamon, a knife point’s worth
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
In a pestle and mortar crush the juniper berries, half the rosemary, salt and pepper into a paste. Cut the pork into thinnish slices. Massage the herby mixture into the chops.
Sauté the diced onion in butter and olive oil over low heat. Take your time – you want it to cook slowly for the sugars to caramelise – this’ll take about ten minutes.
Tip in the chopped garlic and rosemary leaves, fry briefly until fragrant. Turn up the heat to medium high and add the pork, searing the chops for about a minute and a half on each side.
Pour in the vinegar and wine, and let bubble away for about three minutes, adding the blackberries, sugar and cinnamon just before the end. You might want to give the berries a little squish with a fork.
Serve with bitter salad leaves tossed with raspberry vinaigrette for a refreshing twist.
Raspberry vinegar, about 2 tablespoons
Extra virgin olive oil, 3-4 tablespoons
Honey, 1 tablespoon
Flaky sea salt and fresh pepper, a generous pinch each
Preparation time: 5 mins
Tip the ingredients into a jar and whisk together. Pour over salad and toss. And toss some more. And then more.
500g potatoes, boiled until tender and mashed
500g pumpkin puree*
150g plain flour + extra for dusting
Fresh nutmeg, a modest grating
1 egg + 1 yolk
Preparation time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
*To make pumpkin puree, roast a pumpkin for about an hour in a 200℃ oven. Cool and thoroughly blitz. It’s a rather good idea to puree larger amounts of it to keep in the fridge or freezer for other recipes.
Prepare and measure out the potato mash and pumpkin purée. Ensure both are thoroughly cool! This allows you to add as little flour as possible – which in turn yields the most tender, light gnocchi. You can do this well in advance. Season with salt and nutmeg.
In a bowl mix together with the flour using a knife – as if you were dicing butter. Crack in the egg and the extra yolk and stir together. Be gentle – don’t over mix or more flour will be needed.
Tip the mixture onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle the top with some more flour. Now’s the time to shape your dumplings. This part is freestyle and depends on your creativity and appetite. I shaped my gnocchi by pinching out smallish pieces of the mixture and rolling them into thin sausages.
Then I cut these up into tiny segments which I finally ran a fork over to create the grooves (these have a practical application as sauce conveyors). Keep everything lightly dusted or you risk the whole thing clumping together.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Tip in half of your gnocchi. They have a nifty way of letting you know that they’re cooked: they float right up to the surface. Fish them out with a slotted spoon and repeat with the other half.
Photography by Arek Zagata