All Hallows’ Eve, the only night the dead can contact the living, has always been something I look forward to. The official death of summer: high time, good riddance.
Back at home in Poland it meant a time of quiet commemoration of the deceased. I loved the calmness of this holiday: the subdued light, leaves falling, first signs of chill in the air.
It was only when I gave it a try that I fell in love with its Western variation. The upfront wackiness, arts and crafts, dressing up, stuffing yourself with candy and pudding whatever your age.
I normally have a bit of disdain for food that’s over the top, complicated or pretending to be something else, the only exception being the holidays. The kooky, theatrical playfulness of Halloween makes room for some cheekiness in the kitchen – think brains, blood, witches and skeletons.
Go for the food that’s relaxed and irreverently eccentric – it’s better to go all the way with the full on parade of kitsch and over-the-top campness. Keep it laid back, invite some people over, make sure their glasses are topped up and embrace the eeriness of it all.
[tabs-header][tabs-header-group open=”one” active=”yes”] A Scandi-influenced dip [/tabs-header-group][tabs-header-group open=”two”] A seasonal take on ajvar [/tabs-header-group][tabs-header-group open=”three”] Witches’ fingers [/tabs-header-group][/tabs-header]
[tabs-content][tabs-content-group id=”one” active=”yes”]It’s all in the roasting – after an hour or so in the oven the otherwise boring beets become infused with depth, earthiness and unexpected sweetness. Don’t be tempted to use the ready-cooked ones.
2 raw, medium-sized beetroots, about half a pound
1 clove of garlic
Thyme, a couple of sprigs
Fresh goat’s cheese, about 50g
Sour cream, a scant teaspoon
Balsamic vinegar, about 2 tablespoons
Serves 8 as part of a spread
Preparation time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 1h
First roast your beetroots. Preheat the oven to 200℃. Wrap each of the beets separately in aluminium foil – this prevents them from drying out. Roast until really tender: receptive to the point of a knife. When completely soft, peel the skins off and cut into large pieces.
Toss all of the ingredients (reserving the vinegar and some of the dill) into a food processor and whizz until fully incorporated. Season to taste with the balsamic, pepper, and salt if you really think it needs it – the cheese adds plenty.
Serve with fronds of dill scattered on top.[/tabs-content-group][tabs-content-group id=”two”] Celery, green peppers, chilli or pumpkin? There’s probably as many versions of this classic Balkan spread as cooks attempting it – the basis, though, remains the same: red peppers, roasted in the oven until blistered and steeped in smokiness.
My version is far from the original: slightly fiery with sriracha, creamy with pumpkin and nutty with peanut oil. Don’t be put off by the anchovies: in fact you can’t actually taste the fish – they just give this spread a salty, savoury depth.
Half a butternut squash
2 red peppers
3 tablespoons unrefined peanut oil
2 anchovy fillets
1-2 teaspoons sriracha (though harissa or chilli sauce would work just as well)
Serves 8 as part of a spread
Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Start by roasting the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 200℃. Halve and deseed the peppers but leave the squash seeds in. Place on a baking sheet and roast for about half an hour, or until the peppers are slightly charred and aromatic and the butternut tender. It would be a good idea to roast them together with the beetroots if you’re making the dip too.
Put the steamy peppers in a plastic bag and leave for about a quarter of an hour. This will make their peeling a breeze. While waiting, deseed the squash and spoon out the flesh. Peel the peppers and add them into the bowl of your food processor, along with all the other ingredients. Blitz to a smooth, velvety spread.
Season to taste with salt and lime juice. Serve with some za’atar or fresh coriander sprinkled on top.[/tabs-content-group][tabs-content-group id=”three”] Once you’ve gone to the trouble of making your own dips, might as well just make something to scoop them out with. These Italian breadsticks make for quite an agreeable choice. And yes, the witches’ fingers shapes are mandatory.
1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast
150 ml lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar
Strong white flour, 240g
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Serves 8 as part of a spread
Preparation time: 15 mins + 90 mins proofing
Cooking time: 15 mins
Tip the flour into a deep bowl – don’t bother sieving it – and add the yeast, salt and sugar. Pour in the water, bringing it together by hand. Add the oil and keep mixing by hand until the mixture coheres into a dough. Tip onto your worktop.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes – you’ll know when it’s ready: it will be soft, stretchy, smooth and won’t stick to your hands. Transfer into a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave it in a warm place to proof for about an hour (it’s ready when it’s doubled in volume).
Tip the dough onto your surface and knead again for a couple of minutes – this gets all the air out.
Now’s the time to get creative with the toppings – I left mine plain for the witches’ finger effect, but yours can be flavoured with caraway, cumin or sesame seeds, chilli flakes, rosemary or thyme – in fact, whatever you want.
Pinch out bite-sized pieces of dough and roll them into very thin cigars, adding any of the flavourings – if you’re making fingers, stick an almond flake at the top and shape.
Transfer your breadsticks onto a baking sheet and leave for final proofing, for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200℃. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until dried and slightly golden.[/tabs-content-group][/tabs-content]
Photography by Arek Zagata