I CAN still sense the chill of evening air against my face, see the inky darkness of the night’s sky and recall the exhilaration of being allowed to stay up so late. Surely this was the dead of night. I recall devouring treacle toffee, despite grown-ups warning I wouldn't like it. Bonfire night and Halloween evening were all sort of jumbled into one. It was the line where we crossed from soft autumn into proper winter. The mist on our breath, clouding around our woolly hats, proved it.

Now I am among the grown-ups trying to control darting children, as various families arrive for the outdoor celebrations. The back door will be open, friends will roll in can and the party will tumble along, slightly chaotically, with only the loosest of schedule to stick to. At some point, somehow, I will need to serve up something hot and warming. It better be simple to serve and easy to eat, as everyone stands around outdoors, plates and forks in hand.

These dishes all share straightforward components, prepared in advance and simply warmed up. Just do leave room for toffees.

Sausage and butternut squash bean stew

Recipes serve 6

150g dried white beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water

1 large fennel bulb

1 butternut squash

100g dried puy lentils

1 savoy cabbage

1 level dtsp thyme leaves

6 dstsp tomato paste

12 good quality sausages sliced into 1cm-1.5cm pieces

1 ltr chicken or vegetable stock


1. Drain the beans in a colander then rinse briefly under cold running water. Transfer to a medium-sized pan and cover generously with water. Do not add salt; for extra flavour you can, if you wish, add a carrot (halved lengthways), half an onion and a piece of bacon. Bring to the boil then simmer until tender, topping up with water if necessary, for about an hour.

2. Meanwhile, place the lentils in a pan and cover with water, again adding bacon, carrot and onion if you wish. Simmer for around 45 minutes. When the beans and lentils are tender, discard the aromats, then leave lentils and beans to cool in their respective liquids.

3. Heat a large saucepan, add a good glug of olive oil then add the sausages and fry for a few minutes until lighlty browned all over.

4. Meanwhile, halve the fennel bulb lengthways and trim out the root. Cut the fennel into dice, about half a centimetre in size. Add the fennel to the sausages. Season lightly with sea salt and sweat without colouring over a low heat for five minutes.

5. Meanwhile, cut the top and base off the butternut squash then halve across the waist. Cut the skin off both sections. Cut bulbous lower section in half, scoop out the seeds and dice the flesh into half-centimetre pieces. Cut the upper section into dice the same size. Add this to the fennel and fry gently for a few minutes.

6. Stir in the tomato puree and thyme leaves, and cook for two minutes.

7. Cut the savoy cabbage into four wedges, cut out the root then shred the leaves finely. Add to the pan, season lightly again with sea salt.

8. Pour the cooking water from the beans through a colander onto the pan of sausage and vegetables so they are well covered. Simmer until the vegetables are tender then add the beans and lentils. If necessary add more of the cooking liquid from the beans to make the mixture more soupy, or it can be a drier consistency more like a casserole.

9. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. All this can be done to this point and rewarmed when needed.

Ham hough and split pea hot pot

1 x 750g cured or smoked ham hock or knuckle (or equivalent of smaller ones)

2 medium onions

4 medium carrots

1 celery heart

Olive oil

500g yellow split peas

1 bay leaf

1 red chilli, deseeded and diced

Sea salt

1 rounded dstsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Place the ham hock in a large pan or casserole and cover with water. Bring to the boil briefly, then drain and set aside. Peel the onions and dice into pieces of about 1cm, then peel and thinly slice the carrots. Finally thinly slice the celery heart across its face. In the pan used for the ham, heat 2 tbsp oil over a medium-low heat, add the onions, carrot and celery and fry for 20-25 minutes until soft and aromatic, stirring occasionally. Keep it covered with a lid in between stirrings.

2. Meanwhile: rinse the split peas in a sieve under the cold tap, and add them to the pan after the 25 minutes has elapsed. Add 2½ litres of water, return the ham hock to the pan and add the bay leaf and chilli.

3. Bring to the boil, skim off any surface foam, and then simmer uncovered over a low heat for 1 hour. Now put on a lid and simmer for a further hour, by which time the split peas should be softened and the ham meltingly tender.

4. Lift out the ham from the pan on to a plate and when cool enough to handle, peel off and discard the rind, also tug out and discard the central bone. Now shred the flesh using two forks.

5. Add shredded meat back to the pan, and season to taste with salt – remember that the stock might be quite salty already from the ham and might need no salt at all. Serve in warm bowls with a splash of oil and scattered with chopped parsley. The soup can be successfully reheated (it sets thickly as it cools, so reheat gently, stirring as it heats).

Geoffrey Smeddle is the chef patron of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife KY15 5LH 01334 840206 www.thepeatinn.co.uk