Making cauliflower great again

Upon arrival at a festival this summer, my marathon running housemate and I took part in an early morning HIIT class. Lord knows why we put ourselves through this, but along with four other crazy folk we huffed and puffed our way around an assault course designed by and delivered to us by an overly enthusiastic New Yorker. To reward our heroic efforts, we were each gifted with a pink tee shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Eat More Plants’. The smallest size they had left was a baggy medium, so when I wear mine tucked into jeans or a skirt, the slogan wrongly reads, ‘Eat More’.

But the ethos remains. We live in a world where we are being told to eat a more ‘plant based diet’. Apparently nobody is getting enough fibre, so for the good of our health, and our microbiomes, we should all be eating more roughage. Enter, the humble cauliflower.

My memories of cauliflower growing up mainly revolve around the classic Sunday roast side dish, cauliflower cheese. Florets so laden with an intensely cheesy sauce that it could be any vegetable hiding under there. The only other time I can remember eating the brassica is when it comes as part of a boiled vegetable medley. I’m sure you’ve experienced this sad collection of plain cauliflower/broccoli/carrot/potato, sitting next to a stodgy main meal at any sort of semi run down, failing restaurant. They never get eaten, but are still boiled and served to this day.

Nowadays, it is quite a different story indeed. We have cauliflower pizza bases. Cauliflower rice. Cauliflower mashed potato. Heck, M&S got in a spot of hot water recently over cutting a cauliflower into ‘steaks’, and slapping on a two pound fifty price tag. I’m here to introduce you to my favourite ways of dealing with the humble cauliflower. It is cheap, it is big, and you will probably only use half or a quarter for a recipe, and then wonder what on earth to do with the rest. Here are some hopefully tasty options for you to try.

Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower Cake

When I started my new job (can I still call it new after a year?!), I was told that the chef before me used to make this mysterious sounding cauliflower cake to be eaten over a weekend, and they really enjoyed it. This intrigued me. When I found out it was an Ottolenghi recipe, I gave it a go and have never looked back. It is now up there with the most delicious of quiches, tarts and frittatas.

Side note: please do not have a heart attack at the shockingly large mass of parmesan used here. Just imagine the cake being cut into eight or so slices. The amount of parmesan consumed per person isn’t anywhere near as bad now.

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Ingredients

  • 1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 red onion, one quarter cut into rings, the rest roughly chopped
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 4 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
  • 10 eggs
  • a bunch of basil, chopped
  • 180g plain flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 220g parmesan, grated

Method

Heat the oven to 180°C. Grease & line a 24cm cake tin with butter & greaseproof paper.

Boil the cauliflower florets for 15 minutes until soft, and drain.

Heal the oil, saute onion & rosemary until soft. Let cool. Put in a bowl with the eggs & basil, whisk together.

Put the flour, baking powder, turmeric & parmesan in a large bowl with a chef’s pinch of salt and lots of black pepper. Add the eggy mixture into the dry mixture, whisking to get rid of any lumps. (If you do it the other way round, your mixture is doomed to be lumpy.) Fold in the cauliflower florets.

Pour into the tin and artfully arrange the red onion circles on top.

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It’s so good, I’ve made it at least twice

Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out dry. Let it cool in the tin before removing, slicing and serving. It tastes great hot, warm, room temperature & cold. Basically, it just tastes great.

You don’t HAVE to use cauliflower, either. One time, I used broccoli.

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Eat it raw

Cauliflower tastes really good raw. (So do mushrooms and courgettes). For your next hummus party, go ahead and chop up some florets to go next to your carrot, cucumber, celery & pepper. Anna Jones describes it as having a creamy texture. I wouldn’t quite go that far myself, but I will admit, it does taste pretty nice.

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Or make a crunchy salad with it, a la Anna Jones

Spice it up

Cauliflower can take a lot of flavour. A technique I learnt during last year’s Ashburton Advanced Week has stayed with me, and I go back to it time and time again. Whoever I’ve made this for has commented on its tastiness, so it’s a tried and tested well loved way to make the vegetable the star of the show. My favourite dish to serve this with is pan fried sea bass/bream, tahini & citrus sauce, cauliflower puree (see below), roasted baby carrots & basil oil.

How to make spiced cauliflower

Cut a cauliflower so it resembles those overpriced M&S ‘steaks’. Basically this means cutting it into 1 inch thick slices. Break these slices up with your knife to make medium sized florets, with flat sides. You don’t want round florets here. Line a large flat baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Put a frying pan over a high heat. Add a knob of butter and a splash of neutral oil. Place your florets into the pan carefully, one by one. Leave them alone for a good 3-5 minutes (depending how hot your pan is – try to get it nice and hot). Do not be tempted to stir or move them. Lift one up with a small spatula (or a small spoon) to check underneath. If it is nice and nutty and dark brown, flip it over and leave it on the other side for about 3 minutes until the other side is the same.

Lay cooked florets onto the baking tray. Mix together a small pot of ras el hanout, white sesame seeds, and a chef’s pinch of salt and lots of black pepper. You can use any mixture of spices here (cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, garam masala, curry powder), but these are my preference. Waitrose does a lovely ras el hanout with actual bits of rose petals in it. Sprinkle the spice mix liberally over the florets. It will stick to them nicely as they’ve just come out of the buttery pan.

When you’re ready to serve your dish, simply slide the tray into a hot oven for about 5-8 minutes to warm through. So simple, but so delicious.

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Stick it in a blender

A cauliflower puree is a beautiful thing. Silky smooth, buttery soft, it could be described as an alternative to mashed potato but I’ve decided it’s a different entity. It’s better than that.

Chef Steps have the best method for purees I’ve ever come across. Whatever vegetable you’re using, just slice it up as thinly as you can, pop it in a saucepan with butter, water & salt, put a lid on and steam until soft. Blend, season, and you’re done. You’ve made a Masterchef-worthy puree that Spencer Matthews would not stop making.

Now let me know your favourite ways to jazz up the ole cauliflower, I’ve got half hanging around in the bottom drawer of my fridge…

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