This article first appeared on theguardian.com.
Whether it’s roasted, steamed, raw, baked, curried, pureed or boiled, there’s a cauliflower recipe to suit every occasion
What with all the campaigning going on right now (and we all know that’s only going to get worse), I’ve decided that after this week I’m going to step down from a cause I’ve long advocated. I’m not sure politics is meant to work like this – no votes have been cast, no deals brokered – but no matter: it finally looks as if the cauliflower battle is won.
The pro-cauli campaign has been going on long enough for everyone who’s ever going to be convinced to be, well, convinced: cauliflower is not a dowdy, dreary, bland charity case. My part in proceedings started way back in 2007, when I was still pretty new to this game. “If you’ve always thought cauliflower can’t be exciting,” I wrote in this magazine of a salad that paired florets with sweet sultanas and sharp olives, “here’s a dish that might make you want to reconsider.”
A while later, I took part in a 2009 edition of BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme that was dedicated to the cauliflower and in the course of which I bemoaned its usurpation by its cousin, broccoli. For that show, I chargrilled cauliflower, then doused it in grain mustard, dill, garlic and cider vinegar, hoping this would bring new supporters to the barricades. Similarly, in 2010, when sharing a recipe for cauliflower cake, I came clean that the dish was “part of my ongoing campaign to give cauliflower some well-earned glory”.
Ever since, I have banged on about cauliflower to anyone who’d listen. I’ve suggested roasting the florets and mixing them with dates and capers, or with grapes and cheddar. I’ve used grated cauliflower in a tabbouleh-like salad, and treated it much as we do potatoes in frittatas, fritters and pakoras. I have deep-fried it and served it with a tahini- or yoghurt-based sauce; and I have turned it into a lemony soup topped with mustard croutons.
All this is not to say I’ve been a lone voice on the cauliflower campaign trail. Far from it. Long-standing veterans of the movement – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall predicted in a 2009 column that it could be the next big vegetable – have stood shoulder to shoulder with more recent converts, from the Hemsley sisters’ ingenious grated and steamed cauliflower as a light alternative to rice, to Jack Monroe’s passanda that celebrates its versatility for those on tight budgets, as well as meaty roast cauli “steaks” dreamed up by Jason Neroni of the Superba Snack Bar in LA.
Now, this once-maligned vegetable is feted on menus and dinner tables more or less everywhere – it’s giving even the ubiquitous kale a run for its money. So it’s time for me to move on and stand up for other minority veg. Turnip, kohlrabi, swede: I’ve got your backs.
Cauliflower, pomegranate and pistachio salad
Yotam Ottolenghi’s cauliflower, pomegranate and pistachio salad: ‘A spectacular combination of roast and grated raw cauliflower.’ Photograph: Johanna Parkin for the Guardian. Food styling: Katie Giovanni
I’ve always loved roast cauliflower, and I’ve also been known to rave about how tasty it is grated raw, so imagine how delighted I was to discover that the combination of the two works spectacularly well. Serves two to four.
60ml sunflower oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin
1 large cauliflower, leaves removed and base trimmed
60ml olive oil
25g parsley leaves, finely chopped
10g mint leaves, roughly chopped
7g tarragon leaves, finely chopped
The seeds from ½ medium pomegranate (about 80g net weight)
35g pistachios, toasted and lightly crushed
¾ tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp lemon juice
Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the sunflower oil in a small sauté pan over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for eight to 10 minutes, until golden-brown and starting to crisp. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Coarsely grate a third of the cauliflower (about 160g-worth) and set aside in a large bowl. Break the remaining cauliflower into medium-sized florets about 3cm wide at the top. Toss the florets in half the olive oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, then spread out on a baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes, until cooked through and a dark golden-brown. Remove and set aside to cool.
Add the onions and their oil to the grated cauliflower, then stir in the remaining olive oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Add the remaining ingredients apart from the roast florets, mix well, then gently fold in the florets and serve at once.
Mustardy cauliflower cheese
A neat take on a classic. Serves four.
50g puy lentils
1 large cauliflower, separated into 4cm florets
2 tbsp ghee
2 banana shallots, peeled and diced fine
1½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp mustard powder
2 green chillis, deseeded and finely diced
1 tsp black mustard seeds
200ml double cream
90g mature cheddar, grated
15g parmesan, grated
15g panko breadcrumbs
5g parsley, finely chopped
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Tip the lentils into a small pan filled with boiling water and simmer for 18 minutes, until al dente. Drain, refresh and leave to drip-dry.
Steam the cauliflower over boiling water for five minutes, until just softening, remove and set aside.
Melt the ghee in a round, 24cm casserole pan on a medium heat, and sauté the shallots for eight minutes, until soft and golden. Add the cumin, curry and mustard powders, and chilli, and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mustard seeds, cook for a minute, then stir in the cream, 80g of the cheddar, all the parmesan and half a teaspoon of salt. Simmer for a minute or two, so the sauce thickens slightly, then add the lentils and cauliflower. Stir gently, simmer for a minute more, then take off the heat.
In a small bowl, mix the panko, remaining cheddar and parsley. Sprinkle over the cauliflower, then bake for eight minutes, until bubbling and hot. Brown under a high grill for two to four minutes, until the top is golden and crisp (watch that it doesn’t burn). Remove, leave to cool down slightly and serve.
Roasted whole cauliflower with creme fraiche
Keep all the leaves on the head of cauliflower for this: when roasted, they are deliciously crisp and tasty. The addition of a few chopped anchovies would be a flavoursome addition to the butter: you won’t need the salt if you do this. I like to serve this in the centre of the table, for people to share with drinks at the start of a meal. We break the cauliflower apart with our hands (let it cool down a little first), dip the individual florets and crisp green leaves into the creme fraiche sauce and sprinkle with salt. For those who prefer eating with a knife and fork on separate small plates, just cut the cauli into quarters and serve individually. Serves four as a starter.
1 large cauliflower with its leaves intact
150g creme fraiche
1 tbsp lemon juice
70g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 tbsp olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Using a pair of scissors, lightly trim the leaves at the top of the cauliflower, so that about 5cm of the cauliflower’s head is exposed.
Fill a pan large enough to fit the cauliflower in salty water. Bring to a boil and carefully lower in the cauliflower exposed head down: don’t worry if the base sticks out a little. Bring back to a boil, cook for six minutes, then transfer the cauliflower to a colander, exposed head down. Set aside for 10 minutes, to drain and cool.
Heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3. Mix together the creme fraiche and lemon juice, and set aside in the fridge until required.
Mix the butter with the oil. Put the cauliflower stem side down in a medium baking tray and spread the butter mix all over the white flower. Sprinkle over a teaspoon and a quarter of salt, and roast for an hour and a half to two hours, basting the cauliflower with the buttery juices five or six times during cooking. The cauliflower is done when it’s super-tender and a dark golden-brown, and the leaves are crisp and charred. Remove from the oven and serve with the lemony creme fraiche and a little extra salt for sprinkling on topalongside.
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