Don't say cheese: Mark Hix transforms the cauliflower

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

I was never that keen on cauliflower as a kid and I can't even remember my grandmother actually cooking one – perhaps she simply didn't know how to! But this humble and versatile vegetable is a perennial favourite of mine; its myriad uses are often under-explored, and it tends to just end up getting boiled to death and smothered in a cheese sauce – not that there's anything particularly wrong with that. In fact, good cauliflower cheese is one of my favourite accompaniments to a Sunday roast. British cauliflowers seem to be available during most of the year these days. During January you tend to spot Cornish caulis on the shelves, which have a great flavour. Cauliflower has endless possibilities as a starter; you can use it in anything from soups to salads and even pan-fried as a slice which we often have on the menu with devilled kidneys or livers.

Cauliflower cheese soup

Serves 4-6

The combination of cauliflower and cheese is a classic partnership. You can use a strong cheese like Cheddar or Lancashire or even add a few nuggets of blue cheese at the end. You can also make this with leftover cauliflower cheese and just add a bit of extra milk and stock.

1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, white part only, roughly chopped
2-3 good knobs of butter
1 small- to medium-sized cauliflower, roughly chopped, with the dark outer leaves removed
750ml vegetable stock (or a good cube)
500ml milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
120g grated mature Cheddar cheese
2 slices of bread, crusts removed and cut into rough 1cm dice
2tbsp olive oil

Melt the butter in a pan and with the lid on gently cook the onion and leek, without colouring, for 4-5 minutes, until they are soft. Add the cauliflower, stock and milk. Season, bring to the boil and simmer for 35 minutes, with a lid on, or until the cauliflower is soft. Blend in a liquidiser with two-thirds of the cheese until smooth and strain through a fine-meshed sieve and season again if necessary. You can add a little more cheese for added flavour if you wish. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and cook the croutons on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, turning every so often until golden. Transfer to some kitchen paper, season and mix the rest of the cheese with them while they are still hot. Scatter the croutons over the soup and serve.

Spiced scallops and creamed cauliflower

Serves 4 as a starter

Cauliflower purée makes a great accompaniment to fish, meat, poultry and offal; it does the job of a sauce without all that heaviness and richness. Depending on what you are going to serve it with, you could also jazz it up with some cheese or mellow herbs such as chervil, parsley or chives. By roasting the cauliflower first, then blending it, you end up with a completely different flavour so give it a try.

Half a head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into even-sized pieces
100g butter
12 medium-sized scallops, cut from the shell and cleaned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tsp chilli flakes
A little olive oil to serve

Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water for about 10-12 minutes until it is soft enough to purée. Blend in a food processor or liquidiser until smooth, then transfer to a pan and stir in half of the butter and season to taste.

Season the scallops with salt and the chilli flakes, heat the rest of the butter in a heavy frying pan until foaming, then cook the scallops for a minute on each side, lightly colouring them. To serve, reheat the cauliflower purée and spoon on to warmed serving plates. Arrange the scallops on top, then drizzle a little olive oil around.

Cauliflower pakoras

Serves 4

This is a lovely way to serve cauliflower as a snack with drinks or as a starter or an accompaniment to a curry. You can serve these with a dip like yoghurt and freshly chopped mint or a good mango chutney.

1 small cauliflower, leaves removed and cut down into florets
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

For the batter

A good knob of butter
1tsp ground cumin
tsp ground turmeric
tsp ground coriander
A good pinch of chilli powder
tsp nigela seeds
tsp black mustard seeds
4tbsp Dove's Farm gluten-free self-raising flour
Cold water to mix
1tbsp chopped coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the cauliflower florets in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, keeping them slightly under-cooked, then drain and refresh under the cold tap. Cut into bite-sized pieces and put to one side.

To make the batter, melt the butter in a pan and gently cook all of the spices for a minute over a low heat, then transfer to a bowl, rinsing the pan with a tablespoon of water so none of the spice is wasted. Add the flour to the bowl and mix enough water to make a thickish batter. Season and stir in the coriander.

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.

Put the cauliflower pieces into the batter and mix well. Cook a few pieces at a time, turning them with a slotted spoon, for 3-4 minutes or until nicely coloured, then remove and drain on some kitchen paper. You can keep them warm in a low oven or just pop them back in the fryer to reheat once you have cooked them all.

Roasted cauliflower and lamb's liver salad

Serves 4

Cauliflower and offal make a great combo and we often serve a slice of roasted cauliflower with kidneys as a starter or main course.

1 small head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
200-250g lamb's liver, thinly sliced, trimmed of veins and sinews and halved
A couple of handfuls of small salad leaves and herbs like land cress, pea shoots or rocket, chervil, chives etc
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
A couple of tablespoons of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp chopped green herbs (parsley, chervil, chives etc)

For the dressing

1tbsp cider vinegar
2tsp Tewksbury or Dijon mustard
4tbsp rapeseed oil

Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water until just cooked, then drain and cut into bite-sized pieces. Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and fry the cauliflower on a high heat for about 5-6 minutes, turning the pieces as they are cooking and adding a little butter once they are beginning to colour. Whisk the ingredients together for the dressing and season. Season the slices of liver and dip in the chopped green herbs. Heat the rest of the butter in a frying pan until foaming and fry the liver for about 30 seconds on each side. To serve, arrange the cauliflower, liver and leaves on serving plates and spoon over the dressing.

Comments