Great white: Mark Hix sings the praises of the humble cauliflower

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Don't just cover it in cheese sauce. The cauliflower deserves better

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm convinced that the majority of shoppers buy cauliflower to make cauliflower cheese, and in my view we aren't nearly creative enough with the humble cauli. Like some other brassicas, the cauliflower has two seasons: the early crop grown mainly in Cornwall is available in January, and then there is a summer crop which is grown mainly in the north of England. With a bit of thought, this white "brain-like" vegetable can be transformed into all sorts of interesting dishes and garnishes for meat, fish and offal.

I've witnessed even the greatest of chefs throw 30 per cent of a cauliflower away – I'm talking about those lovely deep green outer leaves – which is such a waste. Why not cook them up into a bubble and squeak and allow those delicate pale green leaves that cling to the white florets to stay on during cooking?

Roast cauliflower with venison, haggis and gamekeeper's sauce

Serves 4

Thick, roasted slices of cauliflower are a great serving idea for all sorts of meat, game and offal – instead of using a slice of toast. You can even keep this recipe completely veggie and top the cauliflower with seasonal wild mushrooms. Make sure you leave the core of the cauliflower so it doesn't fall apart.

I've used the venison saddle under-fillets here but you could use the tender inner muscle from the haunch or the fillets off the saddle itself.

1 medium-sized cauliflower, trimmed of its outer leaves (see bratwurst recipe below)
A couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil for frying
100g butter
4 x 120-150g venison fillets
4 x -¾ cm thick slices of haggis

For the sauce

1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
tbsp of plain flour
tsp tomato purée
100ml red wine
250ml hot beef stock
A couple of wee drams of whisky

First make the sauce: gently cook the onion in the butter for 2-3 minutes without colouring. Stir in the flour and stir on the heat for a minute then add the tomato purée. Gradually stir in the red wine followed by the hot beef stock to avoid lumps forming, bring to the boil, season and simmer very gently for about 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened, then add the whisky and simmer again till thickened. If it's getting too thick, add a little water or continue simmering if it's too thin, season to taste.

Meanwhile, cut a little off the top and bottom of the cauliflower then slice into 4 x 1-1 cm thick slices. Bring a pan of water to the boil and simmer the cauliflower for 6-7 minutes until tender but not falling apart. Carefully drain and refresh in some cold water then drain and pat dry with kitchen paper. Heat a large, heavy, preferably non-stick frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Fry the slices of cauliflower for about 3-4 minutes on each side, adding a good knob of butter towards the end of cooking to give them a golden finish, then keep warm in a low oven.

Heat a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil in another heavy frying pan, season the venison fillets and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness, keeping them nice and pink. Remove from the pan and keep warm. In the same pan, fry the haggis on a high heat in a little vegetable oil for a couple of minutes on each side.

To serve, place the cauliflower in the centre of warmed serving plates, place a slice of the haggis on top, then slice each piece of venison into 3 or 4 pieces and lay on to the haggis and pour the sauce around.

Cauliflower salad with capers and anchovies

Serves 4

This is great as a dish in a selection of starters or just as a straight starter served with maybe a few leaves such as Treviso or radicchio. Try to avoid refrigerating this salad as the flavours will be much better at room temperature.

1 medium-sized head of cauliflower with the outer leaves removed
1 large onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
150ml extra virgin olive oil
The juice of half a lemon
100ml good-quality white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
80g capers, drained and washed
10 anchovy fillets, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the cauliflower into florets, cutting any large ones in half. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the cauliflower for 8-10 minutes until tender but not over cooked, then drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, cook the onions in the oil on a low heat for 3-4 minutes without colouring, then remove from the heat and add the vinegar, the lemon juice, capers and anchovies. Mix with the cauliflower and season to taste. Leave at room temperature and give it a stir every so often and add more olive oil if necessary.

Cauliflower and Lancashire cheese soup

Serves 4-6

A creamy cauliflower soup makes a great winter warmer and a strongly flavoured, crumbly white cheese, such as a Lancashire, gives it that nice savoury finishing edge. I've added some crispy croutons here to give extra texture to this silky-smooth soup.

1 medium onion, 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 cut off (keep them for the bratwurst recipe, below)
750ml vegetable stock (a good cube will do)
500ml milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3-4tbsp grated Lancashire cheese
2 slices of bread, crusts removed and cut into rough 1 cm 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 3 tablespoons of the Lancashire until smooth and strain through a fine-meshed sieve and season again if necessary. You can add a little more cheese for added savouriness 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 toss the rest of the cheese with them while they are still hot.

Grilled bratwurst with cauliflower mash and mustard

Serves 4

This is a great way to use up the leafy bits of cauliflower rather than throwing them in the bin or on the compost. If you can't find bratwurst sausages, then this will also work well with any other good-quality, meaty sausage.

4 bratwurst sausages
The trimmings from a medium cauliflower
A couple of good knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
tbsp of plain flour
tsp tomato purée
tsp English mustard
100ml red wine
250ml hot beef stock
2tsp grain mustard

First make the sauce: cook the onion in the butter for 2-3 minutes without colouring. Stir in the flour and stir on the heat for a minute, then add the tomato purée and mustard. Gradually stir in the red wine followed by the hot beef stock to avoid lumps forming, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened. If it's getting too thick, add a little water, or continue simmering if it's too thin. Season. Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the cauliflower trimmings for 8-10 minutes or until tender, then drain and blend to a coarse purée in a food processor or chop by hand. Transfer to a clean pan, add the butter and season. Score the bratwurst about 4 or 5 times on each sausage and cook under a medium grill for about 10 minutes. To serve, heat the cauliflower mash up and spoon on to the centre of warmed serving plates. Place the sausage on the mash and spoon the sauce around.

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