Cauliflower is especially plentiful and delicious this time of year. It grows enclosed in its swirling green leaves – and so the head and its undeveloped flowers remain pale (unlike its tan sibling broccoli who grows up near naked). It’s rich in those classically autumnal tastes – milkyness and nuttiness – but is spearheaded by a sweetness which keeps it relevant through spring. If it’s overcooked on the boil or in the steamer though, the school-lunch bitter aromas become prevalent. The thick white stalks of the leaves – aka ‘poor man’s asparagus’ – can be boiled until tender and eaten straight away with melted butter, lemon and salt. Like all vegetables the flavour becomes flat with age (that is the stage before it starts to rot) so make sure it looks in fine fettle – springy, bright green leaves and an unblemished, radiant head.
Cauliflower soup and quail’s egg
It’s presumably not that often that one has surplus quail’s eggs lying around and needing eating. I once did, and quite a lot of them. I soft boiled them and peeled them. Having softened some white onions in butter and oil and then with them some thinly sliced cauliflower and then shallow braising with some cream, I popped in the quails eggs, each ripped in half.
I added some milk to cover and simmered oh-so gently for five to ten minutes until the cauliflower was tender. Then a mega blitz in the blender and through a sieve so to make it as smooth as possible. It was served and eaten hot (not piping) and the garnish was a grind of pepper.
The decadence in preparation carried through and made for an enriching harmony but without a repeat in quails’ egg surplus no such combination has been repeated. Recently the soup was revisited but with a more humble supply of eggs their presence was made more tangible.
The soup was made similarly to above but eggless. The eggs were soft boiled, peeled and then two or three slightly crushed were popped on top as a garnish two or three to each bowl) with a grind of pepper. Thin golden ribbons of yolk running through the soup as its eaten.
Another, slightly jazzier, way to garnish would be to boil some of the smallest leaves from the cauliflower (those that are creamy coloured and tender). Mix them through with a little sliced wild garlic (which is all of a sudden all abundant) and the crushed quail’s eggs with a drop of olive oil.
Black pudding, pickled cauliflower stalk and mustardy leaves
Cauliflower stalks, as in the two recipes below, often don’t make the final cut in dishes given their difference in texture and cooking time to the flowers. They are perfectly delicious though and if you are taking on a couple of heads at the same time its worth keeping them and giving them a pickle.
First make your pickling liquor. Roast some spices in a dry pot – clove, coriander seed, mace blade and mustard seeds (adding the latter a little later). When aromas start drifting and the mustard seed begin flying add some cider vinegar. Bring to a boil, take of the heat and add a little sugar and salt to taste. You needn’t peel the stalk; slice it at a bit of an angle and about 6mm in width.
Pop in an appropriate sterilised (washed in hot soapy water and dried in a low oven just before using) jar and pour the tepid vinegar over to cover. It’ll be best when it’s been given from three to four weeks to pickle (in the fridge).
Slice the black pudding a little under an inch and fry in dripping or butter until browned and crisp. Make a dressing with a little of the pickling liquor and some olive oil. You can serve the three components together either as a salad or as little nibble – each slice of black pudding topped by a couple of slices of cauliflower stalk and two or three dressed, mustardy leaves.
Cauliflower mash, kidneys, bay and lemon
Pop some unsalted butter in a small pot, with lots of fresh bay leaves and some slivers of lemon zest. On a low heat let the butter melt and come to a simmer, then turn the heat off but leave it on the hop to continue infusing. Slice your cauliflower, removing the leaves and the main stalk. Fry for a couple of minutes in some butter on a medium heat.
Add some cream to fill half way up the cauliflower, season with salt and simmer gently with a lid on. Give the cauliflower an occasional stir and as soon as its tender through its ready. Pour out some of the remaining cream and mash quite roughly, season, add a drop of something acidic (cider vinegar would be ideal) and any of the cream it cooked in to bring it to a desirable looseness.
Peel off from each kidney the thin membrane and any connecting tissue or suet. Cut them in half lengthwise and cut out the fatty core. Season well with salt and pepper, fry at a fair heat in dripping, flat side down first, turning when browned. Its pretty important to have them at room temperature before cooking them so that they can cook through relatively evenly, without the centre remaining pink while the outside is over. Let them rest for a couple of minutes (during which time they will continue to cook through slightly).
Bring the cauliflower and the butter back up to heat and add a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Spoon some cauliflower on to each of your warmed plates, then two or three kidney halves and then spoon over the butter with a couple of the bay leaves for each plate.
Cauliflower, red onion and fried granary bread
Cut florets of cauliflower from the head; keep them relatively similar in size – if you are trying to half one then cut down the stalk then break apart with your hands so that the flowers keeps their admirable natural shapes. Boil in seasoned milk. Drain (leaving the milk for a soup) just before they are tender through (like the kidneys, they will continue cooking as they cool down) and give them a little bash around in the pot to ruffle up some of the corners as you would roast potatoes.
Pop in a bowl, add some thinly sliced red onion rings, olive oil, salt, a little dollop of Dijon mustard if you have some, and red wine vinegar. Mix and taste. As the cauliflower cools slice some granary bread for frying – cut off the crust and into 1 by 2 cm pieces. Fry in hot oil until golden all over, drain, sprinkle with salt, and add a few to each helping of cauliflower salad.