Those cauliflowers with their crisp, bright creamy curds look so enticing on the market stall at this time of year. They beg to be bought and transformed into something both appetising and full of goodness.
So often they disappoint . That bright white face displayed among all the cheery autumn colours of carrots and pumpkins, and the deep forest green of spinach and cabbage turns a sullen shade of oatmeal the second it’s introduced to a pan of boiling water. Leave it there a moment too long and it’s watery, tasteless and almost slimy.
But there are recipes in which it shines. On a miserable winter’s day after a few hours out in the cold, you can’t beat a plateful of good old cauliflower cheese made with lots of decent sharp-flavoured cheddar. You can get away with Cantal Entre Deux, but not the ready-grated Emmenthal that seems to be the default cooking cheese round here.
My next favourite is Rose Elliot‘s cashew nut korma – very mild indeed as far as curries go, but tasty and more-ish. I’ll adapt the vegetables to what I have in the house, but I’m always sure to include cauliflower. It’s a recipe I try to make a day ahead, because that way, the ingredients sit together in the pan and get very well acquainted overnight. By the time we eat them, they’ve become good and harmonious friends. And I get to use two of the chillies I’ve been carefully growing all summer.
There’s a bit of a theme emerging here: it’s all about comfort food. Perhaps because this week’s been unremittingly horrible. It’s rained and rained, the wind has blown, and then it’s rained some more. A fresh crunchy salad involving fine slices of cauliflower, enlivened by finely chopped herbs and a bright dressing simply wouldn’t hit the spot. Here’s the last suggestion, from Nigel Slater’s Tender, Volume one.
A mildly spiced supper of cauliflower and potatoes
3 large onions
4 cloves garlic
Ginger: a thumb-sized lump
1 tbsp. ground coriander-a tablespoon
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
3 tomatoes (or 1/2 tin)
600 ml. water
3 medium potatoes
a large cauliflower
Handful unroasted cashew nuts
6 green cardamom pods
1 tbsp. garam masala-a tablespoon
150- 200 ml. crème fraîche
coriander-a small bunch
- Peel the onions, chop one of them roughly, then let it soften with a tablespoon or two of oil in a deep pan over a moderate heat.
- Halve and thinly slice the others and set aside. peel the garlic cloves, slice them thinly then stir into the softening onion. Continue cooking, without browning either the onion or the garlic.
- Grate the ginger. These days I freeze ginger when I buy it, and grate from frozen. It’s so easy to deal with this way. Add to the onion and garlic.
- Stir the ground coriander, cumin, cayenne and turmeric into the onion. Let them fry for a minute or two, then roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan.
- Add the water and bring to the boil.
- Season with salt and a generous grind of black pepper.
- Cut the potatoes into large pieces (as if for boiling) and add them to the pan. lower the heat and leave to simmer for fifteen minutes before breaking the cauliflower into florets and adding to the sauce.
- Quickly toast the cashew nuts in a small non-stick frying pan until golden, tip them into the pot, cover with a lid and continue to simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes.
- Meanwhile, fry the reserved onions in a little oil in a shallow pan till deep, nutty gold.
- Whilst they are cooking, crack the cardamom pods, scrape out the seeds, crush lightly and add to the onions.
- Continue cooking for five minutes or so, then, when all is gold and fragrant, remove and place on kitchen paper.
- When the cauliflower and potatoes are tender to the point of a knife, stir in the garam masala (the spices in it are already roasted, so it needs very little cooking) and the crème fraîche. Simmer for a minute, then serve topped with the reserved onions and the roughly chopped or torn coriander leaves.