What are your pet hates in recipes? Mine include too many ingredients, too many bits of kitchen equipment used unnecessarily and method-smuggling. And no, that’s nothing to do with buying lots of very attractively packaged cleaning products and taking them through customs; I mean that practice of hiding some of the actual process of making the recipe in the list of ingredients so that it messes with your timing. To me the list of ingredients is my shopping list, not part of the ‘how to’ and I resent getting halfway through the method to discover that I should have toasted or soaked something a few hours or even minutes earlier. Which is what happened tonight when I decided to do something with the rather monstrously large cauliflower I bought at the farmers’ market.
Cauliflower is a pretty unloved vegetable, probably because it spends most of its time in the UK blanketed under bland cheese in school lunches or roast dinners. And, as anyone who has cooked it knows, it can leave its olfactory mark on the kitchen for days. However, I am currently helping to edit a book all about Sicilian food and every day it inspires me to look at relatively plain ingredients (breadcrumbs, cauliflower, leftover risotto) and think about reinventing them. Moro, my favourite London restaurant, is also a cauliflower champion and I still remember a gorgeous winter tabbouleh I ate there in which the ‘grain’ was tiny florets of raw cauliflower tossed with, amongst other things, bright red pomegranate seeds. So it was to their first book that I turned for a cauliflower makeover. And although the result didn’t disappoint the recipe did; it’s a classic example of not thinking about the person reading it and how they will use it. So, as with every recipe on this site, this is my rewrite and adaptation.
For two as a main with bread or four as a side you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
olive oil, 3 tablespoons/45ml
sea salt and black pepper
medium white onion
cauliflower, 1 medium
saffron strands, a couple of pinches
pine nuts, 30g
pitta breads, to serve
1. Prep: break the cauliflower into small florets and, if still on it, keep the small leaves; put the saffron into a bowl with 4 tablespoons of boiling water; peel and slice the onion; soak the raisins in a bowl with some water and dry-fry the pine nuts until just coloured.
2. Put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil, and when bubbling, add the cauliflower florets (and leaves), bring to the boil again and cover and cook for about a minute. Then tip it into a colander, refresh immediately with cold water and leave to drain.
3. Put the same saucepan back on the heat, tip in the olive oil and, once it’s hot, add the sliced onions with a pinch of sea salt. Stir the onions into the oil until well coated then lower the heat and cook them until sticky and coloured, usually about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the onion slices and your saucepan/hob. Stir them often and keep a close eye on them to prevent them sticking and burning.
4. When the onions are cooked, lift them out with a slotted spoon or tongs, leaving as much of the oil as possible in the pan, and put to one side.
5. Return the pan to the heat, let the olive oil warm up until starting to shimmer and very hot and then tip in the cauliflower. Again, stir it until every bit is nicely coated with oil, lower the heat and let it cook/fry until it just starts to colour.
6. Finally, drain the raisins and add them to the cauliflower with the pine nuts and the saffron water. Stir to ensure it is thoroughly mixed together and leave to cook for a minute or two more until most of the water from the saffron has evaporated.
7. Season to taste and serve (some pitta breads would go really well with this).