The Perks of Eating a Cauliflower
At the risk of repeating myself: I fucking love cauliflower. It's the superior brassica. Better than broccoli- THERE I SAID IT. But I am constantly finding people who claim to hate cauliflower, which is extremely disappointing to me. My theory, however, is not that these people hate cauliflowers, rather they have only ever eaten cauliflower cooked poorly or in ways they do not enjoy.
So here, dear readers, are several ideas for things to do with cauliflower that will hopefully change your mind about this misunderstood vegetable.
As is my way you can expect extremely unclear instructions. These are not concrete recipes, these are intended to be inspirational.
Prepare to be inspired.
Cauliflower & Potato Fritters
Cauli's love oil. They get all brown and delicious- crunchy and soft-centred. So too do potatoes. Combine them! Fry them!
Recently for a weekend brunch I made cauliflower & potato fritters which were goddamn delicious and very easy. Seriously, i was hungover AF and I managed these with very little effort. Fritters are a great way to use up vegetables. Once you've got a good feel for the right consistency you can get away with making up whatever variation you fancy.
Take equal parts cauliflower and potato.
Grate the potatoes coarsely and salt them well. Leave them to sit for 5 minutes or so and then squeeze out the excess liquid.
Par-cook the caulis and roughly chop them.
Mix the cauliflower and squeezed out potato with a couple of eggs, and whatever spices or herbs you fancy (I used cumin and smokey paprika but YOU DO YOU) No need for more salt at this point.
Italians have a wonderful phrase they use in cooking: quanto basta. It means just the right amount. Keeping this in mind: to your vegetable mix add quanto basta flour, enough to bind the mix without making it too thick and claggy.
Shape the batter into patties with your hands and carefully shallow fry in batches over medium/low heat until they're browned and crispy on the outside, and cooked through all the way.
Sprinkle a little sea salt on them while they're STILL HOT and serve them however you please.
You could make this with sweet potato instead of regular potato, or with some sautéed leeks thrown in. In summer this is great with zucchini. Just keep in mind the water content of your veggies, if they're too soggy they won't fry nicely and you'll have consistency issues.
Most people make Carbonara wrong. Don't be one of those people. Cream has NO PLACE in a good carbonara, the creaminess should come from the egg and the cheese.
I've heard a couple of theories about the origins of the word Carbonara. I was always told as an apprentice that it comes from the Italian for charcoal, and was a reference to the amount of pepper that should be cracked on top, creating the appearance of a dusting of soot. Or the word may mean something entirely different and I was just a particularly gullible apprentice. Who knows!?
Who cares about etymology? How do I make it?
This whole endeavour should only take roughly as long as the time it took to boil water and then cook pasta. Like halfa, TOPS. This is a lazy, quick, zero fucks to give kind of thang.
Put a big pot of salted water on to boil. While that's happening, dice up a brown onion, maybe 4 rashers of bacon and as much garlic as you fancy. I'm assuming with these quantities that you are feeding yourself and another hungry person. Use some common sense and basic multiplication if that's not the case for you. Sauté everything in a decent sized pan with a slug of oil and a pinch of salt. Why the salt? Great question! It will help to draw the moisture out of your onions, helping them to cook slowly and soften without burning.
Cut like half a small cauliflower into bite-sized florets and add them to your pan.
I am a NON-TRADITIONALIST HEATHEN and, much to the inevitable disappointment of Nonna's everywhere, I like to add a good pinch of chilli flakes and some lemon zest at this point.
Around this time your pot is likely boiling and you may cook the pasta of your choice. Spaghetti is traditional but, as previously mentioned, I am a non-traditionalist heathen and a big fan of fettuccine or even a small seashell. That one's pretty controversial tbh.
Once the cauliflower starts to soften, and perhaps even brown a little, add about half a cup of your pasta water to cook it through and make everything a little saucy.
Strain your cooked pasta, and add it to the pan with a dollop of butter. Grate plenty of GOOD parmesan into the pan and serve into large bowls.
Add a single egg yolk to each bowl and get your mate to stir the egg into their pasta. The residual heat in the bowl will allow the proteins to cook through without hardening. If you attempt this while the pasta is still on the stove you will have scrambled eggs and that is really not what we're going for.
You should have a rich, silky coating all over your pasta now and all that remains is to add a SHIT-TON of cracked pepper and eat the damn thing.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan you may be feeling left out at this point but PLEASE DON'T PANIC! My next dish has you sorted.
Cauliflower Steaks with Caponata & Spiced Rice
My housemate went to the shops while hungry last week which, as we all know, is DANGEROUS and as a result we ended the week with about a thousand red capsicums and a big old eggplant that had been neglected and were looking a little sad. SO I turned them all into a caponata.
What's a Caponata?
Great question! It's a Sicilian invention which takes diced eggplant and capsicum and cooks them down into a delicious stew-esque concoction. Caponata can be eaten on toast, with pasta, on fish or meat, as a side dish, hot or cold OR as an accompaniment to cauliflower steaks. Basically it's just a delicious and versatile recipe to have up your sleeve.
And now some nerdy stuff...
Sicilian cooking is quite distinct from even it's closest mainland neighbours. Islamic, Norman, Roman & Byzantine empires all controlled the island at one point and and you can see the impact each had on the culture and cuisine. Geography also plays a large part in this; on a clear day the island can be seen from the Northern tip of Tunisia. Well apparently it can, my personal experience does not validate this. The Islamic influences are especially prevalent in Sicily. The inclusion of dried fruit and nuts in the caponata, for example, is a something you might expect to find in an Arabic or Persian recipe.
So you can see why serving a Sicilian side dish with a Middle Eastern style spiced rice seemed perfectly natural to me.
Here's a rough explanation of how I made everything, but keep in mind that you can alter this in a thousand ways depending on what you have on hand and tbh I was pretty tipsy when I did this so no guarantees.
1 large eggplant
3 red capsicums
1 large brown onion
4 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch coriander stems & roots
zest of a lemon
Dice everything finely and sauté gently in a medium pan with plenty of oil until softened, not browned. Add:
1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp harissa paste or chilli flakes (or both if you're into some heat)
1tsp cumin seeds
1Tbsp baby capers
a good handful of dried currants
a smaller handful of pine nuts (unless you're rich, then add a big handful)
Cook it all down on low heat until everything is very soft and fragrant. This will take maybe 15ish minutes. Give it a stir every once in a while and if you're worried about things sticking, throw a little water in. Season well with salt and pepper.
While your caponata is simmering away happily you can start on your...
2C long-grain rice
3C boiling water (you may need a little more, depends on your rice and your stove and your life… It's goddamn rice use your common sense)
1 Brown onion
2tsp Cumin seeds
1 stick cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp tumeric
plenty of salt
Sauté the onion in a little oil til soft but not brown, add your spices and stir them up real good until everything smells delicious. Add the rice and stir it to coat it in all those flavours. Chuck in the water & salt, throw on a lid and simmer it for 12-15ish minutes or until its juuuuuust right (aka the water has absorbed and the rice is soft but still toothsome)
Now, once I get to that stage I take off the lid, give things a quick stir and taste for seasoning. Then I stick a clean tea-towel over the pot, put the lid on again and sit it to the side. Why do I do this? To be honest, I had no fucking idea so I did some research. It's something about trapping steam and keeping things fluffy. Or it's witchcraft!
Cannot stress how fucking easy this bit is. While your rice is cooking...
Take a big old cauliflower, strip off the outer stems but leave a decent chunk of stem intact. Carefully slice the whole thing into four slices, making sure each slice has enough stem attached to maintain structural integrity.
Season well with salt, pepper and a little sumac. Big frypan, medium/low heat, a decent splash of oil. Gently brown the slices on both sides. If you have a lid for the frypan it might be worth sticking it on to assist the steaks to cook through.
If everything is brown but the cauliflowers are still undercooked chances are your stove was too hot! Don't panic, just give them maybe 10 minutes in a a medium oven to finish cooking through.
Stick everything on a big old serving plate. Do you remember how that caponata recipe used coriander stems but not leaves? GOOD NEWS! You can use the leaves now as a delightful and delicious garnish! If you had a pomegranate around then you would win bonus wanker points for adding some seeds on top but its entirely up to you.The beauty of presentation should be equal to however many fucks you have left to give.