On a date recently, I was asked if I could make a good cauliflower cheese. Not your average first date question, though clearly an important one. I nodded suspiciously – the question sounded like a deal-breaker. I mean, the answer is ‘yes’ and my not-so-secret ingredient – Dijon mustard – is shared with most others. Was this the expected answer though?
Like most, I associate cauliflower cheese with school dinners. Lukewarm, tasteless slop. The cauliflower boiled to within an inch of its life. At aged 5, it epitomised everything I hated in a vegetables.
I’m pleased to say I’ve got over the school dinners effect of cauliflower cheese, and my tastes have matured enough to recognise the flowery head of the cauliflower as something of a gem among the veggies in my fridge.
It’s an excellent source of vitamin C, packed with antioxidants to boost immunity and contribute towards the prevention of infections and cancers. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also very low in fat and cholesterol. And when cooked the right way, tastes delicious too.
Following the cauliflower question from my date, I started thinking of other recipes where cauliflower steals the limelight.
It’s a versatile veggie, and no doubt has been grated and steamed as substitute rice in a number of households, not to mention roasted with spices, served as steaks and blitzed into detox smoothies. But, after a morning of flicking through the recipe book, Plenty More, by one of my favourite chefs, Ottolenghi, I came across something I’d not tried: cauliflower cake.
I had all the ingredients in my fridge and a friend (not the date) over for supper, so it was the perfect opportunity to try it. And it didn’t disappoint. The saltiness of the Parmesan and the fragrant basil and rosemary, bring out the sweetness of the cauliflower. Filling enough for a healthy supper, it’s also great cold the next day for lunch.
Step aside cauliflower cheese, everyone knows about adding mustard to spark you up (including my date, as it turned out), there’s a new dish in town. And yes, there’s been a second date…
1 small cauliflower – outer leaves removed and broken into florets (approx 3cm)
1 medium red onion
½ tsp rosemary – finely chopped
15g basil – roughly chopped
120g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
tsp ground turmeric
150g parmesan (or other mature cheese) – coarsely grated
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C, and line a 24cm springform cake tin with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper and sprinkle the sesame and nigella seeds around the base and sides of the tin, so they stick to the sides.
Place the cauliflower florets in a saucepan and add 1 tsp of salt. Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft – they should break when pressed with a spoon. Strain and set aside in a colander to dry.
Cut 4 round slices, approx 0.5cm thick, off one end of the onion and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place in a pan with a good slug of olive oil and the chopped rosemary. Cook for 10mins on a medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Whisk the eggs and basil together along with the cooled onion, and then add the flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, 1 tsp salt and plenty of black pepper. Whisk until smooth, before gently stirring in the cauliflower.
Pour the mix into the cake tin and arrange the onion rings on the top.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 45 mins, until golden brown and set.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20mins before serving – it should be served warm, as opposed to hot, or at room temperature.
Delicious served with a rocket and feta cheese salad with caramelised orange slices.