A few months ago now, Yotam Ottolenghi stepped down as leader of his one-man campaign to promote what he has described as “the most magnificent of vegetables”: the cauliflower. So, here in the UK, as we continue to discuss the results of all that other recent campaigning – associated with Britain’s General Election – it just seemed like the right time to highlight the end of Ottolenghi’s fight for this humble vegetable.
Being a big fan of both cauliflower and Yotam Ottolenghi, I have blogged about this inspired venture previously, but for those of you not familiar with the story it basically boils down to the fact that the man likes cauliflower. And he’s not afraid to admit it. In 2007 he declared that it was “exciting” (which to be fair is not a word that many people would have used to describe this vegetable back then). He has gone on to introduce us to countless innovative ways of cooking cauliflower, insisting that it doesn’t need to be dreary. Instead, he has said, it ought to be paired with vibrant, bold and daring flavours – the sort that work spectacularly well with a vegetable that is just waiting to soak them up. His writing is enchanting, and Ottolenghi tempts and inspires with wonderful stories of cauliflower that has been cooked with ingredients that include cumin, chilli, paprika, saffron, mustard, dill, garlic, lemon, lime, pomegranate (and more). The good news is that there always seems to be a happy ending.
But, earlier this year, just as the campaigning for Britain’s General Election got underway, Yotam Ottolenghi suggested that his work was done. He declared victory on his pro-cauliflower cause, and although there’s no real way of telling what the outcome was – there were no votes to count – I’m fairly sure that he has won some kind of battle. But this isn’t exactly going to be the end of Ottolenghi’s campaigning, and it’ll be interesting to see exactly what it is that he’s going to do with some of the other marginal vegetables that he has mentioned, including things like turnip, swede and kohlrabi…
What follows is perhaps one of Ottolenghi’s simpler cauliflower recipes. And to be honest, it’s a bit of a no-brainer really – what doesn’t taste fabulous when it’s been roasted with this much butter? And a considerable amount of salt. Yes, this is a recipe for special occasions. But that’s what makes Yotam Ottolenghi victorious in all of this – the way in which he has promoted the cauliflower from a rather dull and uninspiring vegetable, to one which can take centre stage at a dinner party. That’s a fairly impressive accomplishment. Anyway, this really is a great dish for sharing and, as he suggests, it really does make a great starter. One thing he doesn’t mention though is just how fabulous it smells as it’s slowly roasting in the oven… And I really cannot do justice to how incredibly good it tastes. Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that this beautiful cauliflower cost me just 65p, which also makes it great value.
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Recipe: Roasted whole cauliflower with crème fraiche
From: Yotam Ottolenghi (writing in the guardian)
Serves four as a starter
1 large cauliflower with its leaves intact
150g creme fraiche
1 tbsp lemon juice
70g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 tbsp olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Using a pair of scissors, lightly trim the leaves at the top of the cauliflower, so that about 5cm of the cauliflower’s head is exposed.
Fill a pan large enough to fit the cauliflower in salty water. Bring to a boil and carefully lower in the cauliflower exposed head down: don’t worry if the base sticks out a little. Bring back to a boil, cook for six minutes, then transfer the cauliflower to a colander, exposed head down. Set aside for 10 minutes, to drain and cool.
Heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3. Mix together the creme fraiche and lemon juice, and set aside in the fridge until required.
Mix the butter with the oil. Put the cauliflower stem side down in a medium baking tray and spread the butter mix all over the white flower. Sprinkle over a teaspoon and a quarter of salt, and roast for an hour and a half to two hours, basting the cauliflower with the buttery juices five or six times during cooking.
The cauliflower is done when it’s super-tender and a dark golden-brown, and the leaves are crisp and charred. Remove from the oven and serve with the lemony creme fraiche and a little extra salt for sprinkling on top alongside.