Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Whole baked cauliflower with tomato and olive sauce

Cauliflower is, according to Jamie, 'an honest, humble, no-frills vegetable'. I would agree with that - cauliflower is a basic sort of vegetable that tends to be forgotten about nowadays in the general rush to serve out of season asparagus, broad beans, and the like. I can't remember the last time I went to someone's house for dinner and was served cauliflower, which is a shame because cauliflower cheese is one of the best comfort foods around and it tastes really good with roasted meat. I will confess that I rediscovered cauliflower last year when we were receiving organic vegetables from a local farm every fortnight, and the bag frequently contained cauliflower and cabbage - vegetables I had hitherto tended to dismiss a bit. I realized that cauliflower is lovely mashed with potato and that it makes for very tasty soup, and I started to make cauliflower cheese, and also to roast florets dusted with cumin in a hot oven (idea courtesy of Nigella). Just recently I loved Jamie's potato and cauliflower dauphinoise. I am, in short, happy to extol the virtues of this humble flowered vegetable.

Jamie's recipe for whole baked cauliflower with tomato and olive sauce intrigued me because the photo makes the dish look quite exciting. Jamie says he made it up; my mother claims to have eaten similar-style dishes in France in the 1990s, although perhaps not with olives. Anyway, to make this, first you find a pan in which the whole head of cauliflower will fit and leave an inch around the sides. The first saucepan I pulled out of the cupboard fitted, which was a good start. Put the pan on the heat, add olive oil and chopped garlic, red onion, the chopped up cauliflower stalk and parsley stalks, and fry for 10 mins or so until softened. Add pitted olives, and sliced anchovy fillets and fry for another couple of minutes before adding tinned plum tomatoes, water, and red wine vinegar and bringing to the boil. Push the cauliflower gently into the middle of the pan; if the pan is the right size, half the cauliflower will be in the sauce and half above it. Drizzle with olive oil, put the lid on the pan, and simmer for 50 minutes. Serve sprinkled with parsley leaves.

My cauliflower was more stressful than the above method might suggest, because I seemed to have bought an inordinately squat cauliflower, so more than half submerged into the liquid. I then began to obsess about the cauliflower sinking into the liquid, but it thankfully didn't - possibly because I kept the heat incredibly low. So low that in future I will simmer the tomato sauce a bit before adding the cauli, so that it begins to thicken and reduce at the start. That said, this was very nice and tasty. You could taste the olives, so olive-haters (who seem to be even more ubiquitous than fennel-haters) should probably miss them out; I'm sure it would still taste okay, though I like the taste of the olives.

I served this with a pork chop that had been rubbed with a dry spice mix that my brother gave me a while ago.

Another yummy dinner! I'd never have thought of cooking cauliflower like that but it is tasty and probably better for you than cauliflower cheese. The vegetables in this book are a real revelation.


FreyaE said...

Kathryn! I love your description of your 'inordinately squat' cauliflower! It sounds almost painful!! Still, as someone who only eats cauliflower when smothered in cheese sauce, this does seem like a do-able recipe, even for me!
The 'diet' wiggles on slowly, I'm not giving up tea and biscuits for breakfast but I did have chick pea curry for dinner - sort of healthy!
Yes, I agree: camera AND ice cream maker! What a result that would be!

Lisa said...

This looks very good, Kathryn! I have an Italian recipe using green olives and I really like the combination w/cauliflower -- now you've made me want to try the tomato sauce treatment. You're really doint this book justice.

Kirsten said...

Sounds fab Kathryn - I love cauliflower! Thanks for the olive tip - I'll miss them out if I try this.

Anonymous said...

Unlike my wife, I'll eat any vegetable no matter how you cook it, or raw for that matter. I really like the look of this cauliflower and will probably prepare it in place of cauliflower cheese next time Freya is that way inclined. She will be sad for a while admittedly, but I will use the sauce for mac/cheese instead and that will cheer her up.
Now, if only I knew how to make desserts 'cause I love the look of that chocolate tart!

Kathryn said...

Lisa, I actually used Kalamata olives as that is what I had. Green would be interesting.

Kirsten, I like cauli too. Particularly in cheese sauce or a la Nigella, dusted with cumin and baked in v hot oven (have you tried that?).

Paul and Freya - it is really nice. Not as good as cauliflower cheese, I'd say, but it worked so well with the spicy pork - Jamie suggests serving it with roast lamb but I felt it worked well with the pork. And it was tasty!

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