Spring is in the air, not just in the air it feels like it is here to stay, hallelujah; everybody is happy; the birds are singing, flowers are radiant and the trees weighed down with meringue style blossom. Some days are really quite warm, and if you are ‘pink’ or ‘blue’, of the ‘little’ variety you may even declare summer has arrived. Take last Sunday, both monkeys had stripped off and were paddling in our recently acquired ‘Capability Brown’ style lakes. I hasten to add neither lake, nor flowing river should be there, that did not however bother the rascals, they thought they were in St. Tropez! So having determined spring has arrived in all of its glory one immediately assumes there should be a glut of fabulous homegrown vegetables available, yet low and behold there is not. Yes one starts to see broad beans from Italy, strawberries from Spain and other such treats but homegrown English fodder is harder to come across, it’s still just a bit too early. To be honest it is all a bit of a false dawn, with the exception of asparagus, not much else comes in any profusion until May, at least not from my garden!
So with Spring vegetables still at arms length let me indulge in a little rant over the ‘humble cauliflower’. Rather rudely known as ‘the chicken’ of the vegetable world, it is frequently forgotten and often relegated to the back shelf. I don’t know if this is a hangover from bad school food or possibly an overdose of too much cauliflower cheese but this rather serene brassica deserves a facelift. Welcome to the cauliflower renaissance and what better time to eat it than now when one has exhausted every root vegetable in sight and is craving something different and new. I can’t take any credit for this recipe but without question it is one of the ‘sexiest’ ways to serve the vegetable. ‘Ottolenghi’, is the wizard behind this little gem and it really is worth a go. This is from his third book, ‘Jerusalem’ and I have to admit has become a firm family favorite. Roasting the cauliflower adds a wonderful nutty flavour and the combination of pomegranate, celery and parsley just make this dish sing. Crunchy, exotic and colorful, it is refreshingly different and with the stolen words from ‘Love Actually’, (used out of context, I hasten to add) a real ‘taste sensation’!
1 head cauliflower, broken into small florets
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 large celery stalk, cut on an angle into 1/4 inch slices
5 tablespoons hazelnuts, with skins
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1.5 teaspoon maple syrup
generous 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
generous 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180c
Roast the cauliflower by placing it on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1-3 tablespoons of olive oil and toss it together with some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 25-35 minutes until parts of it are turning golden brown. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool down.
Turn the oven temperature to 150c. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes or thereabouts.
In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, sherry vinegar, maple syrup, cinnamon and allspice. Set aside.
Coarsely chop the nuts and add to the cauliflower, along with the pomegranate seeds, celery, parsley, and the dressing. Stir, taste, and season with salt and pepper accordingly.
P.S- a few other heavenly cauliflower numbers….: Cauliflower and Jerusalem artichoke puree is an indulgent and rich little luxury worth a try; Cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup is a knockdown showstopper and lastly cauliflower couscous is complete winner!