If there’s one dish that reminds me of childhood home, it’s cauliflower cheese. My mum was a reluctant cook so cauliflower cheese became our staple diet – every day for high tea. We washed it down with weak tea and Women’s Institute cake. Actually, mum did a pretty good job: unlike the cooks at school who turned cauliflower into grey mush, she never overcooked it. And she lavished the magical tree-like florets with generous amounts of cheese-rich sauce.
So I’m sad to hear that we Brits no longer want to eat this wonderfully eccentric-looking vegetable. Sales have dropped around 35% over the past decade, and last year, nearly half of British households didn’t buy a single cauliflower. In short, if we don’t start buying this snowy brassica again, growers are now warning it could soon become extinct.
The reason I’m fighting to keep cauliflower on our tables – apart from bringing back tender childhood memories – is its sheer versatility. It’s crunchily delicious eaten raw in a salad with plenty of lemon, in fritters, or as a pretty crudité to dunk into delicious dips. It combines brilliantly with spices, green beans, cucumbers and courgettes to make a piccalilli, and is amazing in a curry. Cauli is nice roasted too. And few things pair better with fresh scallops than a silky smooth cauliflower purée.
Going back to cauliflower cheese, there are plenty of things you can do to pep it up. Add mustard and use a tasty British cheese such as a Lincolnshire Poacher, as in the cauli cheese that James Martin serves up with griddled pork chops and cabbage. Or sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs, mixed with a hard cheese like Parmesan, to form a crunchy crust. Or adorn your dish with a few crispy bacon rashers.
The awful weather has made life extra difficult for farmers cultivating cauliflower, devilish to grow at the best of times. But in its favour, it’s one of the few vegetables that can be grown in Britain all year round, and unlike veg such as tomatoes, doesn’t need greenhouses or polytunnels to flourish. By eating cauliflower rather than imported veg, we help British farmers and save food miles. Before the last struggling growers throw in the trowel, I reckon it’s time to give cauliflower another chance. Do you agree?
Try turning cauli florets into fritters, as in this simple cauliflower fritters starter from The Hairy Bikers. Serve with roast garlic and paprika aioli.
Raw florets are perfect dipped into a Bagna cauda of garlic and anchovies.
Use cauliflower in Rick Stein’s piccalilli, guaranteed to spice up cold meats.
Cauliflower and scallops are a marriage made in heaven, as in John Burton Race’s Pan-fried scallops with cauliflower chips, cauliflower purée and gremolata dressing.
Or try the Hairy Bikers’ take on the same partnering in seared scallops with pancetta and cauliflower pureé.
How do you like your cauliflower?
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