Sometimes I get a bit carried away when I’m food shopping and forget there’s generally just me to cook for or that I might be going out a few times in the week ahead. So there I was with a beautiful organic cauliflower I bought a few days ago sitting in my fridge and I thought I should do something with it before it started to spoil.
It’s taken me a long time to truly appreciate cauliflower. As a child it was only ever served boiled (and over boiled because vegetables always were then) with a white sauce, usually to accompany a Sunday roast dinner. Later, in my twenties, cauliflower cheese was a popular dish, which carried on into my children’s school days for an easy midweek supper. While there is a certain beauty to a cauliflower’s florets it is also at first glance a rather dull vegetable in its whiteness. I love colour: deep red tomatoes; bright sweet peppers in yellow, green and red; rich orange carrots; emerald green spinach. You can imagine how these bright vegetables are full of good things but the humble cauliflower doesn’t convey anything exciting or healthy at all. But this is to misjudge it. From Ian Marber’s The Food Doctor: Healing Foods for Mind and Body, I learn that cauliflowers are a good source of calcium, magnesium, folic acid, potassium, boron, beta-carotene and vitamin C.
One of my favourite cauliflower recipes, discovered in recent years in an Antonio Carluccio book, is Cavolfiore Affogato – Drowned Cauliflower. It’s a southern Italian recipe and the cauliflower is literally ‘drowned’ in olive oil as it cooks with spices, pine nuts and raisins (click here for recipe). I also make cauliflower soup a lot in the winter, but in the more traditional way on top of the stove (click here) and have never tried roasting the vegetable before. My good friend Linda roasted some cauliflower as a vegetable dish when we visited her and George in Spain in the summer and it sowed a little seed. Since then I’ve been meaning to trying roasting one myself but today opted to turn it into soup.
First of all I roughly chopped half a large onion (or use 1 medium) and softened it in a little olive oil in a large ovenproof shallow dish. I wanted to get the onion started before adding the cauliflower to make sure it cooked well to mellow the flavour. Then I added the florets of a medium-large cauliflower to the pan with a pinch of saffron (first soaked for 5 minutes in a little hot water), ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon sweet paprika, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
I gave it all a good stir to coat the cauliflower well in the oil and spices then put into a 200C/180 Fan oven for about 30 minutes, or until the stems of the florets tested tender with a small sharp knife. I also stirred it all a couple of times during the cooking so that the onions, spices and florets cooked evenly and didn’t burn. Then I removed it from the oven and tipped in a little stock so I could scrape round the edge of the pan and not waste any tasty caramelised bits, and cooked it on top of the stove for a couple of minutes as I did this. I transferred to a medium saucepan and tipped in the rest of the stock – I added 750ml stock in all. I used the vegetable stock I made the other day (click here) but you could use light chicken stock, or just water if you don’t have any stock. The stock just covered my vegetables and I added the leaves of a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley at this point (left over from when I used the stems for the stock!).
I brought it to the boil and simmered for 5 minutes for all the flavours to amalgamate. Then I turned off the heat and blitzed the mixture with a hand-blender. Finally, I checked the seasoning.
To serve, I spooned the hot soup into a small bowl and drizzled in a little single cream – just because I happened to have some open. Not essential but a nice addition. It was a perfect lunch for a rainy November day with some delicious sourdough bread and French butter. The rest of the soup can be frozen in single portions for another day.