Yotam Ottolenghi claims that cauliflower is “one of the most magnificent of all vegetables” (The Weekend Guardian). In his writing, cauliflower is described as exciting and versatile – as magnificent, no less. In his recipes, it’s paired with ingredients that range from cumin, chili, paprika and saffron, to lemon, lime and pomegranate. It also goes well with nuts (especially, it would seem, hazelnuts and pinenuts), and – of course – with cheese. Overall, he claims, the cauliflower is deserving of far more credit and glory that it’s currently given. And treated in this sort of way, it’s easy – really easy – to see why that might be.
But Yotam Ottolenghi is known for more than his fondness for a well-prepared cauliflower, and has established his reputation around a broad and innovative interpretation of traditional middle-Eastern flavours and Mediterranean cuisine. It’s food that he has described as being full of “harmonious contradictions”: vibrant, bold, familiar and comforting; peaceful and daring; dramatic and simple. His philosophy is to celebrate vegetables, and to use meat only for special occasions (rather than as an everyday ingredient). Based in London, he has established a small chain of delis (as well as a more formal restaurant), which are renowned for fresh, modern and complex salads as well as stunning, decadent desserts. He also has three best-selling cookery books, and writes a weekly column in the Saturday edition of The Guardian, many of which are available on-line. In this week’s edition he focused on the alphonso mango – his favourite fruit – and during the course of his article transported us to India and Bangladesh, discussed EU politics (surely they can’t really – apparently for reasons of health and safety – be considering banning its import into the UK?), and presented us with three tantalising recipes that include both sweet and savoury dishes.
Anyway, getting back to this “magnificent vegetable”, it’s important to remember that cauliflower goes really well – arguably even needs – the sort of robust flavours that are found in this soup. And, although it tastes good on its own, it really does benefit from the addition of these mustardy croutons. If you don’t want to make them, then you should probably add something else with a strong flavour, and this chilli oil would no doubt work well. But however you decide to garnish this soup, it makes a great lunch, or works well as a starter to a more substantial meal…
Recipe: Cauliflower Soup with Mustard Croutons
For the soup
2 tbsp olive oil
10g unsalted butter
1 tsp picked thyme leaves
A small handful of roughly chopped parsley
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 celery sticks, cut into 3cm pieces
2 bay leaves
1 tsp caraway seeds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
1.4 litres vegetable stock
2 tbsp chopped chives
For the mustard croutons
90g unsalted butter
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tsp picked thyme leaves
3 tsp finely chopped parsley
150g crustless ciabatta, torn into 1cm pieces
To make the croutons
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Put the butter in a medium saucepan on a medium heat.
When it starts to foam, whisk in the mustard, herbs and a pinch of salt.
Take the pan off the heat, leave for a couple of minutes to cool slightly, then stir in the ciabatta. Spread out on a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes, until crisp. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. (Any that you don’t use can be stored in an air-tight container).
To make the soup
Put the oil and butter in a large saucepan on medium heat.
Add the thyme, parsley, ½ the lemon zest, onion, celery, bay leaves, caraway seeds, a good pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.
Cook for eight – ten minutes, stirring often, until the onion is soft but has not taken on any colour.
Add the cauliflower, potato and stock, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for eight minutes, until the vegetables are cooked but still have some bite.
Use a slotted spoon to lift a third of the cauliflower out of the pan – avoid removing any potato – and set aside.
Let everything simmer away for another five minutes, then remove the bay leaves.
Using a hand-held blender (or a food processor), blitz the soup until smooth, return to the pan and add the reserved cauliflower pieces.
Stir in the remaining lemon zest and chives, and serve, sprinkling the croutons on top at the last minute.