"Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." I think of Mark Twain's famous words every time I look at the curious 'brain' of a cauliflower, which I reckon is one of the world's most underrated vegetables, along with parsnips and celeriac.
Okay, I concede that overcooked, flabby cauliflower is just revolting - fartily whiffy, slimy, and stinking of boarding school - but a dishful of fresh, springy white cauliflower florets, cloaked in cheesy Béchamel sauce or a zinging salad dressing, or crunchily pickled with peppery spices, is just a joy.
I only ever make cauliflower cheese (or my cauliflower-cheese soup recipe) so I was interested to come across a recipe, in Robert Carrier's seminal seventies book Great Dishes of the World, for Cauliflower à la Polonaise. The combination of lemon juice and cauliflower had never occurred to me; but it works so well here, with plenty of butter, and crunchy fried breadcrumbs.
You can do this with a whole head of cauliflower, or you can break the cauliflower up into florets and coat them in the sauce. I took the picture above with a whole head, trying to be clever - like a cauliflower! - and then decided this was a ridiculous idea, as the sauce wouldn't be able to coat every chunk. I then broke the cooked head apart, tossed everything together, and served it up to the hordes.
Robert Carrier's original recipe calls for diced ham, but I don't think this dish needs it.
Cauliflower with Butter, Lemon, Parsley and Crispy Breadcrumbs
1 small, fresh head of cauliflower
1 t (5 ml) salt
a slice of lemon
2 big eggs
7 T (about 100 ml) melted butter
3 T (45 ml) breadcrumbs (blitz a few slices of white bread in a food-processor)
the juice of 1 fat lemon
a handful of finely chopped fresh parsley
salt and milled black pepper
Fill a big saucepan with water, add the salt and the lemon slice, and bring to the boil. Remove the green outer leaves of the cauliflower and trim the stalk, and any brown bits. Submerge the whole head of cauliflower in the boiling water and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until it's just tender and yields to a knife. (Cauliflower cooks beautifully in a microwave oven: see notes at the end of this post. )
In the meantime, put the eggs on to boil. Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Gently lower the eggs into the boiling water, and cook for 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, pour off the boiling water, and run cold water over the eggs until their shells feel cool to the touch. Crack and peel the eggs, chop them into a fine dice, cover with cling film and set aside.
Remove the head of cauliflower from the water and drain, upside down, in a colander over the sink.
Heat the butter in a frying pan. When it stops foaming, tip in the breadcrumbs and fry them for a few minutes, or until they turn golden brown and crunchy. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, parsley and chopped boiled egg. Season well with salt and pepper.
Put the head of cauliflower into dish, and pour the buttery mixture over it. Or - if you're not looking for a cheffy result - break the cooked cauliflower into florets, place in a dish, and coat with the butter sauce.
Serve hot, with extra parsley.
Serves 4 as a side dish.
To cook a whole cauliflower in the microwave oven, put it in a deep glass or ceramic dish and add half a cup of water. Cover with a plate or lid and microwave on high for about eight minutes. Push a sharp knife into the cauliflower to test for doneness. If it feels crunchy and unyielding, continue to cook it in two-minute bursts, or until it is just tender to a sharp knife. At this point, remove it from the microwave, douse it in cool water for a minute, and set it upside down in a colander to drain. Don't allow the cauliflower to sit in its steaming dish: it will turn into an overcooked mush.