Turnips and cauliflower are perfectly in season now and often referred to as humble vegetables. I prefer to think of them as modest – they’re not showy like peppers, aubergines and squash, but in the right hands can be elevated to dizzy heights of deliciousness.
Cauliflower, like cabbage, can be completely ruined when not treated sympathetically and with care. Nothing stinks more than overcooked cauliflower and nothing is as hard to eat as an undercooked floret.
My pet hate is being served boiled cauliflower still swimming in water. A chef who can’t be bothered to drain a vegetable shouldn’t be allowed to wear the white jacket.
Recently I saw cauliflower steaks in a supermarket – a cut from the centre, imprisoned in plastic. Apart from the waste, the nonsense of this took my breath away. Not eating the leaves of this pristine white vegetable is a recent thing in our all too disposable society. Why throw out something so nutritious and tasty?
Roasting a cauliflower whole, not only cuts out waste but the smoky taste is unique and can be a stunning centrepiece of any meal. In my recipe the cauliflower is roasted with mustard to begin with, glazed with cheese and sprinkled with crisp, golden bacon and parsley studded crumbs. Bring it to the table and slice portions that will go well with any roast. Omit the bacon for a vegetarian course.
We have many new charcuterie companies in Northern Ireland who are embracing the continental tradition of curing and drying meats. Corndale Farm from Limavady and Ispini from Augnacloy make exemplary chorizo (among other inspiring meats) that makes a tasty match for cauliflower – the smoked paprika and piggy goodness coating the vegetable and raising it to new heights. My recipe also adds almonds for crunch and in keeping with the Spanish theme,a few red onions.
Most Saturday mornings, on my way to Radio Ulster, I call into St George’s market in Belfast and pick up produce for the week ahead. Alan Bailey, of Pheasant’s Hill Farm in Downpatrick, is a long standing market trader and his beef and pork is really well worth sussing out. If you want proper, rare breed pork, with the perfect layer of fat and vibrant meat, his is the stand to head for. The produce isn’t cheap but the flavour from it is worth a king’s ransom. Buy a piece of pork, remove the skin for crackling and roast the rest. In my last recipe the pork is roasted and cooked turnip added to the fat to soak up the flavour. Turnip and black pepper work so well together and I use Ruaridh Morrison’s smoked variety from the North Coast Smokehouse in Ballycastle to make it even more special. Naturally it would be rude not to add a bit of butter to the mix. Great pork and turnips – simple but sublime.