I was watching yet another food programme on the TV the other night.The contestants challenge was to take one particular vegetable and showcase it in a single dish.The judge selected as the chosen ingredient cauliflower,one of my favourite vegetables.Well I am sorry, but one lady opted for roasted cauliflower steak probably the blandest vegan non starter of the gastro pub history of the last decade.(Yes I know before you pick me up on the fact that I cooked it myself,not a vegan version I must add,and blog posted it on here,I had to test and try before I decried). The majority chose a curry in which to highlight the cauliflower´s potential.Another produced spicy cauliflower fritters.The potential in the originality of this dish appealed to my palate but sadly she failed on flavour,being brutally "stabbed through the heart" by one particular judge citing the dish as “a little clumsy.” I thought a programme about hearty, imaginative home cooking should be warm and nurturing not a cold kitchen of cruelty.
One contestant however wowed the judges with a classic cauliflower cheese.Good on you girl.If I had been put on the line here in a blind challenge of this type, I would have opted for this root to floret cauliflower risotto which uses every part of the crucifer right down to roasting some florets for the crumb topping.
Cauliflower´s Portuguese name, couve-flor,or cabbage flower, is prettier,and horticulturally more correct, than the rather pedestrian Anglo-saxon `flower on a stalk´translation.We are lucky enough here in Portugal to have these crucifers in season all year round.They are best however just after winter,when they have had a longer growing season and are packed full of vitamins, so ideal for soups curries and in this case a risotto with a difference.There is some disagreement over the origin of the cauliflower.My preferred source is that it was developed in the 12th century by Arab gardeners, giving a distinct link of how it came to the Algarve. More probably however it is attributed to the Romans a thousand years earlier.The wild cabbage grew throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and it was not long before its florets landed in the kitchens of Northern Europe.Whatever its humble patrimony this wonderfully versatile brassica deserves a rightful place on our tables today.Its reputation of being bland and soggy is the fault of the cook not the vegetable.If cooked correctly, with a little imagination thrown in, it is a foil for many distinguished flavours. I used every bit of the cauliflower to make this dish,including the stock by boiling down the protective leaves that most cooks would normally discard.The `pan´ in the pangrattato is not as one would have expected,bread, but crumbs made from the cauliflower, crisply roasted and mixed with garlic,parmesan, parsley and lemon zest.
Cauliflower risotto with its own pangrattato
500g cauliflower,broken into medium sized florets,leaves saved
500ml stock made from boiling down the leaves
1 bay leaf
75ml greek yoghurt
4 tbsp olive oil
20g salted butter
2 banana shallots,finely chopped
350g Arborio rice
1 clove garlic finely grated
handful flat leaf parsley leaves chopped
zest of 1 lemon grated
First remove and coarsely chop the outside leaves of the cauliflower and put them in a pan with750ml of boiling water.Boil for 20 minutes and allow to cool before discarding the leaves and straining and measuring of 500ml of stock.While the stock is cooling break off 200g of florets into very tiny crumbs,cutting them off the stalks( add these stalks to the rest of the florets to cook and purée.The pieces you break off should look like roughly chopped breadcrumbs.crumble a few with your fingers too to get a contrast in size. You need to end up with about 100g.Set aside.Heat the stock in a large pan.In another pan bring 800ml of water to the boil and add Flor de sal and the bay leaf.Simmer 200g of the florets(and the cut stalks from above)) for 6-8 minutes until just soft enough to purée.Strain through a sieve set over a bowl to catch the liquid and add it to the stock.Discard the bay leaf and put the cauliflower in a liquidiser with a few tablespoons of the liquid/stock mixture,season and whizz to a purée with the yoghurt and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil with the butter in a heavy pan over a medium heat and sweat the shallot for about 5 minutes or until just soft.stir in the rice to coat the grains and start adding the stock a ladle at a time letting it get absorbed before adding more.keep the heat very low,enough for the rice not to stick and so the stock does not evaporate by boiling too hard.It should take about 15 minutes.When the risotto is cooked to how you like it( a slight bite inside each grain is best so it is not too soft)fold in the purée and add a little more stock if not loose enough.
Add 50g of parmesan and fold in,season to taste with salt crystals and freshly ground white pepper,heat briefly then turn off the heat.Put a lid on and leave until the pangrattato is ready.To make the pangrattato,heat the rest of the oil and fry the cauliflower crumbs until golden,add the garlic,stir for 30 seconds and tip into a bowl,adding the other 50g of parmesan,parsley and grated lemon zest.Serve the risotto with the pangrattato on top and a little olive oil spooned over.