Kathy Slack on getting the best from cauliflower
I was delighted when cauliflower was taken up by the fashionable set. Usually I cringe at these fads, dismissing them as the frivolous whims of a fickle food world. But I could not be cynical when it came to the rise of the cauliflower because finally, it was being installed upon the pedestal where it ought to have stood all along. For such recognition, I could even overlook the ludicrous cauliflower ‘steak’ moment.
This celebrity is richly deserved for a number of reasons, but chiefly because cauliflowers are frustratingly difficult to grow. They dislike too much wind, too much cold, too much heat, too much water, two much drought. In fact, in anything other than the perfect British summer, they will brown and wither without the most skilful care. Such skill had gone unappreciated for too long and cauliflower farmers the land over have been unsung heroes. Until now.
When it comes to eating, it is hard to go wrong with a cauliflower if you roast it. Drizzle florets with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then bake for 30-40 mins in a hot oven and you have opened the door to a wealth of options: top with parmesan in the final moments of cooking; mix with pine nuts, raisins, parsley and crispy breadcrumbs for a warm salad; blanket in a curry sauce and top with almonds; or, as here, turn into gnocchi. And always keep the leaves—steamed and buttered, they are a dish in their own right.
2 tbsp olive oil
200g ‘00’ pasta flour
125g salted butter
A small bunch of sage leaves
4 tbsp roasted hazelnuts, chopped
Parmesan, to serve
Heat the oven to 190C. Break the cauliflower into small florets, roughly 2-3cm and set aside the prettier inner leaves. Toss the florets in the olive oil and a pinch of salt then arrange on a large baking tray, leaving plenty of space around each floret. Roast for 30 mins. Give the pan a shake and turn the florets over then roast for a further 10 mins until well cooked and charred at the edges. They will seem overcooked, but fear not—it’s important there’s not much water left in the cauliflower. Transfer to a food processor and blitz until smooth.
Mix the cauliflower with the egg, flour and a pinch of salt and knead into a soft dough. Be warned, it’s a messy job and you will think it too wet to roll, but persevere. Once combined, flour your hands and a work surface and roll out thick ropes of dough around 1cm in diameter. The key to avoiding a sticky mess here is to be very gentle and avoid squashing the dough, so think light, delicate thoughts. Cut the ropes into rectangular pillows and dust with a little more flour to prevent sticking. You can roll the pillows over a fork with your thumb to create the classic gnocchi divots too if you want the traditional look.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Pour off most of it into a jug, leaving 2 tbsp in the pan on a low heat.
Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil, salt it heavily and add the gnocchi. Once the gnocchi rise to the top (around 2 mins) leave them to boil for another minute then fish them out with a slotted spoon and into the butter pan. Keep the water.
Turn the heat up under the frying pan and fry the gnocchi for 3-4 mins, turning occasionally until golden brown—you may need to do this in batches. Add the sage leaves, the hazelnuts and the rest of the butter and cook for 1 min.
Meanwhile, pop the cauliflower leaves in the gnocchi water for 1 min, then drain. Divide the gnocchi and cauliflower leaves between four warmed plates and serve with a sprinkle of parmesan.
Recipe and image: Kathy Slack