Sunday, 15 November 2015

Winter salad: green beans and roasted cauliflower with hazelnuts and herbs

More often than not I am underwhelmed by my original efforts. OK, there is nothing new in cooking so by 'original' I mean something I've decided to create without reference to a recipe and thereafter cannot find on Google. It's rare that I make something inedible; usually it simply isn't as flavoursome as I'd like. This means either abandoning the project or adding ingredients until I realise I've strayed completely and created something else. However, this winter salad worked first time. It's delicious. And, I dare to say: a little bit unusual. I can't find this combination on the internet anyway. This strange sensation rising in me, might actually be... pride!

It maybe an odd looking combo: beans, mustard, cauli and hazelnuts but it works. It was one of the very few times that a recipe idea came to me and made it to the plate without any change.

But I've been oddly reluctant to commit this recipe to screen (well, it's not a page is it?) And I think I've just realised why. I don't want to come across all Ottolenghi. What? The lovely Yotam!? Look, I take nothing away from the man: his food is accomplished and delicious but the recipes can be a bit... 

Scrambled eggs - take some eggs and butter and then forty six other ingredients, including one that is only available from Invisible Eva who can be found by the rowan tree at Lulworth cove but only on the night of the Dorset Horse Fetishists' Fair. It's more expensive than saffron, she only sells by the quarter ounce and you will need half a kilo for this recipe.

A mustard vinaigrette is key to this recipe but it contains one ingredient you probably don't have and one you definitely don't have, because I'm the only person in the world who does. And yet my cooking philosophy is meant to be 'everyday ingredients done differently'? Yeah there are words for people like me. So let's get this over with.

Fancy schmancy ingredients.

1. L'Olivier lemon and grapefruit vinegar (citron pamplemousse). I've gushed about these previously. They are wonderful and expensive. Hey, it's Christmas soon. Treat yourself. Yes, with vinegar. Pretend it's Champagne or something. I order mine every few months from the Upton Smokery.

2. A spiced and zesty sugar syrup. This is more a commitment of time than money. I have several syrups on the go at once. They take up far too much room in my fridge. I've detailed the making of them here. At least they are cheap. You just have to have needed to start the recipe a few weeks ago.

The real star of the recipe is the roasted cauliflower. Think you don't like cauliflower?  Give this a chance. The roasting, as ever, caramelises the natural sugars and results in a sweet, nutty flavour. It is quite a fragile thing though. I'd hoped to slice it finely - a vegetable filigree to present - but even with my sharpest knife or my mandolin I ended up with cauliflower crumble. So I serve wedges. There's a great contrast of texture, flavour and colour between the golden crusted edge and the soft white interior.

Warm mustard vinaigrette of green beans and roasted cauliflower
Serves eight

First roast your cauliflower. One big one or a couple of small. Remove all the leaves and trim the bottom so it sits flat. Rub in plenty of butter and salt generously. Roast at 200°C until golden brown - about 40 minutes but up to an hour if it's a whopper. You can do this beforehand and reheat in a warm over for ten minutes before serving.

While that's cooking, in a separate tin, add a handful of whole hazelnuts to roast for about eight minutes. They should be a deep brown colour. Crush into chunks.

While that's doing, blanch the green beans. You'll need about 50g per person. This recipe is for eight so we'll need 400g which means two supermarket bags. (God, that's annoying.) Blanch the beans in boiling water for two and a half minutes then place in ice water and set aside.

Fry up a couple of rashers of smoked streaky bacon and cut into fine strips. Obviously this is optional. If you don't do pork, tear up a couple of sun dried tomatoes instead. It's needed for colour and salty contrast.

Make the vinaigrette. The base is two tablespoons of L'Olivier lemon vinegar to four tablespoons of groundnut or rice bran oil. Add: the juice of half a lemon, a splash of spiced sugar syrup, a teaspoon each of English mustard and Dijon mustard, two teaspoons of whole grain mustard, a little finely grated parmesan - I mean a big pinch, a teaspoon of creme fraiche, the fine zest of about a third of a lemon, sea salt and black pepper. Shake really well to mix and emulsify. Taste. Adjust. You may want more wholegrain mustard. If it's all too much for you, add more oil and a little water to dilute. But remember that this is a coating so should be fairly intense.

What you have to remember is my 'recipe' for vinaigrette is me standing in front of my cupboard  combining things until I like it. Taste as you go. Learn what works; what you like. Too sour? Add sugar. Too sweet? Balance with acidity and salt. Use oil to improve mouthfeel and to bind the whole.

To assemble: fry the beans in a little butter for two or three minutes until just soft. Put the beans in a  bowl and toss in the vinaigrette. Arrange on the plates.

Top with a cut wedge of cauliflower. Around the beans sprinkle the hazelnuts and the bacon. Add a few microherbs. Oh, sorry. Didn't mention them did I? That'll teach you to read the recipe first. OK. So maybe some  nipped tips of that Greek basil that all the supermarkets have started selling and some mustard cress. Finally, drizzle over a little more vinaigrette, trying not to splodge it, as I have done in the picture below.

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