Nutty Cauliflower Cheese

Regular readers of this site may have noticed I am a big fan of cauliflower. This is a slight twist on a classic, adding leeks and walnuts to add texture, flavour and a little bit of healthiness.

Makes enough to feed four adults

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 head cauliflower – cut into florets
1 leek
100g chopped walnuts
Large knob of butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 teaspoon English mustard
500ml milk
150g cheese – something strong like cheddar, gruyere or red leicester

Start by cooking the cauliflower. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large pan. When hot, add the cauliflower and fry, stirring occasionally, until browned in places. A little bit of black won’t hurt either. All that colour adds a rich flavour and a little sweetness. Once browned, add about 50ml water and cover. Allow to steam for around 5 minutes to help the cauliflower soften. Remove from heat and pop the cauliflower into a baking dish. Season with a little salt and black pepper. A little grated nutmeg is nice at this stage too if you have it.

Now for the sauce. Heat the butter and one tablespoon of oil in a saucepan. When the butter has melted, add the flour and the mustard. Stir over the heat for two minutes then add the milk, slowly, stirring all the time until you have a smooth liquid. Heat and keep stirring until thickened. Add more milk if it gets too thick but keep stirring to prevent the flour separating and burning on the base of your plan. Not only does that give the sauce a burnt flavour, it ruins your pan. When nicely thickened, add the cheese, either sliced of grated. Keep stirring over a medium heat until the cheese has melted and you have a thick, creamy, cheesy sauce. Pour this over the cauliflower.

Cut the leek in half lengthwise, wash well, then slice into fine half rings. Sprinkle these over the top of the sauce. Now sprinkle the walnuts over the top then pop the whole thing into the oven at 200C (or 180C for a fan assisted oven_ and bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden on top.


Char-grilled Squash with Walnut Salsa

Pickled walnuts are very odd. Picked when the nuts are still green and unripe, then soaked in brine, they go completely black and soft, almost to the point that when you rub the black skin off, the nut can easily crumble. This is the first and only recipe I have ever come across using pickled walnuts. I now have a half full jar of them in the fridge so would welcome any suggestions on what to do with them.

This is another recipe I cooked with Ottolenghi at the Vegetarian Cookery School. Just a couple of minor alterations. I used spring onions rather than red to give a milder flavour and added a few shelled walbuts to give some texture.

100g pickled walnuts – black skin gently removed and the remaining soft walnut roughly chopped
100g shelled walnuts – chopped
5-6 spring onions – finely sliced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 red chili – deseeded and finely chopped
ΒΌ teaspoon ground allspice
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
1 butternut or other squash – deseeded and cut into wedges or large chunks
handful of coriander – roughly chopped
a few dill leaves
150g or so of natural yogurt or labneh
salt and ground black pepper

Turn the oven onto 200C then heat a large griddle pan. Toss the pieces of squash in a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on the hot griddle and cook on either side for 4-5 minutes until coloured with charred stripes. Once you have done all the squash this way, place on a baking tray in the oven and roast for 15 minutes until tender. Set aside to cool then arrange on a large plate.

Mix the walnuts and pickled walnuts with the vinegar, salt, sugar, onions, chili, coriander and allspice and spread this evenly over the cooled squash.

Finish by decorating the dish with large dollops of yogurt (or labneh), a sprinkling of coriander leaves and a few dill leaves.

Tahini Flapjack

Adapted (only very slightly) from master baker Dan Lepard’s brilliant Halva Flapjack recipe. The only changes I made were to add pine nuts and flax seeds and to use Agave Syrup in place of honey – mainly as I didn’t have any honey in the house at the time. The tahini gives the flapjack a wonderful fudge-like texture and nutty flavour.

100g butter
75g soft light brown sugar
1 can (197g it says on the tin!) condensed milk
4-5 tablespoons tahini
3-4 tablespoons of agave syrup or honey
100g dried figs – roughly chopped
100g shelled walnuts – roughly broken
50g pine nuts
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons flax seeds/linseeds
approx 200g porridge oats

I tried this the first time with Greek tahini, but after my day with Yotam Ottolenghi, I have switched to using tahini from the middle eastern shops in and around Edgware Road. The Al Yaman one is great.

Heat the oven – 180C for a normal oven, reduced to 160C for a fan assisted one.

Now melt the butter, sugar and condensed milk either in a large pan over a low-medium heat or in a large mixing bowl in the microwave for a minute or two. Add the other ingredients except the oats and mix well. Now add the oats until the mixture holds its shape. The more you add the firmer the end result. I think a little over 200g works best.

Take a baking tray – somewhere around 25cm square or slightly bigger if you want the flapjack to be thinner. Line with parchment then spread the mixture into the tray pressing down firmly.

Bake for approx 20 minutes until starting to brown. Remove and cut into squares while still hot. Leave to cool in the tray then store in an airtight container. If you can resist eating it all it lasts a several days.