I bought a cauliflower from the hippy veg stall on Cambridge Sunday market, inspired by its tight, creamy curds to make a cauliflower puree. It was a lovely thing to go with roast chicken, like a feather light, silky bread sauce flavoured with bay, cloves and onion.
I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the plentiful leaves and stalks I’d snapped from around the centre of the cauliflower. (Mum always insists they go into cauliflower cheese along with the florets and she’s right, I think, it’s nonsense to discard them.) The next day – and this is the point of this post – I cooked them until very tender in a big pan of boiling water. I drained them, dressed them in garlic, pepper, dijon mustard, wine vinegar, turned them out on a plate, still steaming. I put over a good amount of extra virgin olive oil, a fistful of crunchy Maldon salt and another grind of the pepper mill.
It was one of those gourmet experiences that comes out of thrift. As I was eating the tangle of tenderly peppery, earthy winter stems, with their straightforward, punchy dressing, I was thinking, this is the sort of thing they put on the menu at the River Cafe, on grilled pugliese sourdough, the sort of thing Patience Grey might have written of, Elizabeth David judged judicious! Not because it’s complicated or clever or inventive, but because it makes something honestly wonderful out of something very simple – and satisfying because I could very easily have thrown the stems away.
It made a lovely little starter anyway.