On a dark dark night in the cold cold November air, five girls and one boy in a tuxedo met for dinner in London. They sat around a giant slab of a table, overlooking the bright lights of the kitchen. Cans of artichokes and bags of flour decorated the shelves, while the bathrooms were a circus hall of mirrors.
The menu listed burrata and pink grapefruit, twice cooked baby chicken, a finely sliced steak salad. Funnily enough, the most memorable flavours came from the vegetables: an oval dish of finely mashed potato laid with faintly spicy broccolini, the slender upcountry cousins of the basic broccoli.
And the cauliflower salad, the plain white and geometric green romaneso cauliflower, only just tender, sprinkled with sweet and salted, soft and crackly elements. Perhaps there were raisins, maybe capers. Definitely a drift of ricotta to smooth the sharp edges.It was glamourous, an epithet not often associated with dull wintery cauliflower.
That would be the genius of Ottolenghi, to spotlight the often sidelined greenery. NOPI isn’t vegetarian, but it could get away with it – people would still enthuse over the delicate/robust quality of the food, marvel that broccoli deserves a second helping.
The girls and the boy finished their balloon glasses of white wine, dove into the salted macadamia cheesecake – just light enough – and stumbled home. One girl fell asleep on the bus, dreaming spirals of cauliflower.
(Thanks go to this pretty lady who recommended the restaurant in the first place.)
Cauliflower salad with sultanas, hazelnuts and capers
inspired by Ottolenghi, recreated haphazardly as far as we remember
Take one head of cauliflower (plain white or green romanesco, whatever you can find) and break into small florets. Chop the stalks as well, to roughly the size of the florets. Spread out over two baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 200C, or as long as it takes to turn brown at the edges, tender with some crunch.
In a small frying pan, heat a generous amount of olive oil and fry two tablespoons of capers until they start to burst into crisp flowers. (Test the olive oil with one caper first, it should sizzle when it hits the oil.)
Toast a handful of hazelnuts in the oven with the cauliflower, until they smell just right. Chop roughly.
In a large bowl, stir together the cauliflower, hazelnuts, capers and a handful of sultanas. Check the seasoning, add more salt and pepper if needed. Top with pomegranate seeds for a splash of colour, and serve with fresh ricotta if you have any lying around.
Best served straight from the oven for the crisp contrast of the blackened edges and tender middles of the cauliflower. Still good the next day, am reliably informed that leftovers are excellent with pasta.