The pile of books by my bed is getting dangerously high. Possibly because I am ignoring the worthy French literature in favour of Nigel Slater’s ‘The Kitchen Diaries II.’ If I am too tired to actually cook, reading his simple prose is a comforting substitute. His are recipes of happenstance, of successful improvisation. He knows food well enough to play with it, to strip it bare and build it back up again.
I want to say it is “real food” but that carries shades of judgement, like “real women have curves.” Slater is honest: though he admits that there is a better flavour in soaked beans, he cheats when he is hungry after a day in the garden. (Girls come in different shapes and sizes and food is always real, whether you have the time and energy to kill and pluck your own pheasant, or you just want to trick out a can of beans.)
It is earthy practical writing, punctuated with the odd hymn to the perfect wok, to the spurtle (a porridge stirrer) that is delightful to read. Also, I adore his grumpy “the world doesn’t need another cupcake recipe.”
Though his baked potatoes with rillettes are high on my list, the book ribbon is marking his cauliflower soup. It is pure and hearty – no cream, he insists, as it masks the shy flavour of cauliflower, which is supported by bacon and bay leaf and pepper. To decorate, he saves a few florets before blending the soup smooth and toasts some hazelnuts with oil and salt.
I do not have any stock in the freezer – rarely ever do, since it is Parisian pocket-sized – but improvised with a few dried porcini slices and a parmesan rind. I think Nigel would approve.
Cauliflower soup with toasted hazelnuts
serves 6 – from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries
1 enormous cauliflower
3 rashers good-quality bacon
1 clove garlic
1.2 litres stock (or water + porcini + parmesan rind)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
Cut bacon small and fry in its own fat until crisp and golden. Dice the onion and cook with bacon until translucent. Finely chop the garlic and add at the last minute so it does not burn.
Cut cauliflower in half, cut out the middle stalk and break the florets into small pieces with your hands. Chop the stalks small as well. Add cauliflower, stock and bay leaves to the pot and allow to simmer until the cauliflower is tender.
Remove bay leaves and a few florets for decoration. Let cool a little while you toast the hazelnuts in a small frying pan with the olive oil. When they start to smell toasty, go brown inside, they are done. Add a generous pinch of sea-salt.
Blend the soup perfectly smooth – be careful with hot liquid in a blender! – and add generous pinches of salt and pepper. Taste. Serve with the remaining whole florets and a few hazelnuts sprinkled on top.