The second in our series of posts from food blogger Jo Clare Orr, now excuse me but I’ve just got to dash out for some cauliflower and rhubarb….
The Spring Equinox may officially be behind us but the sky is still full of sulky clouds, the sun reduced to little seams of gold in the grey morass, and I keep getting caught in sudden, freezing showers of rain. The Winter woolies are staying put!
I am so desperate to cook with all the wonderful Spring produce that’s coming in but am still very much mindful that we want food that will warm and comfort us too. So, in light of this I’ve picked a vibrant green spinach soup that is best served piping hot, a snowy risotto that should have you glowing within and a tangy rhubarb souffle served straight from the oven.
I picked up some squeaky-fresh spinach at the farmers’ market at the weekend, baby leaves, full of pep and vigour- I barely want to blanch it in a pan of stock so that I can hold onto its vivid emerald colour. When I have a bowl of spinach soup like this, topped with firecracker pumpkin seeds (if you cook the pumpkin seeds in very hot oil they very quickly start firing out the pan!), I feel like it could cure me of all ailments.
I am sure many of you will have been put off the cauliflower sometime in childhood, when it may have been served up to you boiled, leached of all flavour and leaving a frankly foul smell behind in the kitchen. Others may dismiss it as a rather bland comfort food, lurking beneath a claggy cheese sauce. I hope to rectify this situation and present the cauliflower as a versatile and tasty veg in your arsenal.
When you pick your cauli, peep below its long curled leaves to check that its curds are perfectly white and tightly packed- we don’t want any blemishes. Something as simple as roasting the florets in a little olive oil can radically alter both the texture and flavour – it’s far away from the soggy clumps I’d often find in my miserable school dinners. Its flavour, especially when young is mild and sweet and can be good enough to eat raw in a salad.
There’s even been a trend in the last year to two for using it as a healthy, gluten-free pizza-base. Now, that’s versatile!
For dessert, it had to be the last of the season’s ‘forced’ Yorkshire rhubarb. The ‘forced’ stalks apparently grow so swiftly in their vast, dark hangars that you can actually hear the ‘pop’ as the stalks push their way out of the bud. The resulting stalks are slimmer, sweeter and cook down to what Nigel Slater calls “a silken confection”. They range in colour from a delicate blush pink to a deep crimson and are well worth getting hold of before the season ends.
A souffle made from just whipped egg whites and a fruit puree is a much lighter affair than one made from a traditional creme patisserie base – it allows the puree flavour to really shine through. I’ve added a touch of rosewater to my rhubarb puree to add another dimension. Rosewater at its best can conjure Arabian pleasure gardens, tinkling fountains in the noonday sun and the soft perfume of roses wafting in the air, however it can easily turn into Grandma’s soap, so please use sparingly. If you do get a taste for rosewater I can also recommend its use in everything from shortbread biscuits and rice pudding to a Rose Martini.
Give it a whirl and let me know how you get on!
Spinach Soup with Toasted Nori and Pumpkin Seeds:
Ingredients: 300g spinach, 1 litre chicken stock, 3 shallots, 1 clove of garlic, 25g butter, salt and pepper, 40g pumpkin seeds, 1 tbsp olive oil, toasted nori sheet cut into 2cm squares.
Method: Melt the butter in a large pan, once foaming add the chopped shallots and cook for 3 mins then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Once the garlic is fragrant, pour in the stock, spinach and season well.
Bring to the boil- remove from the heat as soon as the spinach has wilted.
Allow the soup to cool before blending it to a velvety consistency. While reheating it to piping hot, fry the pumpkin seeds in a little olive oil in a hot pan til they colour and start to pop.
Serve the soup with a good helping of pumpkin seeds and several squares of toasted nori.
Roasted cauliflower risotto with brown butter hazelnuts:
Ingredients: 1 cauliflower, 400g carnaroli rice, 2 tbsp olive oil and a knob of butter, 3 shallots, 3 sticks of celery, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 glass of Vermouth or white wine, 100g mascarpone, 100g peeled hazelnuts, 40g unsalted butter, 8 sage leaves, salt and pepper.
Method: finely chop the shallots and celery and fry in the olive oil and butter on a low heat so that they cook through without colouring – about 8 mins.
Add the chopped garlic and cook 1-2 mins.
Add the rinsed rice- give it a good stir to coat the grains with the oil then add the glass of wine- once almost absorbed, start cooking off one ladle of stock at a time whilst stirring.
Meanwhile, chop up the cauliflower into tiny florets and put half of these in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil then bake at 200C for 20-25 mins. The florets should be golden and charred at the tips by this point.
When you only have 2 ladles of stock left to add, stir in the other half of the cauli florets and season well.
Once the stock is absorbed, stir through the mascarpone.
Heat the butter in a small frying pan- once foaming add the hazelnuts and cook on high til the nuts are golden and the butter has turned into a beurre noisette. About one minute before the nuts are ready add the sage leaves for about 30 seconds.
Serve the risotto topped with some of the roasted cauliflower florets, 2 sage leaves and a serving of the brown butter hazelnuts.
Rhubarb and Rosewater Souffle:
Ingredients: 500g diced rhubarb, 2 tbsp honey, juice of 1/2 an orange, 1/4 tsp rosewater, 4 egg whites, 220g caster.
Method: Butter 4 large ramekins and sprinkle with a little caster (this helps the souffles climb the ramekin walls).
Put the diced rhubarb, honey and orange juice in a baking dish and into a hot oven (200C) for 20 mins til softened. Allow to cool before blitzing to a puree with the rosewater.
Whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak then add the caster 1 tbsp at a time. Once glossy, fold through the puree with a large metal spoon.
Fill the ramekins then bang them on the countertop to remove any air bubbles, use a palette knife to even the surface then run your thumb around the edge to create a ‘lip’.