Cauliflower risotto

One of the more delicious things I've eaten recently (or possibly ever) was an exquisite little dish of cauliflower at Auckland's Clooney restaurant. Not only have I been hankering after anything to do with the humble cauli ever since, but I was also struck by the fact that this beautiful vegetable rarely gets to be the hero. 

Cauliflowers are thought to come from Syria. The French were introduced to them in the 16th century; Louis XIV had a particular fondness for them. I've always thought that the French word for cauliflower choux-fleur is much prettier than its English counterpart. 

I know the idea of risotto sounds laborious, but I've always found the making of it rather soothing, especially after a difficult day. Edible therapy, perhaps.  I try to avoid cliched buzzwords, but this dish could well be the very definition of comfort food. As we inch towards midwinter, a plate of this should be just the ticket. Keep it simple; let that choux-fleur sing. 

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 cauliflower, core removed, cut into florets
  • olive oil
  • 50g butter
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • about 1.5 litres good vegetable or chicken stock
  • 250g aborio rice
  • 150ml white wine
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 100g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 slices good day-old bread, toasted and crumbled into breadcrumbs
  • large handful sage leaves

Method:

​1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Take two-thirds of the cauliflower florets and spread them evenly over an oiled roasting dish. Drizzle a little more olive oil over top and roast for about 20 minutes, until cauliflower is tender and nicely caramelised on the outside. Season well and keep warm.  

2. In a large saucepan over a moderate heat, add about a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of butter and let it melt and bubble up. Add onion and cook gently. Finely chop remaining cauliflower and add to onion. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is soft. 

3. Put stock in another saucepan over a low heat and have a ladle handy. 

4. Add rice to cauliflower mixture plus a little more oil and butter, and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, so rice absorbs some of the oil and has started to toast a little. Increase heat a little, pour in white wine and let it bubble up and reduce, while stirring. 

5. Once liquid has been absorbed, add a ladle of hot stock and stir into rice, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more. Continue with this process, stirring, until rice is al dente. Take care not to let it overcook into mush; you want it to retain a bit of firmness. Season with salt and pepper. 

6. For the pangrattato, place a frying pan over medium heat and add remaining butter. Let it melt and bubble up before adding walnuts and breadcrumbs. Fry gently for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and fragrant, then add sage leaves and let them crisp up. Serve generous spoonfuls of risotto with roasted cauliflower and  pangrattato scattered on top. 

Written by Sam Mannering. First appeared on Stuff.co.nz.

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