Today, I am writing in praise of the humble cauliflower.
A staple of many cultures for centuries, it has recently hit the limelight as a regular on many restaurant menus.
It is always a delicious choice in Indian dishes combined with potato or lentils, but I recently saw it in a few unusual recipes.
One uses it as an unusual ingredient in cauliflower fried rice and another intriguing suggestion involves serving baked cauliflower and garlic bread sticks with an Italian marinara sauce for dipping.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: CAULIFLOWER TART
2 sheets of store-bought frozen shortcrust pastry, thawed
1 small head of cauliflower, broken into small florets
250ml thickened cream
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs olive oil
150g grated cheddar cheese
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill or parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, finely chopped
100g bacon or ham, finely chopped
Baking weights (dried beans can also be used as weights) for pre-baking the pastry case
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Grease a 23cm flan dish. Line the dish with the thawed pastry sheets, trim the excess and cool in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Cover the pastry with baking paper and fill the case with baking weights or dried beans and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes.
2. Remove the weights and paper and bake for another three to four minutes until the pastry is dry and golden. Remove and allow to cool.
3. Place the cauliflower florets in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and let simmer for about four minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
4. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs, cream and spices together, then stir in half the cheese, the chopped dill or parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Heat the oil in a fry pan and cook the onion and bacon for about three to four minutes over medium heat until the onion is soft and bacon is starting to crisp. Remove from the heat and let cool for a while.
6. Spread the bacon and onion mixture over the bottom of the baked pastry case, then place the cauliflower florets on top. Pour over the egg mixture, then top with the remaining cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes until set and golden.
Above (from left): Cauliflower and onions
Below (from left): Dill, chopped onion and bacon
Who would have thought it could become so widely popular or versatile?
Suddenly, the pale-coloured and bland-looking vegetable has become a global star.
As someone who grew up eating fairly uninteresting cauliflower dishes that were mostly steamed and boiled, I would never have described it as a "trendy" vegetable.
That is why I was surprised to discover that it can be cooked so many ways.
It was also a surprise to find out how nutritious it is. Cauliflower has plenty of vitamin C and a decent amount of filling fibre and protein. For anyone on a low-carbohydrate diet, it is a good substitute for rice and potato.
The cauliflower originated somewhere in today's Middle East perhaps as far back as 6BC and is part of the species Brassica oleracea, which means it has a lot of relatives, including the cabbage, the brussels sprout and the broccoli, as well as kale and kai-lan.
Startlingly, brightly coloured versions have been developed too: orange, green and purple, for instance. Yet, I must say I find the look of the coloured varieties strange.
However, it seems that it is not just colour that the vegetable is keen to soak up either. It also absorbs almost any flavour you might like.
So, I decided to check out some possibilities.
It can be eaten raw or lightly steamed for mixing into dips and salads, steamed and added to mashed potatoes or whizzed in a food processor and combined with egg to make into "dough" for a pizza crust.
It is also an excellent base for a soup, aside from being roasted, fried, pickled, rotisserie-cooked or added to couscous and rice.
The florets are also delicious lightly braised in olive oil with sliced shallots. Or you can chop and saute them in butter for a delicious side dish - or as I read recently, a quick breakfast.
The whole cauliflower head (called a curd) can be sprinkled with olive oil and roasted.
Cut slices to serve as a vegetable that is crisp on the outside and delicately creamy inside.
If you like quiche, then you will probably enjoy this recipe for baked cauliflower tart. While it is similar to a quiche, the tart does not need the same number of eggs and has more substance.
For my taste, a little nutmeg is a key flavour enhancer. You can exercise your preferences by adding a little of what you fancy to the mix.