This vegetarian starter recipe from Nigel Mendham plays on some classic flavour pairings to create a well-balanced dish, with the richness of a cauliflower cheese recipe tempered by the fresh fruitiness of apple and juicy raisins. Cooking the cauliflower in a water bath before pan-frying to finish ensures a perfectly soft vegetable with a little golden caramelisation on the outside.
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First make a beurre noisette to cook the cauliflower florets. Place the butter in a small pan and set over a medium heat. Cook until the butter begins to brown and smell nutty, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly
200g of butter
Preheat a water bath to 85°C
Place the cauliflower florets in a vacuum bag and pour in the brown butter. Add a pinch of salt and mix everything together in the bag, ensuring the cauliflower is fully coated in the butter. Seal the bag, then cook in the water bath for 35 minutes
1 cauliflower, cut into florets then each floret halved lengthways
1 pinch of salt
Meanwhile, make the raisin purée. Place all the ingredients in a pan over a medium heat, then cover the pan with cling film and leave to gently simmer for 20 minutes
200g of raisins
20g of capers
100g of water
100g of port
1 bay leaf
In a separate pan, bring the apple juice for the gel to the boil. Whisk in the agar agar and continue to whisk for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest, then pour the mixture into a deep baking tray to form a thin layer
300g of fresh apple juice
6g of agar agar
1/2 lemon, zest only
Allow to set in the fridge for 5–10 minutes, then roughly chop into pieces and add to a blender. Blitz to form a smooth gel, then transfer to a piping bag until ready to serve
Remove the cooked raisin purée mixture from the heat and pour into a blender, discarding the bay leaf. Blitz until smooth, then season to taste and transfer to a piping bag until required
freshly ground black pepper
Remove the cooked cauliflower from the water bath and reduce the temperature to 76°C. Set the cauliflower aside, still in its bag, until ready to serve
Slice off the tops and bottoms off each apple to create flat edges. Use an apple corer to cut out cylindrical batons from the flesh
4 large green apples
Measure the apple juice into a jug then mix in the ascorbic acid. Pour into a vacuum bag and add the apple batons. Seal and cook in the water bath for 6 minutes
100ml of fresh apple juice
1 tsp ascorbic acid
Once cooked, remove the apple from the water bath and drain the batons from the bag. Chill in a bowl of iced water, setting aside until ready to serve
To make the cauliflower purée, break the cauliflower into florets and add to a food processor. Blitz briefly until the cauliflower is roughly shredded – or, alternatively, shred and chop the cauliflower roughly by hand – then set aside
Add the butter to a heavy-bottomed pan and place over a medium heat. Once the butter begins to foam, add the shredded cauliflower and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat up high and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the cauliflower starts to colour
200g of butter
1 pinch of salt
Pour in the vegetable stock and bring everything up to the boil. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, or until the stock has reduced by about three-quarters
300g of vegetable stock
Stir through the grated cheddar until melted into the mixture, then transfer everything to a blender and blitz to form a smooth purée. Adjust the seasoning to taste, then transfer the purée to a clean pan and keep warm until ready to serve
70g of mature cheddar, grated
To finish the poached cauliflower, add a little butter to a large frying pan and place over a high heat. Once hot, drain the cauliflower florets from the brown butter and add to the pan. Fry for a few minutes until golden and crisp at the edges
To serve, spoon a little of the warm cauliflower purée on to each plate and pipe dots of both the raisin purée and apple gel around it. Divide the pan-roasted cauliflower florets and apple batons between the plates, then sprinkle over a little grated cheddar and a few cress leaves to garnish
100g of mature cheddar, finely grated
micro cress, to garnish
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