Centre stage vegetables with A Bit on the Side’s Ed Smith…

Described as a class full of inspiring side dishes, this demonstration at Divertimenti from Rocket & Squash’s Ed Smith was a welcome breath of fresh, light, flavourful, vegetarian air. Three hours, seven dishes and a lot of chat resulted in a slew of new ideas for both dressing up the supporting acts on your plate and also turning them into dishes worthy enough of being crowned the main event. Familiar, accessible & non-threatening ingredients like cauliflower, carrots & new potatoes sat comfortably alongside arguable wild-cards like seaweed, carrot tops & green tomatoes.

Ed, a former lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-writer-turned-chef, was friendly, easy going and totally at home juggling multiple pans; it felt less like we were in a Brompton Road basement kitchen and more sat round his table at home, dog underfoot & vino in hand. FYI I have no idea if Ed has a dog but he seemed like a nice guy and we all know – cat lovers look away now – that the best people in life have dogs.

The first dish of the night was one that could easily pass as a centrepiece statement rather than being relegated to the ‘sides’ bench. Chunky cauliflower florets were roasted in a mixture of rapeseed oil and cumin salt before being tumbled onto a platter with crispy roasted chickpeas, blanched spring greens and dollops of lemony, sumac sprinkled tahini. The blend of so-hip-they-hurt Middle Eastern flavours paired beautifully with the textures & colours of this minimum-fuss, maximum-flavour dish.IMG_7080Next, two gorgeously simple ways to dress up the kitchen knockout that is the Jersey Royal. One of our loveliest & most seasonal vegetables, usually Elvis-approved amounts of butter and a twist of black pepper are enough to elevate this humble little spud but here, Ed showed us the savoury moreishness of dulse seaweed melted into butter and a traditional-with-a-twist pesto made with ferny carrot top fronds. Vibrant yet delicate and eye-wideningly delicious, these brought the idea of how a Jersey Royal should be served into the modern age of cooking.IMG_7082

IMG_7081A traditional American wedge salad usually arrives drowning in blue cheese dressing and creaking under a mountain of bacon bits; Ed’s lighter & more summery version came with a dill-heavy buttermilk dressing that was joyfully fragrant and worth making double of because life’s too short for skimpy amounts of dressing, translucent radish slices and umami-packed soy seeds & popped quinoa. It may sound like a lot of elements but each took only moments to prepare, making the overall end result well worth the effort.IMG_7089Grilled green tiger tomatoes were sprinkled with white pepper and chilli leaving them fresh, juicy & sharp… IMG_7084…a fennel & tarragon salad delivered a beautifully clean, subtle aniseed tang and carrots were given a new lease of life, one that was silky with brown butter, full of chopped hazelnuts & fresh parsley and pan-to-plate ready in minutes.IMG_7085Great tips such as ‘cauliflower always needs a good 45 minutes to roast properly not the 20 minutes designated by cookbooks on a space-page budget’ and a desire to use the entirety of each vegetable & avoid excess waste were two of the nicest qualities of the evening, along with the fact that everything made could be used on so many more blank canvasses than those we saw painted tonight. Nothing was overly complicated, everything was delicious and it was inspiring, in our increasingly plant based culinary landscape, to see vegetables take their moment in the spotlight.

 

Tahini Parmesan Cauliflower; a perfect vegetarian supper…

Cauliflower.

One of the easiest vegetables to destroy. Take your eye off the prize for just a few moments and you’ll find yourself staring sadly at steaming piles of beige florets that wilt limply upon the gentlest of prods and prove equally offensive to both nose & tongue.

This adapted recipe from Food 52 takes the cruciferous powerhouse, marries it with the simple idea of bread crumbing, gives it a punch of Middle Eastern flavour via an addition of tahini and the result is an absolute cracker. A crunchy and golden exterior gives way to soft but not mushy vegetable and the pairing of salty pecorino with the nutty flavours of tahini make for a killer umami flavour combination.

Keep your cauli pieces the same size to ensure even cooking and make sure you really pack on the Parmesan-Panko for a deeply satisfying vegetarian supper that would be perfect as a side but which we ate on its own as a beautifully light supper to herald the end of a particularly gluttonous weekend!

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Tahini Parmesan Crunchy Baked Cauliflower

(Serves 2 to 4 as a main or side)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed of leaves and stalk
  • 1/2 cup tahini, well-stirred
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)

 

METHOD

Heat your oven to 475 degrees F/245 degrees C/gas mark 9 – note: my oven only goes up to 230 which meant I cooked the cauliflower for a little longer without any issues.

Place a parchment-lined baking tray or casserole dish in the oven while it heats; you want to be able to fit all your cauliflower out in one single layer and the hot pan helps to get it golden & crisp.

Cut the cauliflower into quarters then slice each quarter into 1/4-inch flat pieces. You want large pieces that are all similar in size but don’t waste the smaller ones – as long as they’re the same thickness, they’ll all cook perfectly.

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Set up a dipping station with 2 shallow dishes; in the first, mix together your tahini and olive oil and in the second, mix together your panko, pecorino, thyme and black pepper to taste.

Working with a few slices of cauliflower at a time, coat both sides in the tahini-olive oil mixture (let any excess drip back into the pan) and then coat both sides generously with the panko mixture. Do the same with all the remaining cauliflower and keep your finished pieces to one side until they’ve all been done.

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Working quickly, carefully transfer your crumbed cauliflower pieces to the preheated sheet pan and roast until golden & crispy on both sides, flipping the cauliflower about halfway through the roasting time; this will take approximately 10-20 minutes per side depending on the strength of your oven so keep an eye on it.

IMG_4197Serve warm from the oven and if you have any leftovers, keep them in the fridge before gently reheating in the oven the following day.

Adapted from the original recipe which can be found here:

https://food52.com/blog/20766-crispy-cheesy-tahini-roasted-cauliflower