Now, I know that cauliflower is very good for you but cannot, in all honesty, have anything favourable to say about its flavour. I have often seen it being eaten raw accompanied by a gooey dip. It is rumoured to be much admired when baked and coated in cheese and presented as ‘cauliflower cheese’. It can, also, be coated in a batter and then fried to produce a certain ‘crunch’ factor even.
And what does all this have to say to you?
That cauliflower is basically tasteless and simply can’t be eaten on its own; it needs a dip or some cheese or some batter to hide a quintessentially faux-bland taste. And, last but not least, let us not forget that it is a cruciferous vegetable … the kind that have a bad reputation for windy consequences.
In view of the above, please do not ask me why I happened to have a cauliflower in the fridge. I think I had bought it in order to feel virtuous. “I, too, can eat cauliflower, you know” sort of thing. And, just like Annie, in the 1946 Musical “Annie get your Gun” … I came home with my little catch of fish, thinking: “I can do this. I can do better than cauliflower cheese”. (For those of you who have never heard of this film … take a look at the youtube song “Anything you can do, I can do better” on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmoKhFJRUOk … after about 1 minute after it starts).
If you take a look at the photo above, you might just manage to espy three sweet little fishies that are called ‘merluzzi’. ‘Merluzzo’ is Italian for cod but as is very evident, these cod fishes can be very catwalk-size-8. They are usually dredged in flour and fried when they come in this size. However, since I was in an Annie-get-your-gun frame of mind … I somehow found a way to link them to cauliflower cheese and the ‘great big leek’. Thus it is that this post is about a fish-based cauliflower cheese using leek as a casement and bechamel and saffron to make it sound interesting. Boiled potatoes were added as sandwiching factor.
It was very easy to make … but there were many steps involved and hence, for the reader, many photos to look at. Caveat emptor! If you think you like the sound of it … by all means read through it. Otherwise go to the very end/last photo and see what you make of it … I think this could make a good party dish. A lot of the components can be prepared beforehand … and since it needs a final fling in the oven before serving … I am sure that it can be prepared the day before to be cooked on the day itself.
The first thing to do is make 500ml of bechamel sauce.
Then, boil up some water, and soak the leek leaves in it until they wilt.
I kept some of the cooking water to set aside. This would be used later to soften the bechamel sauce, and add extra flavours to it. The solid bits at the bottom of the pan is some cauliflower.
I used a potato masher to mash up the cauliflower. I then added some salt and pepper to it.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
This is when a bit of zen is required. As is often the case with fiddly operations, I called upon the forbearance of my talented daughter, with the excuse that I couldn’t roll the fish parcels and snap photos at the same time.
So … what we have here is one wilted leek leaf. Some cooked cod fish. And two, very red, pepper corns. The idea is to roll the leaf so that we end up with a parcel.
Heat the water in which the cauliflower had cooked at the same time …
Then pour all this into the bechamel … and look at the beautiful colour you end up with! So very cheerful … and the scent of saffron is very alluring too. Switch on the heat and give it a good stir with a wooden spoon, taste and add salt and white pepper as desired. While this is gently simmering …
For some boiled potatoes which you can layer in an oven dish. I used a masher to mash them up a bit and form one solid layer. I then sprinkled two good pinches of salt. Ooops — and I forgot to mention that the oven should have been preheated at around 180°C.
Place the cut up parcels of leek and fish on top of the layer of boiled potatoes.
It is quite evident that I made up the dish as I went along and so my delight upon discovering that it tasted not-bad-at-all was all the more felt. It was amazing, to me, that the flavour of the fish managed to hold its own against the stronger tastes of the parmesan and the saffron. The next time I make it, it will probably take me less time and that’s always helpful. The leek needs to be cooked a bit more rather than just left to wilt … and the dish could do with a little less saffron too.
And I’m still not convinced I like cauliflower ….!