Last week I excitedly collected my first ever veg bag. After meaning to order one for some time and not quite getting around to it, I finally sat down at my computer and set up a standing order to Local Greens.
There are many veg bag/box schemes out there, but two things attracted me to Local Greens. First, the veg they provide is from producers as near to south east London as they can manage, reducing food miles and connecting local people with their landscape. Second, and more importantly, they deliver their veg bags to local ‘collection points’ rather than your home, for you to collect at your leisure. The issues around home delivery has deterred me in the past from ordering a weekly veg bag or box: neither my husband nor I are regularly at home during the week, and we live in an apartment building with no convenient place to leave it. Our Local Greens collection point is the local pub, a few hundred yards away from our house, who will hang on to it for a couple of days so that I can pop in and pick it up when it suits me.
For the home cook, the thrill of fresh produce in the kitchen is unrivalled, and the advantage of receiving produce chosen for you is that you will often receive items that not only would you not have chosen yourself, but that perhaps you have never cooked with before. Last week’s bounty was all somewhat familiar, but I did find myself with a cauliflower, my least favourite vegetable.
I am still haunted by years of overcooked white mush on the side of a roast dinner. It must have been in vogue in the 90s to boil it for so long that any hint of structural integrity disappeared, traumatising generations of children. I have tried to find ways over the years to make this cruciferous monster palatable. Most of them involve curry as the crevices of a cauliflower soak up the spices rather well. I turned to my old friend Google for some inspiration and found that many advocate the pairing of cauliflower with pasta. Hmm.
The problem that we’re going to have here is that both ingredients are intrinsically bland; which is why both are so often doused in cheese sauce. Blending two bland ingredients is only really successful when stronger flavours are introduced, which serve both to perk them up and hold them together. Cue my two favourite storecupboard staples: anchovies and chilli flakes. Adding these both to the olive oil at the beginning of the cooking breaks down the anchovies and creates a flavourful paste which gently coats the other ingredients. I also added a little tomato puree to give the paste more flavour and substance.
The result is a pasta dish that showcases the subtle flavour of the cauliflower perfectly with the other ingredients. Of course, it would be unjust not to add just a little cheese at the end. Pecorino is my choice, but other hard cheeses would be just as complimentary.
Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Chilli
400g dried tortiglioni, rigatoni or other large pasta tubes
1 medium cauliflower, divided into florets and stalks and leaves discarded
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 anchovy fillets
Large pinch dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
Grated pecorino, to serve
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Drain and reserve some of the cooking water. Keep warm and set aside.
Blanch the cauliflower florets in salted water until they are just tender. Drain and put in a bowl of ice water to stop them cooking any further.
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the garlic, anchovies and chilli flakes. Stir over a medium heat until the garlic turns golden and the anchovies break down. Do not let it brown. Stir in the tomato puree.
Drain the cauliflower florets and toss them, with the pasta, in the anchovy mixture. You may want to do this in a new large pan or bowl as the frying pan will likely be too small. Check the seasoning.
Serve in large bowls with a good grating of the pecorino.