Spring comes quite late to the kitchen. While gardens, greenhouses and allotments abound with seedlings and opening buds, anyone who likes to cook according to the season has no choice but to make do during March with what are essentially winter fruits and vegetables. Still, there are some great cauliflowers for baking with paprika-flecked cheese sauces or simmering in a thin ivory soup. Instead, I pulsed the changes, pan-fried the creamy-white florets into a crunchy, spiced batter to eat with a smooth tahini-mint paste.
I also brought purple buds from the stores. So good that he deserved a proper hollandaise sauce, whipped to a deep buttery yellow, which is exactly what he got. Another day, I dropped a handful of purple tops and green stems into boiling water for just over a minute, drained, then transferred to a shallow skillet with hot, shallow olive oil, lemon zest, and chopped green olives. They were even better piled on thick sourdough, the juices dripping onto the hot toast.
There are still many fine apples and pears. I used some Cox apples in a pie, cooking them first with a little butter and maple syrup before adding them to a gingerbread cake crust, with a thick layer of cream cheese on top. I filled the gaps with more syrup and served it both as a dessert and as a cake at tea time.
Fried Cauliflower with Mint Tahini
plain flour 80g
salt ½ teaspoon
cumin seeds 1 tsp
ground paprika 1 tsp
ground chili 1 teaspoon, hot or mild
water with ice 175ml
cauliflower 1 half
peanut oil to cook
For the mint tahini:
garlic 2 nails
sea salt prove
water with ice 150ml
mint leaves 15, medium
Make the dough: Mix the flour and cornstarch, add the salt, spices, and beat in the ice water with a fork or small whisk. Let stand for half an hour.
Bring a deep saucepan with salted water to a boil. Break the cauliflower into large florets and save the leaves if they are in good condition. (I like to keep a bit of the stem on my florets, but that’s up to you.) Rinse the florets in cold water, and when the water is boiling, lightly salt and pepper and add the cauliflower.
Let boil for 3 minutes, then drain and reserve on kitchen paper to dry.
Prepare the tahini sauce: Crush the garlic into a fine paste and place in a small bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice (I use about 2 tablespoons) and stir in the garlic. Add the tahini, then whisk in the water with a fork. Add a good big pinch of sea salt. Finely chop the mint leaves and stir. Taste and add more salt or lemon as desired.
Heat a 3cm depth of peanut oil in a deep skillet. Drop in a bread cube or a small piece of cauliflower and if it turns golden in a minute or so, then the oil is hot enough.
Stir the batter and dip the florets in, making sure each one is well coated. (Adjust with a little more flour or water as needed.) Dip them, no more than a half dozen at a time, into the hot oil and leave for a couple of minutes until the batter is pale golden. Flip and brown on the other side, then lift, drain on kitchen paper, and repeat with the rest of the cauliflower. Salt the florets lightly, then eat with the mint tahini.
Apple Maple Syrup Pie
Loose Juice: Apple Maple Syrup Pie. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
When making the smooth maple frosting, use an electric mixer with a flat paddle beater on slow to moderate speed. If you only have an electric hand mixer, mix it with a wooden spoon, as it will likely set the mixture. Serves 9-12
dessert apples 450g
Maple syrup 1 tablespoon
self raising flour 250g
Ground ginger 2 level teaspoons
mixed spices ½ teaspoon
ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon
sodium bicarbonate 1 tsp
salt a pinch
cane honey 200ml
light brown 125g
eggs 2 large
For the glaze:
full fat cream cheese 400g
vanilla extract ½ teaspoon
powdered sugar 250g
Maple syrup 4 tablespoons, plus a little more
Peel the apples, cut them in half and core them, then cut them into 2cm dice. Heat the butter in a shallow nonstick skillet, then add the apples and cook for 10 minutes over low to moderate heat, until golden brown and translucent. Towards the end of your cooking, add the maple syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Line the base and sides of a 22cm pie dish with baking paper and set the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.
Sift the flour with the ground ginger, the spice mix, the cinnamon, the baking soda and the salt. Finely grate the lemon zest and stir it into the flour. Pour the browned syrup into a small saucepan, add the butter and muscovado and heat over moderate heat until the butter has melted. When the mixture has simmered for one minute, remove it from the heat.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, add the milk, and lightly beat to combine. Pour the butter and syrup mixture into the flour and spices and gently stir until no flour is visible. Mix milk and eggs.
Fold in the cooked apples and scrape the mixture into the lined pie plate. The apples should sink to the bottom. Slide the cake into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until slightly puffed and fluffy to the touch. Cool in the tin.
For the frosting, put the cream cheese and mascarpone in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a flat beater, add the vanilla and sift in the icing sugar. Mix on slow speed until smooth and creamy, then pour in the maple syrup. Refrigerate until the cake is absolutely cold.
Pipe the frosting over the top of the cake, leaving holes here and there and pour a little more maple syrup into each one.
Follow Nigel on Instagram @NigelSlater