The staple food I really, really miss, is potatoes – in all and any forms. God, I used to love chips so much. And mashed potato. And Pringles, obviously, which might be the food I miss most actually. But I also miss the things that go with potatoes that you can’t eat any more if you aren’t having the potato. Things like Fish Pie – and also shepherd’s pie, which is the ultimately comforting dish, maybe because it is so filling.
So the discovery that pureed cauliflower (with lashings of butter, Dijon, and cheddar) is not only delicious, but that it also takes the place, perfectly, of mashed potato on top of whatever you choose to put beneath it, is up there on the joy list. The only caveat to mention is that you do really need a food processor to blitz it effectively enough.
I made this the other night when there was a sudden and thrilling chill in the air, and we lit the wood stove for the first night since last winter and I was overtaken with the desire to create something autumnal and comforting. I made it with leftover chicken and lentils but you could just as easily use mince or fish in white sauce (if you are not avoiding milk or flour that is), or just lentils and veg if you want vegetarian.
For the lentils
Lentils (I use puy lentils because they retain their firmness without reducing into a sloppy mush).
Chicken or veg stock and or red wine
Herbs and garlic
Fry a couple of diced onions (I actually used frozen, pre-chopped onions, which saves so much time and is sometimes the difference between whether I can be arsed to cook something – or not). Once softened, I added some garlic and some chopped mushrooms that also happened to be in the fridge. Then add lentils. I used a whole pack. Stir, to coat each lentil in oil then add stock, a bay leaf and whatever herbs you like – I used thyme. If I’d had a bottle of red wine handy I would have used that instead of the stock as the lentils then taste sinfully delicious. You could also try cooking them up with bacon, which is truly delicious, but I am trying to avoid red meat at the moment (we’ll see how long that lasts).
For the cauliflower topping
A cauliflower or two, depending on size
Salt and pepper
While the lentils are cooking, chop up two small or one large cauliflower into florets, and steam until they are properly soft – you don’t want it al dente since you are making it into a mash.
When the cauliflower is cooked, put it into your food processor along with a large dollop of Dijon (depending on how mustardy you like things to be – I err on the side of ‘very’); huge knobs of butter (lashings); and some grated cheese, both of which will melt if you do this while the cauliflower is hot. Blitz into a puree and leave to cool. I think this dish works better if you have time to chill the cauliflower once it has cooled, before putting it on top of the also-cooled lentils, just because the two remain more effectively separate – but that’s by no means essential.
Once the lentils are cooked – and cooled if you’ve had time – put them into an oven-proof dish. I layered left-over chicken on top but you don’t have to. Then add your cauliflower topping. I put grated cheese on top but if you don’t like cheese, then make sure you put enough butter in the topping and it shouldn’t burn. Et voila.
I served it with a tomato salad with extra virgin oil and white wine vinegar on top. Oh hello, Autumn – I’ve missed you so.