Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Outside Cooking In

Romanesco al Forno con Crosta di Yogurt, Curcuma & Tandoori
Baked Romanesco with Turmeric-Tandoori-Yogurt Crust

I am sure that by now we have all discovered just how much tastier cauliflower is when it is baked in the oven, compared to when it is boiled or steamed. And I have to admit, it IS without any shadow of a doubt, my preferred cooking method for it. But this evening, I decided to try going a little step further and bake a whole head of cauliflower- a lovely little Romanesco in this case- and to add a tangy and spicy yogurt crust. I have often seen similar dishes online and have been meaning to try it for quite some time... it just seemed like such a fun thing to do! And it was!

Although this might sound exotic- and yes, I admit that those spiky, green, Romanesco's DO always look like they come from another planet- but this is totally simple to make and is an eye-opener and has that wow effect that makes it all the more fun in addition to its great flavor... your going to love it!

This would absolutely work just as well with a regular cauliflower- if not better to be honest, as the individual florets of the Romanesco do tend to fall apart a little after it is baked, so I will leave that choice up to you good people! In any case, I had a small Romanesco and small pot of plain yogurt. For the dressing I needed a tablespoon each of turmeric and tandoori powder, the juice of half a lime, a little sesame oil, a little honey and of course, salt and pepper... but that was all! For the accompanying dip, I blended yogurt with the juice of the other half of the lime and plenty of finely chopped mint and coriander and a finely sliced Spring onion. Very, very simple ingredients and a whole lot of fun with them... sounds like my idea of a good time in the kitchen!

So before we can get busy, we need to turn on out ovens to 400° to get them hot, hot, hot and ready! Tandoori dishes are usually baked in a "Tandoor", a clay oven that is set into the ground and reaches extremely high temperatures- so there is no need to be shy here- give it all you've got!

And whilst the oven is heating up, we can get busy mixing together that dressing, with first of all the turmeric and the tandoori powder and a pinch of salt going in.

Next comes black pepper, honey, lime juice and sesame oil and no- there is no way of saying how much of each! There is no way of knowing how big your cauliflower is going to be for me to say that and ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference how sweet or sour or mild or spicy you are going to enjoy eating! But I have faith in you! There are just too many variables involved- some yogurt is a little more sour, some Tandoori powder a little more intense... Trial and error my friends! Just like in real life!

Stir everything together well and make sure the seasoning is nice and rich- remember that the cauliflower beneath will not be able to soak up seasoning as it would whilst boiling in salt water and you do need to compensate a little. 

Place your cauliflower into a bowl and spoon the mixture generously over the top, making sure that everything gets nicely coated. I am sure the little pointy bits that make the Romanesco looks so cool also make it more difficult to coat- but perfection is boring anyway- haha! Just make sure it is a nice thick and delicious coat before you pop it into the oven to bake for an hour or so- depending on the cauliflowers size.

One little tip that I would like to share is this- after the yogurt and spice coating has dried out and become a lovely orange crust- after half an hour or so, make a little cover out of aluminum foil, in order to a.) not let it brown too soon and b.) cook a little more quickly, as it will with the steam produced in the oven is trapped beneath... it's a good idea! Trust me!

Of course I am only sharing my tip about using the aluminum foil in retrospect- because as you can see, the tips of my Romanesco did get a tad too dark, but on the other hand, that extra toasty flavor can indeed be seen as part and parcel of a true Tandoori preparation ;-)

In any case, you will need to be patient and it will take at least an hour for a small to medium sized cauliflower... but it is worth the wait as result, with all of the cauliflowers flavor being trapped inside makes it very delicious indeed...

Of course, whilst the cauliflower is baking you will have plenty of time to chop up the cilantro, mint and onion to make up the dressing/dip that will go with the tangy and spice tandoori flavor so wonderfully. Stir these simple ingredients into some plain yogurt, add a little salt, pepper, lime juice and sesame oil again and you will have a nice, refreshing counterpart to the spicy coating... it's all you need!

How do you know if the cauliflower is cooked beneath that crispy outer coating? I would suggest using a wooden skewer- that was what I did. When you can poke it easily into the thick stalk at the base, you can be sure that all of those smaller and more delicate florets will also be done.

Allow the cauliflower to cool for 5-6 minutes before attempting to cut it, this gives it a little time to "relax" and soften a little further in its own residual heat from the baking... that thing will be steaming away for a good 5-6 minutes and will be much too hot to eat straight away, anyway!

There you go- for such a simple thing, it does take quite a bit of time- but again, it does look and taste impressive and is healthy and fun to boot! And it is for sure a pleasant change from the ordinary! Now grab yourself a fork and enjoy!

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