Creamy cauliflower risotto with a crispy anchovy crumb

I am (slowly) writing a new book about cooking with vegetables and finding new ways to use old favourites is leading me in some interesting directions. If you only ever serve the humble cauliflower baked with a cheese sauce, you’ll find using it to make this creamy risotto a revelation. The Italians routinely use cauliflower (and broccoli) in pasta sauces to great effect but using it in a classic white risotto not only adds an extra dimension of creaminess, but it also makes a little rice go a long way making it a perfect budget dish for serving a lot of people. The real star of this risotto though is the addition of the crisp anchovy and chilli breadcrumb topping – it adds a savoury crunch and cuts through the richness of the risotto. I made extra and sprinkled it over pasta dishes and a delicious dinner party starter of mozzarella and charred peppers because it’s so yummy.

This recipe serves four

  • 1 small cauliflower
  • 1 litre of hot chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons of light olive oil
  • 80g butter
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or grated
  • 2 sticks of celery, strings removed and finely chopped
  • 250g risotto rice
  • 100ml Noilly Prat or dry white wine
  • A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 100g freshly grated Parmesan 
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crumb topping: 2 small slices of stale white bread (sourdough for preference), 1 small tin of anchovies, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (it keeps well in an airtight container)

To make…

  • Make the crumb topping. Tear up the stale bread and whiz it up to coarse crumbs in a food processor. Add the chilli flakes, the anchovies and all the oil. Whizz again until thoroughly combined. Heat up a little olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry for a few minutes until crisp being careful not to burn them. Remove from the heat, set aside and allow to cool – any you don’t use here will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.
  • Break the cauliflower into florets and reserve the core.
  • Heat the stock and add the cauliflower florets to cook through for about 6 minutes.
  • Finely chop the cauliflower core, onion and celery and grate the garlic.
  • Add about 20g of the butter and the olive oil to a large pan, heat gently and add the cauliflower core, onion, celery and garlic. Stir for about 15 minutes until soft but not coloured. Once the vegetables are soft, pour in the rice, stir and turn up the heat.
  • Cook for about a minute, add the Noilly Prat or wine and keep stirring to burn off the alcohol.
  • Now add a pinch of salt and then a ladle of the hot stock. Keep stirring and gradually adding ladles of stock until it is absorbed. The stirring makes the risotto creamy and should usually take about 15 minutes for the rice to be cooked. You are aiming for it to be soft with a slight bite – like cooking pasta ‘al dente’.
  • Add the cauliflower florets and crush it down into the rice. Add a little more stock or hot water to loosen it up again if it looks too stodgy.
  • Remove your pan from the heat, stir in the remaining butter and the Parmesan and adjust the seasoning with the black pepper, you shouldn’t need to add much in the way of salt because of the salt in the stock and the cheese. Cover and allow to sit few a couple of minutes so it becomes even creamier.
  • Just before serving, stir in the chopped parsley.
  • Serve it immediately in warmed bowls and top with the crisp anchovy crumbs. Delicious!
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Aromatic pork with ginger and soy

This is probably one of my favourite far-eastern supper dishes. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, it’s all available from most supermarkets these days and the cooking method is very simple – prep and then braise in the oven for a couple of hours. The mix of hot, sweet, sour and savoury in the sticky sauce is just delicious with the melt-in-the-mouth chunks of pork and the crisp topping of shallots and spring onions. I serve it with plain jasmine rice and a fresh pineapple relish. Lightly stir-fried pak choi works well as a side-dish if you want to serve some extra greens with it.  It’s a great Saturday night sharing dish with friends and family.

Sticky pork

  • 2tbsp light olive oil
  • 100g finely sliced shallots
  • 50g garlic, crushed
  • 25g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1.25kg lean pork shoulder cut into 3cm chunks
  • 4 tbsp kecap manis (Indonesian soy sauce – you can find it in most supermarkets – I buy it from Sainsbury’s)
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp Tamarind water (10g tamarind pulp soaked in 3 tbsp hot water) or from a ready-made jar
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
  • 3 medium fresh chillies, seeded and chopped
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • To garnish: 2 shallots, sliced and fried until crisp in a little oil and some finely sliced fresh spring onions
  • Pineapple relish: a small ripe pineapple – peeled and cut into 1cm pieces, small red onion – thinly sliced, a handful of fresh coriander, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp each of sugar and salt. Mix everything together thoroughly in a bowl and leave to infuse for an hour before serving. 
  • Jasmine or basmati rice to serve

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  • Heat the oil in a large cast iron pot. Add the shallots and fry until soft and then add the ginger, garlic a good pinch of salt and cook through for a minute.
  • Add the pork pieces and colour lightly. Stir in the kecap manis, soy, tamarind, chilli and stock. Bring to a simmer and then braise in the oven for a couple of hours until the pork is very tender.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork from the sauce and put it aside on a warm plate. Place the pot on the hob and boil the sauce rapidly until it’s thick and sticky. Check for seasoning, add the pork back in and stir.
  • When you’re ready to eat, serve it in a warmed dish and scatter with the crisp shallots and spring onion.
  • Serve with rice and the pineapple salad.
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Passion fruit crème brulée 

This delicious creamy dessert with the subtle tang of passion fruit is one of my new favourites. It’s a doddle to make and there’s nothing like the sharp crack of the crisp brulée topping when you break into it with your spoon. You need to make this the night before or, at the very least, a couple of hours beforehand to allow the custard to set and chill. Only add the brulée topping just before serving or it will go from being crisp to just sticky. I like these by themselves but almond thin type biscuits are a nice accompaniment.

passion fruit creme brulee

This quantity is enough to fill six 150ml ramekins i.e. a total of 900ml of liquid. Proper brulée dishes are shallow and wide but unless you already have a set, ramekins work just fine.

  • 100ml passion fruit juice squeezed from 6 ripe fresh passion fruits
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 600ml double cream
  • 130g golden caster sugar for the custard, an extra tablespoon to make the brulée topping

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 120°C.
  • Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until foamy.
  • Bring the cream and vanilla up to the boil in a non-stick pan. Pour it over the egg mixture and whisk rapidly.
  • Set a metal sieve over a bowl. Cut each passion fruit in half and scoop out the seeds and juice. Using the back of a soup spoon rub the flesh and seeds through the sieve – this should give you about 100ml of juice. Discard the seeds. Whisk the juice into the cream once it cools slightly.
  • Place the ramekins in a large roasting tray. Pour the cream equally into each dish and fill the tray with boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the side of each ramekin. Be careful not to get any water in the ramekins. Place the tray in the oven and allow to bake gently for about an hour. They should wobble slightly not set solid.
  • Remove the tray from the oven and lift each ramekin out carefully. Pour away the hot water. Allow the tray to cool, put the ramekins back in and chill them in the fridge overnight or for at least two hours before serving.
  • Shortly before serving, dust the top of each ramekin with caster sugar. Swirl it round to ensure it gets into the edges, tap out the excess onto the next ramekin and so on until all six are coated in sugar.
  • Using a blowtorch held about 10 to 12cm away from the surface, caramelise the sugar evenly. Leave them a couple of minutes to allow the sugar to harden and serve immediately. If you don’t have a blowtorch put them under a very hot *grill for a few moments.

*For those of you who subscribe to the #TheFridayRecipe email I mistakenly typed the word girl instead of grill here originally. Apparently it cheered up many a reader’s dull morning! You’re welcome : ).

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Christmas-ready liqueurs from the hedgerows!

Sloe Vodka

Pigeon Cottage Sloe Vodka

Now’s the perfect time to get all your home-made liqueurs ready for Christmas. The blackthorn hedges near us are full of fat, ripe sloe berries for making sloe vodka or gin – check out the recipe here from the archive.

You can follow exactly the same recipe to make damson vodka by halving the amount of sugar and substituting the sloes for damsons. You don’t need as much sugar as ripe sloes are bitter and ripe damsons aren’t. This is one of my favourites as damsons are a bit fiddly to do anything else with, the dark ruby colour is sublime and the liqueur takes on the flavour not just of the fruit, but also a slight back note of almond from the damson stones. Remove the fruit after a couple of months and decant the liqueur into a clean bottle so it doesn’t go cloudy. I use large Kilner jars to make it as the neck is wide enough to pop the fruit in and save the original vodka bottles to decant it back into once it’s fully infused.

Follow the same recipe to combine blackberries, sugar and whiskey for the most sublime hedgerow whiskey liqueur ever. Use a 2 litre flagon, a litre of own brand but high strength whiskey (40% proof), 150ml of sugar and top up the jar with ripe blackberries. About 400g will do it. Remove the blackberries after no more than 6 weeks or it will taste a little woody.

Don’t forget the quince brandy recipe from my earlier post on what do with the quince harvest too. It’s perfect for Christmas cake and champagne cocktails!

Store your bottles somewhere cool and dark, bring it out at Christmas and make a lot of people happy!

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Afternoon tea scones

I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth but there are certain things that I’ll make an exception for…………an afternoon (or morning) tea treat of freshly baked scones topped with clotted cream and strawberry jam. You’ll be welcome anywhere bearing a basket of these delicious babies – I made them for a ‘Wimbledon Final’ tea treat at my neighbour’s house in the summer and they’ll be making an appearance as we cheer on the riders for the Stage Six Suffolk leg of the OVO Energy Tour of Britain as it passes right outside Pigeon Cottage today. Scones are ridiculously easy to make provided that you follow a couple of simple rules: make sure you preheat the oven so you can bake the scones immediately, and don’t twist the pastry cutter when you cut out scones from the dough or they won’t rise properly.


  • 500g self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 110g of unsalted butter
  • 60g golden caster sugar
  • 300ml milk
  • To glaze – 1 egg, beaten
  • To serve: clotted cream and a jar of your favourite jam

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C. Flour a baking sheet.
  • Whizz together the flour, butter and salt in a food processor until it looks like fine breadcrumbs or rub it in by hand.
  • In a large mixing bowl, make a well with the crumb mix and stir in the milk. Mix with a palette knife until you get a soft, spongy dough. As soon as the rising agent and liquid are mixed, they will begin to activate so you need to proceed quickly – hence why preheating the oven is essential.
  • Knead the dough very lightly on a floured board until it’s smooth.
  • Roll or press out the dough to about 2.5cm thick and stamp into rounds with a medium  (makes 12) or small (makes 24) pastry cutter. You need to cut and simply lift each scone onto the floured baking sheet. If you cut, twist and lift, it prevents them from rising properly. Gather and reform the scraps to make more scones.
  • For a glossy crust, brush with beaten egg. Brush with milk for a light gloss or, for a soft top, dust with flour.
  • Bake the scones at the top of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes – until they are well risen and golden.
  • Leave to cool on a wire rack or serve warm from the oven with clotted cream and your favourite jam.
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