A new kind of cauliflower cheese

"Cheese lava in filo form."


Ever since I got Ottolenghi's latest book Shelf Love I have been dying to make this. Well virtually everything in the book. It is one of the best cook books I have on my shelf and I exhort you all to go out and buy a copy. I'm sure you can pick up a non full-price copy somewhere.


Anyway, as I say, this has been near the top of my list of recipes to try. I even bought the cauliflower a while ago now, but somehow or other something has always cropped up to prevent me doing it - David's reluctance to eat cauliflower cheese being one of them. But he did like this. He gave it four stars.


It's called Curried cauliflower cheese filo pie, and is really the invention of his sidekick Noor Murad, rather than Ottolenghi himself. I suppose when you deconstruct it, it is just cauliflower cheese dressed up with some extra flavours and some pastry. But boy does that pastry make a difference. Having thought about it overnight, I do think it's the pastry that makes the dish.


So first I'm going to take you through my own experience with this - I have scrawled all over the recipe in my book as Ottolenghi exhorts us to do - and this is my end result at left. Not too bad as you can see. Maybe not quite as brown and bubbly, but then I reduced the cooking time slightly and also ignored the final instruction to leave it to stand for 15 minutes. I thought I had read through the recipe before starting, so that I had enough time to get it on the table at the right moment. It's one of the main things you should do when cooking something new from a recipe - but obviously I skimmed and didn't notice it. I'm not sure I fully realised that there was a second cooking stage too. And I just ignored the timing which was clearly written out at the top of the page - 20 minutes prep - yes about right and 1 hour 45 mins cooking - the bit that I ignored. I thought it was only 40 minutes! Really bad of me.


Mind you when you watch the video below, you will see that they also miss out the resting stage - or at least don't show it. They also leave out the final garnish of parsley and lemon, which, I think made a difference - the lemon especially.


The video is a tiny bit irritating, and a bit slow, but have a look - there are a few interesting things that you pick up along the way. You can always skim the irritating bits.

When I made my version I actually made quite a few sort of errors, which surprisingly in some cases didn't matter too much in the final analysis of things. Some of them stemmed from the same lazy reading, some from the fact that I halved it and then, in the case of the cheese, forgot to halve - and so the cheese to cauliflower ration was a bit high. And I think that probably did matter. It was a tiny bit too cheesy. The other thing about halving it was that I couldn't halve the tin. I used my smallest spring-form tin, which is the one recommended, so my finished pie was half the depth. It also meant that I had to use the same number of filo sheets, although the Australian ones we get here in the supermarket are also half the size of the ones he uses in the vide.


I also more than halved the cauliflower. After all the recipe says to use 1 large cauliflower, and I used much less than half. Maybe our cauliflowers are larger than English ones. Even so I still have half of the pie left to eat on another day! I also added all the oil to the roasting cauliflower rather than half, which considering that I had used much less than half of the cauliflower, was quite a divergence from the recipe, and then forgot to add that half to the butter to stop it burning. Though it didn't - burn that is. I also think I probably didn't thicken my sauce enough. Indeed I hadn't realised I had to make a sauce. I think I confused it with another recipe I intend to make - a macaroni cheese - in which you don't make the sauce separately. It didn't matter with the assembly but when I cut into it, it oozed out rather more than it should have I think - On the top my efforts - the left picture makes it look truly awful - well sloppy anyway. Below is Ottolenghi's version. No comparison here really, but then he does have a professional photographer and a stylist. Maybe they removed the ooze from the plate!

The other thing you might note about his, is that it is served with a Greek salad, which is featured in the video, but not mentioned in the book. I served mine with a plain green salad, which was good, but the Greek one, with it's lemony yogurt dressing and it's onion and cucumber might well have been a better choice. I might try that next time. Because there will indeed be a next time. It might not have quite made the 5 star category but almost, and that might have been because of my mistakes.


In the book he makes a few suggestions for variations - different cheese - well I guess that's a bit obvious. More chilli - not in this house. Different pastry - shortcrust or puff, although the filo, fiddly though it was to get into the tin, was pretty nice. And in the video they make a few more variation suggestions.


Indeed there are heaps of things you can do with the basic concept of cauliflower cheese in a pie and there are lots of different people who have already played with the notion. And yet. If you Google cauliflower cheese and filo almost the whole of the first page will be Ottolenghi's version in various guises. So really should he - well Noor Murad - get the credit for this being an original idea? Because it clearly isn't. The execution and marketing of it is though.


Here are a few of those that I found. There are lots more. Some are from the famous, some are not. I began by specifying filo, and then broadened my search to just pie: Cauliflower cheese triangles / Australian Women's Weekly; Cauliflower filo pie / Taste; Cauliflower cheese rolls / BBC Good Food; Giant potato and cauliflower filo samosa / Ramona's Cuisine; Roasted cauliflower cheese pies / delicious. uk; Cauliflower and cheese pies / Donna Hay; Cauliflower Cheese Pie / A Italian in my Kitchen; Cauliflower cheese pizza pie / Jamie Oliver; Jim Lahey's cauliflower pie / Serious Eats; Roasted cauliflower and ricotta grandma pie / Bon Appétit; Cauliflower and caramelised onion tart / Bon Appétit; Cauliflower and rosemary tart / Nigel Slater. I notice that Wix has reordered some of these to fit them in, which might be a bit misleading, but I think the pictures all have the names on them.

So many different shapes and sizes, different pastries, different cheese, different flavourings and additions. And almost every famous modern cook has had a go.


I too could think of extras such as additional veggies like peas or spinach and bacon or ham is another obvious one. And all of those variations above should give you lots of hints on how to ring the changes.

And finally two that are more out of left field variations on the cauliflower cheese theme. The first is Jamie Oliver's Cauliflower cheese pasta which we have had at least once, maybe twice. I really liked it, David perhaps not as much, but it's a bit more creamy and cauliflower cheese like I guess. Noor Murad in the video thinks that if people's first experience of cauliflower is cauliflower cheese, then they might think 'ugh - evil vegetable', which is perhaps a bit unfair, but yes I sort of see what she means. If it's too creamy, and too cheesy then it can induce a gagging sensation. Which is why, when I do make cauliflower cheese, I often give it a tomatoey, cheesy sauce rather than a plain cheese one, and often I add some ham or bacon.


But I digress - try Jamie's recipe. The breadcrumb topping is fantastic, and the creaminess of the sauce is too. And if it's too creamy play around - add some tomato perhaps.


Then there is Cauliflower cake which is from Yotam Ottolenghi's book Plenty More. Which I don't have. I think I'd like to try this. Plenty of people on the net have done and raved about it, so maybe I could do that with my leftover cauliflower. That and the pasta. Although some of those other suggestions above look amazingly tempting.


So there you go. Does Yotam Ottolenghi deserve the credit he gets for originality and pizzaz? Having found all those other versions, maybe not. But then again maybe yes. Sometimes it's just one little tweak that makes a whole world of difference. But I do recommend reading the recipe properly before you begin. And that goes for every recipe you might choose to make.

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