Cauliflower cheese potted paté

This isn’t quite Christmas leftovers, but the dish does have a similar backstory. It began as the cauliflower and cabbage terrine recipe in Stéphane Reynaud’s book Terrine, becoming a variant when I uncharacteristically decided to ditch the cabbage, and (somewhat more on-brand) threw cheese at it.

The full recipe is at the end. I didn’t get a picture, so you’ll have to trust me that it turns out rather well – creamy and fresh with leeks and spring onion to contrast. We served it as a Christmas starter with a light mustard sauce, and folks seemed to go for it.

But what to do with the half pint or so of surplus tasty goo?

Cauliflower cheese potted paté

A potted paté, and one I’ll certainly be doing again now it’s had a few tweaks.

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Cauliflower fritters with sage and parmesan

This was a quick Veguary lunch that got out of hand. The original idea was to start with a pakora recipe, and pack in the flavour of those big, heavy parmesan/anchovy/garlic meatballs from Kitchen Diaries. But the idea drifted a bit, and they came out lighter, more subtle. You get these wonderful little bursts of slightly astringent flavour where the cauliflower sears and the batter’s crispy, too.

Cauliflower parmesan frittersEven if they hadn’t shaken out gentle, I’ll wager it would have worked – gram flour is basically magic.

This is a bit of an off the cuff one, and you may want to experiment with it.

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Stilton oatcake blancmange – have the cheese course for starters

For Christmas, and knowing I like to muck about in the kitchen, my aunt gave me a packaged crash course in jellies, blancmanges, and matters retro-wobbly. There were two packs of robust gelatine, the wonderfully faux-archaic Jellies and Their Moulds, and its arch postmodern cousin, Bompas & Parr’s Jelly. I’ll be honest, it felt like a dare.

From there, and via the well-mapped topology of my cheeseular brainwrong, an outcome of “yeah, but with stilton, right?” was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Stilton oatcake blancmange

Jelly has some fun stuff in it, and even some of the more intricate ideas are actually pretty simple to pull off. But having never exactly skewed to desserts, a starter seemed like a neat idea. This is an attempt to bring the cheese course round to the front of dinner: stilton, port, and oatcake, a handful of walnuts – splendid stuff. And all set off with an unsettling wobble!

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Dolcelatte lentils with seared cauliflower (or chicken, I guess)

Like a gentler, more subtle Gorgonzola, Dolcelatte is one of those creamy-sharp soft blue cheeses, but with a bit of sweetness that lets it be a flavour enhancer as well as a big main kick.

Still though – lentils with cheese? Yeah, I know, but stay with me on this one. It’s all about the creamy savoury.

Dolcelatte lentils with seared cauliflowerThere are plenty of dairy-backed lentil dishes, often sausage casseroles or general piggy constructions. In fact, there’s a sensational one in Pork and Sons. But I wanted something that would be a big veggie umami fest, with a sharp hit to go through what can otherwise be a bit of a cloying set of flavours.

You could think of it as a kind of cockeyed dal makhani, but then you could do a lot of things.

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Fennel & manchego Glamorgan Sausages (sort of)

The name “Glamorgan sausage” hides a fair old whack of sin. “Leek and cheese croquettes” are something you might legitimately feel bad about having for dinner, something you might be passingly moderate about; or nibble fussily from a hot buffet. Balls to that, says Wales. This is real food, and we’ll treat it as such. It’s a sausage, get on with it.

And sausages they are. Heavy and filling, tending to rich, and with a pleasing bite from the leeks, Glamorgan sausages are the only veggie banger not to feel like a limp apology.

Fennel & Manchego Glamorgan sausages

What they are not, however, is the best sausages. The best sausage is finocchiona. (Although in the spirit of diplomacy, I’d also consider a good, mealy, rustic Lincolnshire for the top spot.)

Being as you can’t really add fine-ground pork and still have Glamorgan sausages be either vegetarian or remotely similar to their origin, it’s hard to see a path to a finocchiona mash up. But I do wonder if we can get in some of that gorgeous fennel flavour in there, along with the deep, winey richness.

Let’s have a go.

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Radicchio pesto parcels

It’s the tail-end of Veguary – my annual flirtation with temporary vegetarianism – and I’ve not written much about the food that’s been involved. This is in no small part because my freezer is full of vegetable curry, and I’ve spent a frankly unreasonable amount of time trying to perfect a vegetable moussaka that doesn’t rely on lentils for bulk and body. More on that later, but if you’ve got any suggestions that take less then two hours, I’m listening.

These little puff pastry radicchio parcels are one of the successes from Veguary 2014, and pull off that neat trick of being quite impressive for almost no effort. Although the bitterness of the radicchio itself isn’t for all palates.

Radicchio pesto parcel

This is heavily adapted from Silver Spoon’s Radicchio en Croûte recipe (p.553). For that, you basically just grill small radicchio whole, and bake them in pastry with salt and pepper. It’s tasty if a little plain, and works best with very small heads of radicchio. If you’ve only got the large ones, you’re best slicing them in half.

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Potato and spinach tart with mature cheddar (tarte aux pommes de terre)

A pun is not the best place to start when constructing a recipe. But once I’d had the idea for “tarte aux pommes(de terre)” I couldn’t get it out of my head until I’d made it. The first iteration looked the part – all prettily layered – but didn’t really work as a dish. There was something there, though, and the presentation was too good to let slide; so I did it again, and hit on something that works rather well.

Potato and spinach tart with mature cheddar

Version one was a basic spinach tart with a potato hat on. There was dill in the mix, aping a spanakopita. But without the feta (I was cooking for my boyfriend, and he’s  lactose intolerant) it just doesn’t cohere. Cheese, though, cheese – that’s the key.

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Swiss chard and raclette tart

Swiss chard may not be especially Swiss, nor is it to everyone’s tastes. But it does go really well with cheese, and since I had some decidedly Swiss raclette left over – and it’s very much to mine – this seemed like a good idea.

Chard has a robust leafy, earthy flavour with a stalky edge some don’t like. This is, of course, more pronounced in the stems. The leaves will wilt down like a stronger, more lettuce-ish spinach. Although they’re tougher and a little waxier.

Swiss chard and raclette tart

What that in mind, a variation on an old favourite springs to mind – the rocket and taleggio pie from the indispensable Silver Spoon.

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Cauliflower cheese gnocchi bake

Ahh, cauliflower cheese. Few dishes more keenly evoke all that’s wrong with British food. It’s the dour culinary history of our grimy little island summed up as nursery slop. Cauliflower cheese belongs to the memory as a dull vegetable, over-boiled yet still acrid, squatting in a floury, tasteless sauce next to watery carrots and leathern beef.

It does not have to be this way. The bits are all good, and we can put them together better.

Cauliflower cheese gnocchi bake

Felicity Cloake does cauliflower cheese justice in her Guardian column rather better than I will. She’s great, incidentally, and has a couple of books out. Anyway, you save cauliflower cheese by not murdering the cauliflower, and by putting  a bit of effort in with the sauce. It’s not hard, and the result is rich and tasty.

But it’s still a slightly odd side dish, and I wanted a main. What to do?

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Chana masala with paneer

Chana masala is an Indian restaurant favourite of mine.  Heck, I’ll eat basically anything with chickpeas, but there’s something about the simple rich spiciness that makes chana masala  particularly good.

I’ve cooked it twice in five days now, because the first round didn’t quite nail it. For round two – which worked – I went back to a basic recipe, built around a very simple curry gravy. Then, predictably, I lost my keeping-it-simple nerve at the end, and threw in a load of paneer.

Chana masala with paneer

In my defence, paneer is pretty great.

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