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I first made this dish many years ago during a holiday at my parents home in Mojacar. On our regular visit to the Friday market in Garrucha (Southern Spain) I saw the biggest cauliflower I’d ever seen and couldn’t resist buying it, despite having no idea what I was going to do with it. In those days British people pretty much just boiled them and this beast would have taken a week to eat. Undeterred, it went into the basket and I lugged it home to set about scouring my mum’s Spanish cookery book. The task was made pretty simple to be fair – one cookery book with one cauliflower recipe! Mule Driver’s it was then.
This has since become a firm favourite and, apart from a really good Cauliflower Cheese, is absolutely the way to eat this lovely vegetable*. Although UK grown cauliflowers don’t normally make an appearance until around June (June-November according to the Vegetarian Society) Tesco was selling some Spanish cauliflowers last week which brought this recipe back into my mind. And so, without further ado, I give you Coliflor Al Ajo Arriero:
1 medium cauliflower, washed and cut into florets
75ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the recipe just says oil but I can’t imagine a Spanish cook using anything other than olive oil)**
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp Spanish Dulce paprika (smoked if you’ve got it)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp vinegar (I used Red Wine Vinegar)
2 tbsp tomato paste (I used passata because I was using the rest of the pack for another recipe)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried)
1. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan with a lid, add the cauliflower and sauté gently for 5 minutes.
2. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for another few minutes before adding the paprika, salt, vinegar, tomato paste, parsley and water. Pause here a moment to enjoy the delicious smell!
3. Stir well to blend then cover and cook until the cauliflower is tender – 12-15 minutes.
Either serve hot/warm sprinkled with a little more parsley, or allow to cool to room temperature and serve as part of a buffet salad or with a barbecue. Make sure you have some crusty bread to hand to mop up the lovely garlicky, oily juices.
This recipe is taken from The Best of Spanish Cooking by Janet Mendel *** (first published in 1991) and Janet says that potatoes would also be good cooked this way. I haven’t tried them myself but let me know if you do. Interestingly, while trying to find a link to the book, I came across her Cooking In Spain title which I also have on my bookshelf (on permanent loan from my mother!) but hadn’t realised it was written by the same author. So, I’ve just checked it and there’s a variation on the method which involves boiling the cauliflower, creating a sauce from the other ingredients and then pouring the sauce over the cooked vegetable. I’m absolutely delighted I didn’t find this version first because you would miss out the lovely golden crispy bits that form on the cauliflower during the initial cooking in oil.
* These were certainly the only two recipes I really enjoyed for cauliflower back in the 1990s but nowadays I use it as a rice, a pizza base, mashed, in soups and roasted. Mule Driver’s is a particular favourite though!
** A note about the EVOO used. I deliberately bought a bottle of Tesco Spanish Extra Virgin as I figured it would work well in a Spanish dish. At £3 a bottle it’s not a sophisticated oil but works perfectly in this dish where it’s flavour holds up well against the smoked paprika and the garlic.
*** Update 1st March 2018: I’ve just come across Janet’s great blog on Blogspot, called My Kitchen In Spain why not give it a look. I’m going to try the Tortas de Aceite as I really miss the gorgeous Ines Rosales tortas.