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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.