Fregola salad with roast spiced cauliflower, saffron, dates and olives

Fregola salad with roast spiced cauliflower, saffron, dates and olives


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Cauliflower is an underappreciated vegetable. Positively anaemic-looking compared to its vibrant cousin, broccoli, this understated brassica has long been unfortunately associated with grey soup and mushy cauliflower cheese. However, the humble cauliflower is full of nutritional goodness, and when treated properly has a delicate creamy, nutty flavour that works well in a whole host of recipes.

The best way to treat cauliflower is to smother it in herbs and spices with a little olive oil then roast it in a very hot oven, until the edges become nutty and crispy and the inside soft and fudgy. The white flesh is like a sponge, absorbing all those lovely flavours you throw at it. Here I’ve bathed cauliflower in a mixture of saffron and paprika, which turns the florets a vibrant gold and emphasises their delicate creaminess.

The roasted cauliflower becomes the base for a vibrant Mediterranean pasta salad, rich with crunchy roasted red onion, tangy lemon juice, fresh parsley and the wonderful combination of sticky Medjool dates and green olives. I use Crespo pitted green olives with herbs and garlic, which are beautifully plump and savoury and very easy to use, with none of the mess you get with olives swimming in brine or oil. Their delicate herbal, garlicky flavour works wonderfully to season the salad, and their rich saltiness couples perfectly with the sweetness of dates.

I’ve used Sardinian fregola pasta as the base for this, as the pairing of salty olives with sweet dried fruit is a particularly Sardinian combination, but you can also use giant couscous, which is very similar (or other small pasta shapes if both of these elude you). The warm pasta soaks up all of the lovely flavours from roasting the cauliflower and onion, and provides a deliciously textured, nutty base for all the complex flavours of the salad. It’s beautiful to look at, too – a rich palette of gold and green.

  • Cauliflower pasta salad

  • 1 cauliflower, broken into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp of boiling water
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 150g of fregola, or giant couscous
  • 1/2 lemon, juice only
  • 3 tbsp of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
  • 4 Medjool dates, stoned and finely chopped
  • 70g of green olives, preferably Crespo pitted green olives with herbs and garlic
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6
Mix the saffron with the boiling water in a large bowl. Toss with the cauliflower, 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the smoked paprika and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Add the onion and mix again
Spread the cauliflower and onion out on a large baking tray and roast for 25–30 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden and slightly crispy around the edges
Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the fregola or giant couscous in the boiling water according to the packet instructions (for around 7 minutes) until just al dente. When ready, drain and set aside
When the cauliflower is cooked add the fregola, lemon juice, parsley, dates and olives to the roasting tray and mix well to combine. Drizzle over the remaining olive oil and mix well
To serve, divide the pasta salad between bowls and garnish with the extra chopped parsley. Serve immediately, or chill and eat cold – this makes good packed lunches
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