Searching for a stunning vegetarian centrepiece for (Christmas) dinner? Look no further. I’d go as far to say this was the tastiest vegetarian dish I made this entire year…
The original recipe uses wheatberries which are whole wheat grains before they have undergone any processing. When prepared they stay slightly chewy and have a nutty flavour. I do recall that Ebly, the first brand of prepared wheatberries, was widely available in the Netherlands a couple of years ago, but unfortunately, my supermarket no longer had them in their assortment. If you can’t find wheatberries, just swap them with whole grains like farro, pearl barley or – like I did – spelt.
We’re great fans of whole grains, but this dish surpassed all expectations and was utterly delicious. The pure flavours from the steamed cauliflower went so well with the deep earthiness of the rest which I can only describe as a mushroom and spinach risotto-like dish with an intensely flavoured red wine and shallot sauce which is topped with Parmesan and nuts, for extra punch and crunch.
The recipe (serves 6-8)
Other than using spelt, there were a few small adjustments as I swapped hazelnuts for pecans and used black instead of pink peppercorns. Furthermore, I upped the garlic and spinach quantities based on personal preferences.
- 1 large head of cauliflower, outer leaves removed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 3 large banana shallots, peeled and quartered lengthways
- 4 Portobello mushrooms, halved and thickly sliced
- 2 tsp thyme leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 150ml / 5 oz red wine
- 200g / 8 oz spinach leaves
- 350g / 14 oz spelt
- 1 litre / 4 cups hot vegetable stock
- 50g / 2 oz toasted pecans, roughly chopped
- ½ tsp crushed (pink) peppercorns
- 50g / 2 oz Parmesan, finely grated
- Pre-heat oven to 160C / 320F.
- Sit the cauliflower head upside down on a chopping board and cut the majority of the tough stem away. Leave some of the base to avoid that the cauliflower falls apart.
- Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish (I used my Revol Tajine) on a low-medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and, once they begin to ‘pop’, add the shallots and fry them gently for 4-5 minutes until they are starting to caramelise.
- Add the sliced mushrooms, thyme leaves and garlic cloves, and cook for a further 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Pour in the red wine and boil until reduced by half. Then stir in the spinach leaves and allow them to wilt.
- Next, add the spelt, combine everything and season well with salt and pepper. Make a well in the centre and put the cauliflower in the middle. Pour the stock around – not over – the cauliflower, then season the cauliflower.
- Cover and transfer the dish to the oven and cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour until the cauliflower and spelt are tender.
- Remove from the oven. If needed add some water is it looks too dry and sprinkle the pecans, crushed peppercorns and Parmesan over the cauliflower and return to the oven for a further 5 mins, then serve.