Pork and plum meatballs plus all the cauliflower

Here’s a potentially thrifty and definitely delicious way to use up items that might be deemed surplus to requirement and then wasted: the handful of plums, which add a sweetness to the meatballs, can be swiped from a punnet you’ve bought for another purpose (or swapped with a nearly-forgotten apple or pear once the plums have disappeared); the breadcrumbs ensure that the ends of an old, drying loaf are not thrown away; and the cauliflower greens are an example of using all of a vegetable, from root to fruit.

I originally wrote this recipe for Borough Market’s Market Life magazine, as part of a set of six autumnal recipes that served as a prelude to The Borough Market Cookbook. They were all in the style of the recipes in the book — essentially: nice stuff, cooked from scratch, based on good ingredients.

This particular one also picks up on another theme of the book, on making the most of market ingredients, be they base ingredients like cauliflower, or speciality items like the finest Comté, truffles and prime cuts of aged beef.

If you try it, and like it, please do consider buying a truck load of copies of the cookbook. All the author royalties (if there ever are any) will flow back to the charity that runs Borough Market, providing a platform for new food businesses, and in support of the many (free) community events that take place throughout the year. It’s ridiculously cheap online at the moment.

Should you want an even harder sell, take a glance of a precis wot i rote.

Pork and plum meatballs plus all the cauliflower

Serves 4

For the meatballs

  • 60g soft white breadcrumbs
  • 70ml whole milk
  • 100-150g plums
  • 600g minced pork, ideally with a generous fat:meat ratio
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/5 nutmeg, freshly grated
  • Leaves picked from 12 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • Black pepper

For the meatball sauce

  • 1 banana shallot, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 250ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 300ml full fat creme fraiche
  • Leaves from 6 sprigs tarragon, roughly chopped

For the cauliflower sides

  • 1 medium cauliflower including its green leaves (c.500-600g white, 300-400g leaves)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 600g whole milk
  • 30g butter
  • Flaky sea salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil for roasting the cauliflower greens

Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl and add the milk. Stir and leave to soak while you prepare the rest of the meatball ingredients.

Halve and de-stone the plums, then mince them by chopping relatively finely. Put these in a mixing bowl and combine with the pork, egg, herbs, spices and breadcrumbs. You could stir with a wooden spoon, but I find getting my hands dirty the most efficient method.

Wet your hands and roll the meatball mixture into spheres, slightly larger than golf balls. For best results, check the weight of each portion of meatball mixture before you roll them — 60g each is ideal. Arrange the rolled meatballs on on a baking sheet, then chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Make the cauliflower purée when you’re waiting for the meatballs to chill. This can then be very easily reheated in a saucepan on a low heat just before serving.

Trim the green leaves from the cauliflowers and set to one side. Cut the florets from the cauliflower and the stem into 2cm thick wedges, then put all the white parts in a saucepan along with the garlic and milk. Place over a medium heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft. Scoop the cauliflower, into a blender or food processor, add a good pinch of salt and pepper, the butter and three quarters of the warm milk. Blend until smooth and silky – add more milk and seasoning if required (it should be quite light and loose, though not a soup. As you reheat it and milk evaporates, it should thicken a little more.)

Wash the greens and cut the thickest stems in half lengthwise. Place on a roasting or baking tray, toss in olive oil and season with flaked sea salt and black pepper.

When ready to eat, heat the oven to 180C fan, 200C, gas mark 6, and when at temperature bake the meatballs for 10 minutes. Put the cauliflower leaves in the oven at the same time.

Meanwhile, find a saucepan or sauté pan large enough to hold the meatballs in one layer. Place this over a low-medium heat and add 1 tablespoon light olive oil. Warm briefly then add the diced shallot and a good pinch of salt. Soften for 3 minutes without browning, stirring occasionally, before adding the garlic and cooking for 1 minute more. Increase the heat. Wait for ten seconds then pour in the chicken or vegetable stock. Let this bubble and reduce by 1/4, then stir in the creme fraiche and reduce to a very gentle simmer. Add the meatballs and tarragon to the sauce and simmer for 10 minutes more.

Reheat the purée at the same time and keep an eye on the cauliflower greens — they should soften and brown a little, though not dry out too much. Consider serving blanched or wilted curly kale too, if your cauliflower was not shrouded in many layers of green.

Photo credit Kim Lightbody, for Borough Market’s ‘Market Life’ magazine