Roasted or fried, smothered in cheese or spiced up with harissa, cauliflower is the ingredient of the year.
And why not? Cauliflower is versatile enough to be used everywhere: grilled like a steak, served au gratin, or as a mashed potato substitute, and even rolled into gluten-free pizza crust. How many foods can you say that about?
For decades, cauliflower lived in the shadow of its bright green cruciferous cousin, broccoli. Because of its pale color, cauliflower was incorrectly associated with a lack of nutrients. Well, that couldn't be further from the truth. These beautiful flower heads are a vitamin-rich, low-calorie vegetable that can behave like a carb replacing rice or potatoes in many recipes.
Cauliflower can now be found in markets in a rainbow of colors, from purple, yellow, green and even sci-fi varieties like Romanesco. It’s certainly a favorite of professional chefs, who are using it to create exciting dishes like cauliflower cupcakes, cauliflower patties and cauliflower soup.
Cauliflower doesn’t have tremendous water content, which lends itself to a variety of cooking methods: You can caramelize it, puree it, fry it or bake it. Cauliflower steaks (cut into 1-inch slices) are very easy to bake, broil and grill, and they remain light and moist throughout the cooking process. Try topping with a romesco, chimichurri, or pesto sauce.
Mash or puree boiled or steamed cauliflower with chicken broth and garlic, add shredded cheese and herbs, and you have a great substitute for mashed potatoes.
Roasting a whole head of cauliflower at high heat creates beautifully caramelized florets that can be enhanced by a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of capers and lemon juice.
Add fresh cauliflower florets to a food processor and pulse until you get small crumbles about the size of rice grains. Then saute in butter until softened (but not mushy). Season as you wish and use as you would rice.
The cooked “rice” can be pressed or rolled into a pizza crust or combined with eggs, soy sauce and scallions for fried rice.
Cauliflower is as delicious raw as it is cooked and is delightful in a salad or on a tray of crudités (raw vegetables) served with a dipping sauce.
Roasted Whole Cauliflower
Adapted from Cooking, Blokes and Artichokes by Brendan Collins, Kyle Books ($29.99)
This stunning dish can be served as first course or as a perfect accompaniment to roast pork or chicken. A crisp white wine with some tropical fruit character such as a 2015 Gabbiano Promessa pinot grigio ($10.00) harmonizes with the herb and spice flavors in this recipe.
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
1 head cauliflower, green stalks and outer leaves removed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 whole garlic clove
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Grab a medium cast-iron pan and melt half of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower and let it caramelize all over, adjusting it as necessary so that all of its surfaces color evenly without burning. Remove the cauliflower from the pan and add the remaining butter, the cumin seeds, garlic, and herbs, spooning them evenly around the surface of the pan.
3. Add the cauliflower back to the pan and spoon the butter over the top a few times. Transfer to the oven and cook for 15 minutes, basting it with the butter every 3 to 4 minutes (or as often as you can be bothered).
4. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and give it one last butter baste. Sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Cut it into wedges and serve.
Yield: 4 servings