Tuesday, April 7, 2009

cauliflower, four ways

It began with Food and Wine’s "Best Restaurant Dishes of 2008" roundup, and my spontaneous inter-city crush on Zahav's Fried Cauliflower with Lebneh.

Then, there was Ubuntu's cast-iron pot cauliflower. Spiced with vadouvan (a revelation unto itself). Smeared on chickpea fries. Pure creamy, curried ridiculousness.

Together, these cauliflower epiphanies awakened some long-dormant or neglected part of me, and inspired a winter of brassica-fueled fantasies. They helped to stave off the discontent brought on by Seasonal Affective Disorder and the frequent refrain of “Stormy Weather” on NPR’s Marketplace.

It’s April now, and I’m nearly regretting the advent of spring as it spells the end of this seasonal romance. So here is my cauliflower swan song, an ode to the vegetable in its many forms: simply roasted, spiced with cumin and coriander, slathered in tahini, or Sicilian style.

Roasted Cauliflower with Lebneh
To write a recipe comprised only of a vegetable + olive oil + salt and pepper seems a bit absurd, as though one is seeking to lay claim to the wonderful caramelizing effects of a hot oven. So, I won’t call this is a recipe. But please trust that if you toss some cauliflower florets with a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper, and roast them in a 400-degree oven for 40 minutes or so (tossing after 20 minutes to ensure they cook evenly), the results will be superlative. Á la Zahav, we serve these with lebneh or Greek yogurt, spiked with chopped dill, chives and mint.

Some noteworthy variations:
- Toss the just-roasted florets with 2 tablespoons of Dukkah.
- Sprinkle the florets with a combination of freshly ground cumin and coriander seeds (a 2:1 ratio), plus some cayenne or chili powder, before they go in the oven.

Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini Sauce
Adapted from “Olives & Oranges” by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox

1 large head cauliflower, cleaned, trimmed and cut into florets
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon medium-coarse sea salt, or more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon tahini paste
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (approximately 1 lemon)
1 garlic clove, minced
Chopped parsley, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a mixing bowl, toss cauliflower with oil, salt and pepper until well coated. Spread in a single layer on baking sheet and roast, stirring and turning once or twice, until cauliflower is tender and crispy brown in spots, about 45 minutes.

While cauliflower is roasting, puree tahini paste, water, lemon juice, garlic and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a blender until well combined.

Remove cauliflower from oven and immediately transfer to a serving bowl. Pour tahini over the cauliflower and toss to combine. Add chopped parsley, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sicilian-Style Cauliflower
Adapted from Kim O’Donnel

1 head cauliflower, cleaned, trimmed and cut into florets, about 1 pound
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup raisins, soaked in 1 cup white wine
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 cloves garlic, smashed
3-4 anchovy fillets, chopped
At least 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs, up to 1/2 cup
1/2 pound short pasta, such as penne, farfalle or gemelli
1 teaspoon salt
Shaved parmigiano
Small handful chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place cauliflower in baking dish. Add olive oil to florets so that they are generously coated. Season with salt and pepper. Add raisins and wine, pine nuts, garlic and anchovies, and stir to combine. Sprinkle bread crumbs generously on top.

Bake uncovered until fork tender, approximately 45 minutes. After 20 minutes, check for liquid level; if wine is completely evaporated, add a few ounces of water to keep raisins from burning.

For pasta, bring a pot of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and pour into serving bowl. Pour cauliflower and trimmings over pasta and mix to combine. Add parmigiano, if using, and garnish with parsley. Makes 3-4 servings.

Cauliflower in a Cast-Iron Pot
Adapted from Jeremy Fox, executive chef of Ubuntu

Serves 4

2 heads cauliflower, separated into florets and then cut into 1/8-inch slices (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vadouvan (from www.le-sanctuaire.com)
1 teaspoon Italian parsley
Day-old bread for toasting
Fine sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a rimmed baking sheet. Reserve one-quarter of the sliced (raw) cauliflower in a medium bowl. Coat the remaining cauliflower slices with the oil and season lightly with salt. Spread them on the baking sheet. Roast for at total of 30 minutes, stirring well halfway through the roasting time.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat; this will take about 5 minutes, until it becomes foamy and starts to turn golden brown.

Remove from the heat and add the vadouvan, stirring to combine. Let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour; the butter will be absorbed. (You can make the vadouvan butter in advance and refrigerate.)

Reserve about 4 tablespoons of the remaining (raw) sliced cauliflower for garnish. Place the rest of the sliced cauliflower in a large saucepan over medium to medium-low heat. Add the milk and enough water to barely cover the cauliflower (this could be as much as 4 cups). Add salt to taste, stirring to dissolve. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, until the cauliflower has softened. Remove from the heat.

Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture until it is very smooth and creamy. Place over low heat to keep warm while you make the toast.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready 4 individually sized cast-iron serving dishes (may substitute small casserole dishes). Cut slices of bread to your desired thickness and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the tops of the bread with some of the vadouvan butter. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, until browned.

While the bread is toasting in the oven, taste and adjust the seasoning of the roasted and pureed cauliflower with salt and pepper as needed.

Season the reserved (raw) cauliflower with a little of the vadouvan butter, the parsley and salt to taste, stirring to coat evenly.

When ready to serve, divide the roasted cauliflower evenly among the small cast-iron serving dishes. Top each portion with equal amounts of the pureed cauliflower, then spoon small amounts of the vadouvan butter on top. Scatter the raw cauliflower slices over each portion; garnish with the greens, if using. Serve with the toasted bread slices on the side.

Other ways of looking at a cauliflower:

Cauliflower Risotto from Jamie Oliver
Farfalle with Cauliflower and Toasted Breadcrumbs
Cauliflower, White Bean, and Feta Salad from Bon Appétit

1 comment:

  1. delicious.
    and here's my way (en cocotte): http://www.ztastylife.com/2009/11/2-vegetable-cocottes-cawliflower.html