Thursday, September 2, 2010

a flower by any other name would smell sweeter

IMG_1907 (Naudhomeserver) 
Cauliflower has long lived in broccoli’s shadow, like a chlorophyll deficient albino cousin.  Lackluster in appearance, this quasi wallflower of the vegetable world feigns unassuming until you plunk it in a pot of steaming water and watch the wallpaper peel.  Uncooked is no better.  With each bite, raw cauliflower self destructs, filling the mouth with a spray of tiny choking hazards in a sensation akin to biting off a hunk of styrofoam. 

Roasted cauliflower is a different story.  Not long ago, I discovered  something otherworldly when thick slices were tossed with with coarse sea salt and olive oil, followed by a good half hour in a hot oven.  As moisture cooked off, there was still a trademark whiff of ‘eau de cauliflower’ to contend with, albeit a brief one.  Roasting brought out a subtly sweet flavor and fork tender texture with irresistibly caramelized, golden brown edges and crisp bits here and there.  I gladly tolerated the short lived stench as the outcome was a far cry from the vegetable foe of my youth.

By the time I discovered this recipe, in a summer issue of Gourmet magazine, I was a veteran of slow roasting.  I had witnessed firsthand how this simple technique turns vegetables into a sort of savory candy, intensifying flavors by reducing volume; like edible shrinky dinks.  When the pan emerged from the oven, one taste was all it took to eradicate any reservations I still harbored.  It required considerable restraint not to devour every last morsel.  But it was too good to keep to myself and I was eager to convert my husband and daughter.

In the recipe, the roasted cauliflower is finished with kalamata vinaigrette, comprised of finely chopped olives, garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.  I feared this would overpower the delicate, nutty flavor of the vegetable, masking the offender whose virtues I so newly extolled.  I spooned a little vinaigrette over a forkful of cauliflower and took a bite.  Layers of flavor danced over my tongue, rousing my taste buds.  Briny olives and bright lemon harmonized with heady garlic and buttery rich olive oil, punctuating the nuttiness of the caramelized vegetable. 

The broccoli were green with envy.

roasted cauliflower with kalamata vinaigrette

serves 4


roasted cauliflower 
1 large head cauliflower, about 3 lbs
2 - 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt such as Maldon or fleur de sel

1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 – 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 


Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment.  Cut cauliflower in 3/4-inch slices.  Place slices in the pan and drizzle with half of the salt and olive oil.  Turn slices over and repeat.  Place pan in lower third of oven and roast until golden and tender but not overly crisp, 25 – 30 minutes.


While cauliflower roasts, prepare the vinaigrette.  Mince the garlic and mash to a paste with a mortar and pestle.  A garlic press will do the trick in a pinch.  Whisk garlic with lemon juice and olive oil and olives to combine.

Spoon vinaigrette over roasted cauliflower and serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine, September 2009

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