Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Cauliflower Deserves Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food has some strong opinions about his vegetables. (Hint: Don't get him started on the subject of rapini, raab or rabe. Seriously.) He also has some deliciously transcendent, and incredibly simple, ideas for making them shine. Take this suggestion for the much-abused cauliflower, for instance.
Most cauliflower recipes begin with "break the cauliflower into florets." Sometimes they even tell you to discard the core and leaves. Ignore those instructions. The green leaves and thick core are perfectly edible and make up as much as one third of a head of cauliflower. Just chop them finely, then chop the rest the cauliflower, too. It's the key to making this Brassica delicious.
romanesco, but I'll still chop up the rest.) After cutting out and chopping the core and leaves, I set the head on the cutting board, cut straight down to make two or three slices about a half inch thick, then cut those a bit more. The florets break apart, so you really just need to cut the stems. I keep slicing around the edges, then cut up the center pieces which have more of the core attached. The result is a pile of different sized pieces and even some cauliflower crumbs; use it all.
Sometimes I'll spread the pieces out on a sheet pan, drizzle with extra virgin, sprinkle on some good salt, and roast it until the edges are nearly burnt (350° for about 45 minutes, stirring once or twice). This might be the best way to eat cauliflower—and be forewarned that one head is barely enough for two people.
But chopped cauliflower cooked in olive oil in a skillet is faster and offers more opportunities to add flavor. Use a big skillet, cast iron if you've got it, and plenty of extra virgin. Cook the cauliflower over medium high with a good pinch of salt until it starts to brown, maybe 10 minutes. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic, grind in a little black pepper, cook for another minute, and eat.
Along with the garlic sometimes I add some chopped, toasted almonds and a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Or a few tablespoons of chopped pickled peppers (like Mama Lil's) instead of the nuts and cheese. Just a splash of one of the Katz Orleans method vinegars makes even the plainest cauliflower sing. For a more complex dish, cook some chopped onion, celery and bell pepper—Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana trinity—with the cauliflower, add some bacon, tasso, or andouille, and when the vegetables are softened add a can of diced tomatoes for smothered cauliflower.
Cauliflower deserves better than being reduced to a pot of soggy, steamed florets. Eat the whole damned thing.