As a kid I was never very impressed with cauliflower. It was always served as part of a "vegetable medley" and it paled in comparison to the broccoli or peppers or whatever else lay beside it on the plate. It was white in color and flavor, bland and tasteless, or so it seemed to me. Many years later I was a professional cook and while I had tasted some good cauliflower here and there, it wasn't a vegetable that I ever gave much thought to. Then I dined at Peacock Alley, while it was under the reign of chef Laurent Gras. My mother and I were having a tasting menu and one of the early courses was seared hamachi with cauliflower and caviar. It was the first time I had eaten cauliflower puree and it was rich and decadent, full of earthy sweetness, with a silky texture that lingered on my tongues. It was a wonderful dish and it seems odd to me that what stuck in my head was the cauliflower. It was one of those moments where a chef let's you see an ingredient in a new way. I discovered that night that I never knew the true potential of cauliflower.
As I learned, cauliflower does work amazingly well as a creamy puree. But it is equally good roasted, as pictured above. It needs a little extra care to bring out its best aspects. I like to roast florets underneath my chickens, they become softly tender, almost melting into the pan drippings. Everyone is whole roasting cauliflower these days. It's the thing to do. We simply rub ours with olive oil, season it with salt, and roast it in a 425°F oven until it is tender and golden, 30-40 minutes. If you're feeling adventurous you could baste it periodically with a miso-butter, rich meat jus, barbecue sauce, or any rich savory sauce of your choice. The vegetable will soak it in and the sauce will add new dimensions to the cauliflower. You can slice it and serve it with more sauce on the side.
Personally I don't mind a simply roasted vegetable. If I'm eating alone, I cut off a chunk and and pull apart the florets so I can eat them with my fingers, savoring the contrast of textures and flavors throughout each bite. I may dip it into a little vinaigrette or add a softly cooked egg or I may simply enjoy the flavor of the cauliflower, all by itself.
March 1, 2011
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