Thursday, July 16, 2009

ode to the cauliflower

The quest continues on finding new ways (or variations of old ones) for elevating to culinary greatness those precious veggies that I receive from my local organic farm.

I believe I have found a winner. This is based on some research done on some unsuspecting friends we had over for dinner the other night. I am not sure they knew what they were in for. Although I did warn them that they would be guinea pigs for some recipe testing I was doing. They seemed up for the adventure. Until, they spotted the cauliflower. That white bulbous thing that most of us have had only steamed until it was mush and then doused in some processed cheese sauce. Frankly, I would run too! But I reassured them to hang in there. And after the drinks were refreshed, appetizers were served, I continued on with the dinner preparations.

Well, it was time, the moment of truth. We sat down. Gave thanks (I said a little prayer for the cauliflower) and the platters were passed. Slowly the comments started. By the time the cauliflower went around a second time I was getting questions "What is in this sauce?" and "How did you cook this?" I was more than happy to go into every last detail on the process.
So there you have it, the cauliflower was a hit. So much so, that my guests who were proclaimed cauliflower "unbelievers" have now been converted. But I can't take all the credit. I will give that to the salsa verde that accompanied the lovely caramelized slices of cauliflower and perhaps the little prayer.

Salsa Verde, the classic green sauce of Italy, is traditionally made of olive oil and chopped parsley flavored with lemon zest, garlic and capers. It adds a lively freshness to almost any dish. Flat-leaved Italian parsley is my preference, but curly parsley is good too. Fresh parsley is the star of the show, but almost any other fresh, tender herb can enhance salsa verde: tarragon, chervil, cilantro, and chives are good choices.

Zest, is the thin outer layer of the lemon's skin (or lime, orange): avoid grating any of the bitter white part called "pith" beneath. The zest brightens the flavor of the sauce, so don't be shy with it. My tool of preference for zesting is a microplane.

For a little variation try adding a little chopped salt-packed anchovy fillet, or chopped shallot, or finely chopped jalapeno for some extra zip.

Don't hesitate to experiment. I make salsa verde more or less thick depending on what I am using it for. I tend to use less oil when it's for roasted meats, and grilled/roasted vegetables and more for fish.

This recipe is an adaptation from the "classic" Italian salsa verde. But the amounts used here translate to any combination. Be creative!


Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde

1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 small or 1 large garlic clove, minced with a pinch of salt
zest of 1 lime
3 Tbsp. lime juice
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

for the cauliflower

1 medium cauliflower (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
salt & pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

First, prepare the salsa verde. In a medium bowl, combine the jalapeno, cilantro, garlic, lime zest, lime juice, and olive oil. Whisk to combine. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, whisk and taste for seasoning. Set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour to let the sauce develop in flavor.

Wash and dry the cauliflower. Put on a cutting board stem side down, and slice vertically into 1/4 inch slices, starting from the top going through to the core. You will probably only get 4 or 5 slices that remain in tact. The rest will be broken up, but not to worry.
On a heavy, large, rimmed cookie sheet carefully place the slices of cauliflower. Brush olive oil on both sides of the cauliflower and season with salt and pepper. The smaller pieces can be tossed in a bowl with some of the olive oil and then seasoned with salt and pepper. Place the smaller pieces on the cookie sheet with the slices of cauliflower. Be sure not to crowd or it will steam rather than roast.

Bake until the cauliflower is tender, golden, and deeply browned in spots, 20 to 30 minutes, turning once with a spatula.

Serve hot or warm, with the salsa verde on the side for drizzling.

Yield: 4 side-dish servings or 2 larger servings

1 comment:

  1. This is such a great alternative to the usual steamed cauliflower that stinks up the house. The slight crunch from the roasting really adds a nice texture but the salsa verde is out of this world. Hey you non cauliflower haters, you really should be brave and try this. You might surprise yourself and become a vegi eater...