Cauliflower is a virtuous and serious vegetable

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

I usually try to start this column with a catchy or funny anecdote, but that won't work for cauliflower. Pale and uninviting in appearance, and definitely mild in flavor, cauliflower is just not a flashy or funny food.

Ben Bohen is a local chef and food writer.

That said, cauliflower has an important, if less than flamboyant role to play. Approached with an appreciation for simplicity, cauliflower can be a satisfying, nutritious addition to many meals.

Although often associated with cooler times of year, cauliflower is actually readily available year round. Like other cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts, cauliflower is highly nutritious, and is thought to have cancer inhibiting properties.

When shopping for cauliflower look for heads that are firm and compact, and that have no sprouting flowers. Cauliflower will last for up to a week if refrigerated in a perforated plastic bag.

Cauliflower can be prepared successfully using a number of methods including boiling, steaming, sautéing and frying, and can also be eaten raw. Its mild flavor and substantial heft stand up well to potent seasonings such as garlic, hot peppers, curry, caraway, mustard and saffron. It is also well suited to cheeses and cream sauces. often enjoy cauliflower cooked and pureed with potatoes, carrots or other vegetables as an alternative to plain mashed potatoes.

Whatever the method of preparation, cauliflower must first be trimmed by removing the outer leaves and cutting the florets off of the thick stalk.

The roasted cauliflower recipe here turns the vegetable's plainness into a virtue. Quick and easy, the roasting brings out the nutty sweetness of the cauliflower, while the olive oil adds a touch of richness. Salt and pepper take center stage in this dish, so I recommend using a high quality kosher or sea salt. This dish is good either hot or at room temperature and makes a great side for roasted or grilled meats, or topping for a salad. You can alter the flavor to suit your purposes by adding paprika, cumin, curry or chopped garlic before roasting, or by tossing the hot roasted cauliflower with chopped dill or parsley, mustard, or grated cheese.

Simple roasted cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into even sized pieces

olive oil to coat

salt and pepper to taste

1. Toss the cauliflower with enough oil to coat all of the pieces well. Add the salt and pepper and toss again until evenly seasoned.

2. Roast, uncovered, in a preheated 450 degree oven. The cauliflower is done when it is fork tender and starting to brown around the edges (this should take 15-25 minutes).

Bow tie pasta with cauliflower and kale

1 head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into even sized pieces

1 bunch kale, chopped

14 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, sliced

4 anchovy fillets

14 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound bow tie pasta (farfalle)

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Blanch the cauliflower in boiling water until just barely tender, 3-7 minutes. Remove from the boiling water with a strainer. Add kale and blanch until very soft, 8-10 minutes. (You can vary the cooking time for the vegetables depending on how you crisp you like them.) Remove kale from the water, but leave hot water on the stove to cook the pasta.

2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and anchovy and mash the anchovy with a cooking spoon until it has almost dissolved into the oil. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent.

3. Add the cauliflower and kale to the pan and continue sautéing until the cauliflower is somewhat soft. Mash the cauliflower a bit with a cooking spoon to thicken the mixture slightly. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as needed (it is important to taste before salting here, as the anchovies add a good deal of their own salt).

4. Meanwhile, boil the pasta in salted water until al dente. Ideally, you want the pasta to be done cooking just as the cauliflower mixture is done. Drain the pasta and return it to its cooking pot.

5. Add the cauliflower mixture to the pasta along with half of the parmesan cheese and toss until well combined. If the mixture seems too dry add a bit of olive oil to loosen it. Cover the pot and allow to stand for one minute so that the flavors can combine. Serve garnished with the remaining parmesan cheese divided evenly over each plate.

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