Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cauliflower: The White Album

                  “The delicate white cauliflower flesh opened like enormous roses,
                        surrounded by large green leaves, so that the mounds resembled bridal
                                                bouquets on display at a flower stand..”*

Emile Zola, author of the above quote, was quick to discover the beauty of cauliflower. All these years later, we seem to be catching up. If you wait long enough, your time may come. It seems to be cauliflower's moment, the new “it” vegetable, even though it has always been there, waiting to be noticed again. It has been embraced with new enthusiasm and its adaptability finds it prepared in new ways, not just the old standby of smothering it with cheese sauce. While cauliflower may be getting edged out of the spotlight by kale, let’s give a vegetable its moment.
Along with the familiar white cauliflower, there is a variety with a Cheetos-orange hue (with 25 times the level of vitamin A found in the white variety) plus you can also find green and purple cauliflower.   Romanesco, a variant of green cauliflower, looks like a strange breeding experiment between a cauliflower and fractal geometry.

Cumin Roasted Cauliflower
For two servings

2 cups cauliflower florets
2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1to 2 teaspoon ground cumin

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place the cauliflower into a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle the salt, pepper and cumin over the cauliflower and mix until well combined. Line a baking pan with a piece of parchment paper or a silicon mat. Spread the cauliflower in an even layer and roast it in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until tender, depending on the size of the florets; test it with the point of a knife. Remove from oven and serve.

I have also mixed the cumin roasted cauliflower into Greek tzatziki sauce and paired it with grilled meats and fish. 

Tzatziki with Cumin Roasted Cauliflower
For two servings

6 ounces plain Greek yogurt
½ cup peeled, grated cucumber
¼ cup diced red onion
I Tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the yogurt into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Fold in the cooled cumin-roasted cauliflower.

Cauliflower puree has become popular with chefs for the blank canvas it provides for a main dish. Very often it is paired with a white fish, such as scallops or Chilean sea bass, for a “white on white” effect.
While cauliflower puree may never replace mashed potatoes, this is pretty damn good. And simple.  While I use black pepper in the recipe (cue the “white pepper or black pepper” argument that Julia and Jacques used to have), you can use ground white pepper, too. Four cups of florets for two people may seem like a lot, but it purees down to enough for two.

                               Pan Roasted Salmon with Cauliflower Puree with Brown Butter

Cauliflower Puree with Brown Butter
For two servings

4 cups loosely packed cauliflower florets
2 Tablespoons light cream, optional
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Fill a sauce pan with ½ cup lightly salted water. Cover and bring the water up to a boil. Add the cauliflower, cover, and simmer until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Place the cooked cauliflower and the remaining cooking water (and the cream) into the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. Place the cauliflower puree into a saucepan. When you are ready to serve the puree, warm the puree over low heat. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter and melt the butter until it bubbles and turns a light brown color. Pour the brown butter into the cauliflower puree and whisk together. Taste for seasoning (it will probably need more salt due to the lack of salt in the butter) and adjust accordingly. Serve.

Cauliflower Gratin
This is for two servings. Figure about 1 cup florets per serving if you are scaling up the recipe.

2 cups cauliflower florets
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon chopped onion
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
¾ cup light cream
½  teaspoon salt
¼  teaspoon ground black pepper
2 to 3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3 to 4 cup baking dish. Place the florets into the dish. Place a small sauce pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the butter or oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook for 2 minutes to soften the onion. Add the cream to the pan, along with the salt and pepper; mix together and heat until the cream begins to simmer. Pour the cream over the cauliflower. Cover the dish with a piece of aluminum foil, place the baking dish onto a baking tray and place the tray into the oven. Bake covered for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the cauliflower from the oven, uncover, and sprinkle the cheese over the cauliflower. Place the cauliflower back into the oven and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until the cauliflower is bubbling. Remove cauliflower from the oven and serve.

 *from The Belly of Paris (Ventre de Paris) by Emile Zola, translated by Mark Kurlansky.

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