Not Your Conference Room Vegetable
I call particular fruits and vegetables “Conference Room Foods”. Things that fall into this category: firm and dry melon chunks, tart grape tomatoes, and poor cauliflower – cast aside and left to languish next its greener and more widely admired cousin, broccoli. For years when I thought of cauliflower I pictured a bruised floret, with dried edges, hastily dumped on a plastic platter next to a bowl of ranch dressing. It always looked so colorless and empty, like no one really wanted it to be there but, hey, you had to fill up the plate with something.
In the grocery store I found it to get equally unglamorous treatment. Always wrapped in plastic, or chopped up and stuck in a bag where its moisture would weep out and cling to the inside. I figured there was no way something so colorless and bland looking could have anything going for it, and so for years I never touched the stuff.
Once I began working at a produce stand in the farmer’s market, I revisited my old prejudices and tried all of our crops for good measure. Our produce was so good and rich it always inspired me to find new ways to cook it. I began to experiment with everything – squashes and watermelon radishes, dandelion greens and turnips, finding that there wasn’t a single one I didn’t like. It was a combination of incredible quality and a new approach to cooking – finding the best way to prepare everything.
As I began embracing cauliflower, I discovered that I had ignored one of my most favorite vegetables of all. I started pureeing it in Indian spice soups, mashing it like potatoes and baking it with cream and cheese into a gratin. But by far my most favorite way to eat it is my favorite way to eat everything. Chopped into bits, drizzled with olive oil, and left to roast until it is incredibly crispy. Cauliflower (good, fresh cauliflower) sweetens as it’s roasted, and each little floret clings to the salt and oil, creating a caramel crunch that is positively addicting.
I started roasting it a few times a week and caused a frenzy in my house every time I did. My roommates began literally demanding cauliflower, and we would pop it in our mouths while watching movies instead of popcorn. I experimented with different flavor combinations and it was delicious every time. This is the best kind of party trick - I’ve been asked for the recipe countless times and it could not be easier. Nothing makes me happier that giving vegetables a new lease on life by learning how to cook them simply, bringing out the best they have to offer.
Inspired by The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
There is no hard and fast recipe here, but I’ll give you some basics to work from, and some of my favorite flavor combinations. Experiment and see what you like best!
1 head cauliflower
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Optional spices: cumin, cayenne, red chili flakes, turmeric, fennel seed, and/or thyme.
Optional herbs to finish: cilantro or parsley
Preheat your oven to 400 or 425.
Trim up your cauliflower, chopping the base to get a fresh cut and pulling off all the leaves.
Slice the cauliflower into half inch slices (the wider the slices, the more the cauliflower will steam and roast at the same time – I tend to go more for crunch). Either put the whole slices on a cookie sheet, or chop them into smaller pieces. Be sure that all the little bits that fall off as you slice are thrown onto the cookie sheet as well! My favorite parts are the smallest pieces that get especially crispy. You can even throw some of the smaller leaves on the pan as well.
Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and whatever spices you like. I even tried cinnamon once and it was pretty delicious.
Roast 20-30 minutes until the cauliflower is very crispy and golden. Toss around the sheet every 10 minutes or so. I know its done when the bottom sides are nice and brown.
Sprinkle with more salt and pepper to taste, parsley or cilantro, and enjoy!