When was the last time you had a transformative experience eating cauliflower? No, I’m not talking about cauliflower in the form of a few milky white flowerets mounded next to some cherry tomatoes and a pile of carrot sticks on a crudité platter offered as the first course at a dinner party or potluck. That’s cauliflower in its most humdrum state, more crunch than flavor, serving primarily as a delivery device for whatever obligatory dipping sauce has been provided.
No, I’m talking about cauliflower that has been prepared in such a way that upon your first experience of it your thoughts are filled with the pleasant recognition that a vegetable that only a few moments before seemed bland and boring is in fact brimming with culinary possibilities.
I can tell you’re skeptical. So, please, let me explain.
Cauliflower is one of those vegetables usually given short shrift by most people. It represents bland whiteness in a sea of color in the produce aisle, and while it’s typically described as having a mild flavor, woe to the person who overcooks it. When that occurs, the same sulfuric compounds that are present in all members of the cruciferous vegetable family, such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, conspire to make cauliflower a malodorous mush.
Fortunately, there is a way to transform cauliflower from smelly to seductive. The key is to roast it. Unlike boiling, which can dilute cauliflower’s already mild flavor, roasting cauliflower concentrates its flavor, making it sweeter and more noticeable. Roasting also preserves more of cauliflower’s nutrients, which include several B vitamins as well as vitamin C, an important antioxidant. Most importantly, roasting makes it harder to overcook cauliflower, something that should be avoided with all the diligence of a toddler resisting her afternoon nap!
In today’s post, I present a salad that uses roasted cauliflower as its centerpiece. It was inspired by a recipe for a cauliflower salad I saw in the Dec 2011/Jan 2012 issue of the magazine Fine Cooking. In that version, the cauliflower is first boiled and then tossed with shredded radicchio in a mustardy, raw egg-thickened vinaigrette and topped off with a scattering of toasted breadcrumbs. It’s an interesting recipe but a little more time-consuming than many busy parents would like. (Plus, I have concerns about consuming most raw eggs due to the possibility of being exposed to salmonella.)
In my version, I keep the cauliflower and radicchio, but I roast the cauliflower rather than boil it (for – ahem — all of the aforementioned reasons). In place of the vinaigrette with mustard and raw egg, I use a simpler apple cider-based vinaigrette, and I replace the toasted breadcrumbs with pine nuts and shaved Manchego cheese. (By the way, if you’ve never tried Manchego cheese, now is the time. It is hands down one of my favorite cheeses. Click here to learn more about it.)
The result is a wonderful combination of flavors that showcases cauliflower’s sweeter side. Try it and see your expectations for this humble wintertime vegetable be transformed.
Cauliflower and Radicchio Salad
1 small head of cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ head of radicchio
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
2 ounces of Manchego cheese* (shaved using a vegetable peeler)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1. Prepare and roast the cauliflower: Preheat the oven to 375° F. With a sharp paring knife, remove the green leaves from the cauliflower and discard. Remove the head of the cauliflower (also called the curd) from the stem. Separate the head into small, evenly sized flowerets. If desired, peel and slice the stem into pieces similar in size to the flowerets. (It is important that all of the pieces be around the same size so that they will cook evenly.) Place the cauliflower in a large bowl, add the 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper, and toss so that all of the pieces become coated with olive oil. Spread the cauliflower evenly on a large sheet pan (lined with non-stock foil or parchment paper if desired) and roast in the preheated oven anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes.** Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool.
2. While the cauliflower is cooling, prepare the vinaigrette according to the directions here.
3. After the cauliflower has cooled, cut the radicchio into thin slivers. Place the cauliflower and radicchio in a large bowl, add the dressing, and toss so that as much of the cauliflower and radicchio as possible are coated with dressing. Sprinkle the pine nuts and shaved Manchego cheese over the contents of the bowl and toss again briefly.** Serve.
*Although Manchego cheese used to be found exclusively in cheese specialty shops, it is starting to appear with increasing frequency in larger supermarkets. Nevertheless, if you can’t find it, then you can use a Pecorino-Romano or even a very sharp, white cheddar in place of it.
**The exact amount of time will depend on the size of your cauliflower pieces and how firm you prefer your cooked cauliflower to be. I prefer my vegetables to be on the crisper side, so I typically roast for fewer minutes. You should experiment to determine how many minutes of roasting work for you.
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