Thursday, 17 February 2011

Roasted Cauliflower

As it is winter--and what a winter it is!--I think we should continue our focus on cruciferous veggies, children. Why? Because winter is when many cruciferous vegetables really get going. Brussels sprouts, for example, are traditionally harvested just before Christmas here in England. And purple sprouting broccoli is grown all winter and harvested in early spring. Cauliflower can be grown all year round here in England, with careful planning. Because cruciferous vegetables have lots of strong flavors, they are nice to eat in the winter when fresh things are scarce, and the cold weather helps them develop a nice nutty, milky taste.

Did you know that cauliflower comes in different colors, not just white? You can get it in purple or orange or green. There is even a variety called Romanesco, which is really beautiful because it looks like a light green spiral. The different colored cauliflowers have different kinds of nutrients in them to help you grow, and all of them are good for you. Cauliflower is the same species as broccoli, but the plant grows in a different way, which makes it look and taste slightly different.

Lots of people have been led to believe that because common cauliflower is white, it must not be as nutritious as darkly colored vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. Wrong! Like other cruciferous veggies, it is very high in fiber (and we all know what that's good for), and vitamins C & K. It's also got plenty of folate (which is extremely important for growing children), a vast array of antioxidants (which help keep you healthy as you get older), and a chemical called glucoraphanin, which your body uses to make other chemicals that help prevent tummy aches.

So, how to choose and prepare cauliflower? Well, the curd of a common supermarket cauliflower (that's the white part) should be uniform in color (not speckled with brown or yellow), and the leaves around it should be mostly tight around it. It should be firm to the touch, not soft. To prepare it, you can pull the outermost leaves off (these can be used to make vegetable or chicken stock). Then turn the cauliflower upside down, and using a sharp paring knife, cut out the big central stem. Then you can rinse the whole head in water, or you can cut it into florets, which look like little white trees, and then rinse it. From there it's up to you what to do with it. There are loads of recipes out there for cauliflower, and historically, it's been a favorite on Italian tables. You can eat it raw, which is nice with a little salad dressing. Raw cauliflower is highest in nutrition and very mild in flavor. Or, you can do an Auntie Megan Sicilian-heritage favorite, and roast it. Click here for a recipe!
Auntie Megan's Favorite Roasted Cauliflower

This is super easy, and so very delicious.

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
a drizzle of olive oil (1-2Tbsp depending on the size of the cauliflower)
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 390F (200C). Put the cauliflower in a roasting dish that is big enough to hold all of it in one layer. Like this:

Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn to coat. Put in the oven.

Roast for 25-35 minutes, turning a couple of times with a spatula to help it to brown evenly. It's done when it has darkly brown, sticky edges on all sides. Like this, or even darker:

Eat. Seriously, is anything easier?

Serves two hungry adults as a substantial side dish, or two adult and two kids as a normal-person side dish. As you can see, it is very easily doubled or a-billion-ed as needed.

What can the kids do?
They can add the oil, salt and pepper, and they can turn it in the pan with a big spoon or their hands.

Feeling adventurous?
Ok, I wasn't kidding when I said this is super easy. But if you really want to get fun, there's a thousand ways you can make this better.

Firstly, you can use roasted cauliflower as an ingredient in a bigger dish. Add it into some milky eggs with a couple of ounces of grated cheddar for a marvelously rich-tasting quiche filling. Toss it with warm leftover roast chicken, soaked raisins, and hot pasta for a quick meal. Stir it into a simple batter of chickpea flour (gram flour) and water, sprinkle with minced onion, and bake in a heavily oiled baking tray in a high oven to make a seriously delicious, vegan farinata.

Secondly, curry it up. Double the ingredients. Add 1-2 tablespoons of your favorite curry powder and a small chopped onion with the oil, salt & pepper. 10 minutes before it's done roasting, toss in a cup of frozen peas and a handful of flaked almonds or whole cashews, and stir. Serve over white rice as a main dish. If you're really feeling adventurous, invent your own spice mixture using whatever you've got on hand. Auntie Megan likes lots of turmeric, ground coriander, cumin, a pinch of cloves, some fennel seeds, chilli powder, and minced garlic.

Thirdly, stick with the Sicilians--you can't go wrong. While the cauliflower is roasting, heat a skillet on the stovetop over medium heat. Add a cup of fresh breadcrumbs (or made from your own stale bread--the kind from a canister just won't do here). Stir constantly until the crumbs are golden, then immediately dump them onto a plate. Wipe out the skillet and return to the heat. Add 3 or 4 anchovies in olive oil to the pan along with a drizzle of the oil in the can. (Side tip: the rest of the anchovies from the can can be frozen in a plastic baggie for future use.) Add a heaping tablespoon of rinsed, chopped capers and a light sprinkle of crushed dried red chillis (optional).

Stir until fragrant and the anchovies have dissolved. Remove from the heat and grate in a sprinkle of lemon zest, and add a small handful of chopped parsley.  Stir in the breadcrumbs. When the cauliflower is nearly done, top with the breadcrumb mixture, squeeze a half a lemon over the top, and return to the oven. Bake until the crumbs are going dark on top (10 minutes?). Cool slightly and then NOM NOM NOM. Auntie Megan and Uncle James are happy to eat this and just this for dinner.

Don't stop there. You can combine the concept of the curry and the farinata--substitute coconut milk for water, and add curry powder and thawed peas. Like the red cabbage recipe in the previous post, you can go crazy with your spice cabinet and see what happens. Infinite experimentation!


  1. This sounds delish! I can't wait to try the breadcrumb recipe...yum! I always assumed the best way to jazz up cauliflower was to add cheese sauce, but this sounds so much better! We will try this in the next week or so and I'll report back :)

  2. Ok, we tried the cauliflower breadcrumb version this evening. Can I just say---OMG YUMMMY!!! Even Big Paul (who is hard to sell on some veggies)loved fact we were practically fighting over the last of it.

    Both children tried it--Paulie seemed to think it was ok, but did not gobble it up. The big story is Cecelia though--she tried it, but told me she didn't like it. HOWEVER, she took 2 bites (this is a VERY big deal, it means she didn't loathe it) which I think means she will warm up to it with time :)

    Thanks Auntie Megan!