Let’s be honest, raw cauliflower is not very tasty. Bitter, cabbage-y and tough, it’s often the last vegetable left on the crudité plate. But roasting tames cauliflower’s bite, calls forth its subtle sugars and turns the florets into fingerpicking, nutty, toasty morsels.
Our farmers markets offer an array of colorful cauliflower varieties with names like “cheddar,” “orange bouquet,” “graffiti” or “purple cape” (both deep violet) and green (sometimes called “broccoflower”). There’s little difference in flavor among them. Though these are all very pretty when steamed, for roasting, I prefer the white, better to display those tempting caramelized edges.
Roasted cauliflower’s subtle nature works surprisingly well with the strong flavors of anchovy, olives, garlic, citrus, vinegar, hot pepper, curry or ginger. The florets are just as delicious served warm as they are at room temperature and will hold for several hours as part of an antipasto.
Choose cauliflower heads that are tight, heavy and bright. The size does not reflect the quality or taste. Avoid any that are speckled or dark because they’re old or have been poorly stored. Fresh cauliflower keeps beautifully, unwrapped, in the refrigerator crisper. Plastic tends to trap moisture and turn it bitter. When stored properly, cauliflower will keep for up to five days, but don’t wait that long to enjoy.
Roasted cauliflower pairs beautifully with the bright fruitiness of red and yellow bell peppers. Also in the peak of their season, mature bell peppers should be firm and shiny. They are best stored at room temperature and enjoyed within a few days. Mature, sweet bell peppers turn succulent and unctuous when blasted with heat. This sunny combination makes a terrific base for weeknight meals, adding oomph to salads and pastas. Serve the duo as a side dish to dishes of grilled chicken, pork or shrimp; try stuffing them into a pita with tzatziki for lunch, or just nibble with cold beer or chilled rosé.
More options for this vegetable:
• Toss roasted cauliflower and peppers with cooked rotini, shredded Parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and crushed black pepper, to taste.
• Toss with curried mayonnaise (1 tablespoon curry to ½ cup prepared mayonnaise) and serve topped with chopped cashews and chopped dried apricots.
• Toss with rosemary balsamic vinaigrette, crumbled feta cheese and black olives.
• Pair with grilled leg of lamb, drizzle with fresh lemon juice and chopped fresh mint.
• Toss with toasted chopped almonds, dried cranberries, and a simple ginger-sesame vinaigrette (such as Salad Girl brand).
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.