My favorite “chef trick”? The whole head of cauliflower roasted to golden perfection. It’s dramatic, delicious and so easily replicated at home.
Cauliflower behaves very much like a cut of meat when roasted. The rougher edges of the florets grab onto the flavor elements — good olive oil or butter, lemon juice, crushed spices and herbs. As it roasts and is basted with a little oil, it becomes slightly browned, crusty and crunchy on the outside while the inside becomes silky and tender. This makes a fine entree when paired with a crisp green salad and crusty bread. It’s also great served on top of pasta or rice with a bold sauce or a little shredded aged cheese. The method is so very easy, it hardly requires a recipe. The sauces add the fun.
The key to success is to be sure to use a pretty, fresh head of cauliflower — whether it’s white or the pale orange, green, dark purple that are becoming more available. You can also do this with spiky Romanesco, a cauliflower cousin.
Look for heads that are firm and tightly closed. The white varieties should be pale, with no dark “sunburned” spots. Cauliflower is perishable so keep it tightly wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and cook within five days. To prepare, snap off the green outer leaves, run it briefly under cold water, then shake gently to dry off. It does not like to be soaked.
While many recipes suggest blanching the cauliflower in boiling water for a few minutes before roasting, I find that step unnecessary and it can result in a soggy head. Instead, cover the cauliflower with aluminum foil when it first goes into the oven so that it steams in its own juice. When it’s nearly tender, remove the cover and then baste as it begins to brown. To serve, cut it into wedges, passing a little more sauce on the side.
Cauliflower’s mild, creamy quality and neutral flavor make it the perfect contender for bold seasonings — garlic, coriander, cumin, chiles, ginger and curry all complement rather than mask cauliflower’s subtle taste.
If you’re in a hurry, serve the whole roasted cauliflower on a pool of your favorite prepared tomato sauce or slather it with a bright lemon-curry butter and chopped cilantro. This is one of those simple recipes that helps to get me out of my late winter vegetable rut: inspired, easy and sure to please.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Parsley Pesto
Serves 4 as a main course; 8 as a side.
Note: The bright green sauce makes for a dramatic presentation. Be sure to pass a little extra on the side. From Beth Dooley.
For the cauliflower
• 1 1/4- to 2-lb. head of cauliflower
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
• 1 tsp. coarse salt
For the parsley pesto
• 1/2 c. blanched almonds
• 1 c. chopped parsley
• 2 to 3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tbsp. lemon juice or more to taste
For the cauliflower: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch pie plate or baking dish. Remove the outer leaves and core the cauliflower. Rinse briefly in cold water and shake.
Place the cauliflower head, core side down, on the pie plate. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven. Bake until the cauliflower is just becoming tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.
Remove the aluminum foil and baste with the oil and juices in the bottom of the pan. (If these are sparse, drizzle on a little more oil.) Continue roasting until the cauliflower begins to brown and becomes very tender, another 25 to 30 minutes.
For the pesto: Put the almonds, parsley, cheese, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then pulse again. Drizzle in the oil while the machine is running just long enough to incorporate 1/4 cup oil, about 20 to 30 seconds, then the lemon juice. Spoon a stripe over the roasted cauliflower and pass the remaining pesto on the side.
Nutrition information per each of 8 servings:
Fat 17 g
Sodium 435 mg
Carbohydrates 6 g
Saturated fat 2 g
Total sugars 2 g
Protein 4 g
Cholesterol 1 mg
Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 3 ½ fat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.