Right now, local cauliflower is at its peak, tender, slightly sweet and deliciously satisfying even when munched raw.
When you bounce the florets in a pan with a little good oil over high heat, their flavors will deepen as they turn golden. The method of pan-frying is endlessly adaptable, open to a range of different seasonings, and it’s simple and quick.
Most recipes for pan-frying cauliflower recommend blanching them first to par-cook. But when they are this fresh, there’s really no need for the extra step. Simply cover the pan after the cauliflower has been tossed with the oil so that it steams a little in its own juices. Then remove the cover and continue cooking until the florets are easily pierced with a fork and the edges have darkened. This technique works well with a range of cruciferous vegetables in season at our farmers markets — broccoli, Romanesco, Brussels sprouts.
Look for cauliflower with vibrant green leaves that do not show any black or brown spots. Store the heads in a plastic bag in the refrigerator’s crisper; they will keep for up to a week. Do not rinse or chop until ready to use. There really is no reason to trim off and discard the leaves or the core; they have the same flavor as the florets and so I usually just toss them into the mix.
You’ll find cauliflower in a range of stunning colors and shapes. Take the orange and gold cauliflower, aka Cheddar cauliflower, that tastes nothing like cheese. It’s slightly sweet and creamy while the purple variety is a tad crunchier than the white. Unlike purple beans that turn to green when cooked, this vegetable retains its vibrant color. These different cauliflower varieties are interchangeable in recipes and spark color on the plate.
It’s important to use good high-heat oil when pan-roasting vegetables, not olive oil that has a tendency to burn. Try local hazelnut or sunflower oil that will retain its flavor and is stable over high heat.
This recipe is open to any number of seasonings — if you want to forget the curry and lime, add rosemary and lemon, for example, or try adding chopped jalapeño with the garlic for a little more kick.
Serve this as a side dish warm or at room temperature or pile onto rice and garnish with nuts for a simple dinner. I like to increase the quantity of florets so I have enough to “taste” for doneness right out of the pan.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.