Monday, May 19, 2008

Roasted Cauliflower, Just So

The dog swapped her slumbering position between patches of sun and shade, spotted belly bared, and the cat, newly svelte and much happier, had even dared to pad silently outside. Beautiful, companionable quietude. Bees buzzed around us and the tiny, tightly furled blossoms that cover the cumquat tree. Illuminated by gorgeous autumn light, they refused to open despite the industry. Surely they must yield soon. With a weekend of rain – glorious, drenching rain - forecast, and cold weather on the horizon, an unexpected afternoon of soaking in the sunshine lay before us. A pot of chamomile tea, a virgin notebook in need of some scribbling and Mark Bittman, for inspiration, by my side.

Inside, an entire head of cauliflower waited, patiently, on the kitchen bench. It had taken nigh on a week to tackle, overlooked for the more exotic produce that it had come home with. Poor, lonely, lovely thing. Last year I read rapturous descriptions of the nuttiness, the golden goodness, of cauliflowers, carved up and roasted in the oven. So I tried, wanting to join the Love-In too, but each time that lingering, sulphurous smell would snake its way from the oven to the farthest corners of the house and my heart, again, would sink. I was beginning to think myself a numbskull. Then Mr Bittman seduced me, in the front garden no less, into one last try.

Pleased I succumbed? Oh. Yes.

Be picky. What you want is fresh, young and whole. The ideal cauli is small and tightly budded; leaves crisp, gently cradling and curling around its precious, pale cargo. There should be no sign, absolutely none, of yellowing or, as revolting as it sounds, browning; just pure, creamy curds. Like a bouquet of pretty, white flowers. A head halved and wrapped in plastic is of no use to The Cauliflower Hunter. You need to employ your sense of smell here - and it must not ever, never-ever, smell like something you wouldn’t like to nibble right there, on the spot.

Good eaten outdoors, among the bees, while the sun still shines.

Roasted cauliflower, Manchurian-style – feeds 2-4, depending on greed

If you scoff at the idea of eating half a cauliflower each in one fell swoop as we both did, then this will make you re-think. Why Manchurian? No idea. Bittman uses tomato sauce (ketchup) which would undoubtedly convince every child in the land to gobble up their veg. Substitute 1 cup, preservative-free, for the homemade tomato sauce and the recipe is that much quicker.

1 compact, perfect head of cauliflower
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
1 x 400g (15oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
A good glug of red wine vinegar
A good glug of balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons of sugar
3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Good pinch (or more) of chilli powder

Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F). Core, trim and break the cauliflower into florets of even-ish size. Arrange in a single layer in a baking dish. Toss with 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and loads of pepper and roast, turning twice, for 30 minutes.

Fry the onion in a little oil until soft and beginning to colour. Add the tomatoes, juice and all, followed by the vinegars, sugar and a little salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer briskly for 10-15 minutes, until reduced to about a cup. Puree until smooth.

5 minutes before the cauliflower is ready, heat a splash of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or two until fragrant, but not coloured. Pour in the tomato sauce (either the one above, or use 1 cup of ketchup) and cook, stirring often, for a few minutes, until the sauce bubbles and thickens – it must be rich and sticky. Add the chilli powder to taste and, when ready, tip the cauliflower florets into the pan. Toss over and over, making sure they are well coated in the sauce and serve, hot.

Robert Rauschenberg died last Monday, aged 82. He redefined collage, indeed painting, and is, without doubt, among my favourite artists.


Sophie said...

Perfect, a cup of tea in the garden and a pristine, empty notebook...

I'll have to try this recipe out - I bought Mark Bittman veggie book after quizzing you about it and have really been enjoying it (the book is so thick there's always something new in there that you haven't spotted before!).

Somehow this one sounds like it would be good with a few pinenuts and/or sultanas

Another Outspoken Female said...


Anonymous said...

Oh, your photos cause me to sigh. They are always so beautiful. Your sense of light is amazing. You would work wonderfully in black and white. (But don't give up colour!). I have never thought of roasting cauli, but will give this one a go.
I have heard so much about Mark Bittman, I must get it too.

Ricki said...

I love roasted cauliflower just plain (in fact, made some this week!), but this sounds. . . just beyond! Fabulous. And I have to admit that I went out and bought the Bittman a couple months ago and have never found anything I liked in it (all seem so bland to me!)--but I must have missed this one. (But ketchup?? Oooh that would have been way too cloyingly sweet given the typical ketchup one finds around here!).

nicole said...

Roasted cauliflower is one of my obsessions ... so delicious.

And sitting in the garden with a cup of tea might come pretty close!

Simona said...

I do not scoff at the idea of eating half a cauliflower, because, as they say, been there, done that. I roast cauliflower very often, with a few other ingredients: I will try your recipe, next time.

Lisa said...

I confess, the idea of eating half a cauliflower seems like a lot, but after reading this recipe over and drooling over the pictures, I am sure this would not be a problem. Lovely, as always.

ShopLittleGifts said...

Interesting - never thought to try it with balsamic vinegar. Although I have made yellow curry with it - very good combo - mainly because it has the texture to hold up against the sauce.

Shari said...

I love the "picture" you paint of being in your garden, with the sun, and an empty notebook and inspirational cookbook at your side. The cauliflower dish sounds yummy too.
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

kathryn said...

Glorious recipe Lucy. I would have no problems in eating half a head of cauli cooked like this! I'm a big fan of roasting cauliflower. I've been doing it recently with spices and then souping the results. Delicious.

Johanna said...

roasting does wonderful things to cauliflower - you wont look back!

half a cauliflower roasted to being slightly charred sounds like something I could easily eat through - all I need is a little seasoning (and I do roast half caulis in plastic and love them)

i think it is heidi who called it cauliflower popcorn which has a nice ring to it. I found it great in my vindaloo curry the other day too.

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

This looks so delicious and how I regret that DBF despises cauliflower! My favorite Lebanese restaurant here serves roasted (almost burnt) cauliflower with a tahini sauce that is to die for, and this reminds me that I must visit it again soon!

Callipygia said...

Naughty cauliflower romping in red...What rowdy treatment, ketchup no less? Must give it a whirl.

Wendy said...

I'm enjoying the Bittman book too. Don't remember noticing this recipe though. It sounds wonderfully comforting.

Susan said...

The Manchurian Cauliflower - sorry, couldn't resist. ; D Great film; great recipe. Cannot wait to try it.
I have no issues with firing up the oven in warmer weather.

Anonymous said...

I've been hooked on cauliflower lately...great recipe and lovely photos!

Rosa said...

This *might* be the recipe that makes me love cauliflower... especially if I use your homemade sauce instead of ketchup!

Shayne said...

Oh this makes me think that roasted caouliflower with harissa would be wonderful

Suganya said...

The florets and the skillet was too tempting and I made this last week. Absolutely divine. Next time I am thinking of adding a few more ingredients to the sauce (way better than bottled stuff). But this one's a keeper. We had it for dinner with corn bread. Thanks for a winning recipe, Lucy.

Lucy said...

Suganya - with cornbread? How wonderful! I'm thrilled that you enjoyed it - I must make some more myself. And some cornbread, too, methinks!

Claud said...

This roasted culiflower is bewitching me!
I really like your blog: it's tasteful