This was huge. Why? Because, during the past few years, I have had a not-so-secret agenda to convert Mark to my preferred way of eating. He used to want meat every day, but now we limit meat/poultry/seafood to a couple of meals per week, with mountains of vegetables and lentils and beans and such filling in the gaps. I've had failures -- you can lead a horse to a quinoa/fennel/shitake mushroom salad but you can't make him eat -- but my greatest successes have been lentils, tofu, and roasted cauliflower. And though spicing up lentils and tofu took some skill, I can't take too much credit for the winning ways of roasted cauliflower. It is objectively awesome stuff. Something strangely magical happens when cauliflower florets meet olive oil, salt, and a hot oven. It loses its sulfurous edge and gains a touch of sweetness. Some of the florets soften and collapse, while other bits simultaneously get crisp. And! It takes maybe 20 minutes and barely any babysitting, which means you can read a book while your lunch is getting all delicious.
On a weeknight, when we are hurrying to get dinner on the table, I find the combination of roasted cauliflower with olive oil and salt hard to beat. Sometimes I'll add a big pinch of cumin seeds if we're eating dal and rice, or sesame oil and ginger to accompany a stirfry. Earlier this week, though, we had friends coming over so I decided to do something a little more involved. While Mark turned out pizza dough and assembled this and that for topping our pizzas, I roasted cauliflower as a base for a salad. Salad? Yes! Cauliflower makes an addictive little salad, and I have Mario Batali to thank for this idea.
I had a vague memory of a cauliflower salad I ate in Vegas with 7 of my favorite ladies (bachelorette party what what!), but I didn't remember anything besides capers and maybe garlic. A Google search later, I unearthed Mario's recipe by way of Amanda Hesser and was soon adapting it to fit my whim: Meyer lemon instead of regular, no olives, no capers, no finicky blending garlic into olive oil, and cutting way back on the staggering 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil he calls for. (I am totally not a fat-phobe, but I was convinced that 2 cups of olive oil for 1 head of cauliflower would end up a greasy mess. Besides, we had chocolate cake to eat.)
The method is simple and the result was pretty great. Tender cauliflower, made rich and velvety from the garlic-infused olive oil, with a hint of spice from the chiles and sweet sourness from the Meyer lemon. I could happily have eaten the entire dish of cauliflower myself, and I liked it so much that I made it again for lunch a few days later. This is a keeper.
Roasted cauliflower salad
adapted from Mario Batali
The key to roasted cauliflower is this: dry your cauliflower thoroughly, use a large roasting pan, and don't be too shy with the olive oil or the salt. I don't measure when I'm making this, and you don't have to either (thought I added rough amounts below, of course). The short recipe for roasted cauliflower is to toss cauliflower florets with enough olive oil to lightly coat everything, add a pinch of salt, and roast until the florets are tender and browned. Also, know that the small bits will crisp up best. I love these super crisp parts, so I always brush all of the little cauliflower crumbs from the cutting board into the pan.
For the roasted cauliflower:
1 large head cauliflower
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
2-4 teaspoons olive oil (not extra virgin, since the oven is so hot)
For the warm vinaigrette:
2-4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed, dried red chile flakes
For the garnish:
squeeze of Meyer lemon juice
pinch of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Trim the leaves and woody, fibrous stalk of the cauliflower away. Chop into florets of roughly equal-size.
Spread cauliflower florets to the roasting pan and drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss by hand to distribute the oil and salt evenly, adding up to 2 additional additional teaspoons of oil depending on the size of your cauliflower. A small head of cauliflower will require the smaller amount; a very large head will require the larger amount. You want an even, light layer of olive oil throughout. Roast in hot oven until tender and browned, 15-20 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Remove and side aside.
Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan on low heat. When warm, add 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil and the garlic. Cook garlic slowly, until it becomes soft and slightly translucent. Add up to 2 teaspoons more oil, if desired. Remove from heat and add lemon zest and crushed red chiles. Stir to combine.
Transfer cooled cauliflower to a serving bowl. Pour the lemon-garlic-chile oil over the cauliflower and stir gently to coat. Taste and adjust with additional salt, as necessary. Just before serving, add a squeze of Meyer lemon juice and a shower of chopped flat leaf parsley. Stir to combine. May be refrigerated, but serve at room temperature.