The Most Underappreciated Vegetable

Poor cauliflower. Despite its homely appearance, it is one of the most versatile vegetables. I love it roasted with just a little olive oil and salt, and it makes the most delightful cream soup (especially with a little curry powder or cheese). But cauliflower is not as square as you might think – It’s also amenable to more complex flavors.

This recipe is based on the incredible cauliflower dish at Girl and the Goat, one of my favorite Chicago restaurants.  I’ve simplified Stephanie Izard’s version a bit here, but the basic technique remains. First, get some nice, deep brown caramelization on the cauliflower before fortifying with butter, crispy bread crumbs, and garlic.  Then, add additional ingredients for contrasting flavors and textures.

My recipe includes sumac powder, a tart, deep red spice that is easily found at a Middle Eastern Grocer. If you are on the fence about seeking out a specialty ingredient, know that I promise to use sumac again in a recipe.  It is one of the key ingredients in fattoush, a magnificent tomato, onion, and toasted pita salad that I will be sure to make as soon as the tomatoes have some semblance of tomato-ness again.

The Most Underappreciated Vegetable

Caramelized Cauliflower with Garlic, Sumac, and Pecorino:

1 head cauliflower

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. butter

handful of good breadcrumbs (about 3 Tbsp.)

2 cloves garlic, minced

handful of pine nuts (again, about 3 Tbsp.), toasted @ 325 degrees for 4-6 minutes

generous pinch of sumac powder

grated Pecorino-Romano

coarse salt

fresh mint or basil, torn or sliced

To prepare the cauliflower, first cut it into quarters through the stem.  Cut most of the core out of each quarter and discard, peeling away any leaves.  Cut each quarter into 1/4” slices.  Some of the florets will crumble away as you do this, but that’s fine.  You want to slice it rather than break it up into florets because the flat sides will brown up much better in your flat pan.

Prep the rest of you ingredients – mince the garlic, toast the pine nuts, grate the cheese, etc.

Heat a wide saute pan over medium high heat.  When hot, add you olive oil and swirl to coat.  Slide all of your cauliflower into the pan and spread into an even layer. It should make a loud sizzling sound. Sprinkle it generously with salt and leave it undisturbed for 2-3 minutes so it can get some nice color.

Once some browning is achieved, do your best to flip the cauliflower over with a spatula or tongs to brown it some more on its other surfaces.  Again, give it 2-3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and sprinkle in the breadcrumbs.  Make a well in the center of the pan by moving the cauliflower out to the sides and place your butter in the center to melt.  Add you garlic right to the butter and let it sizzle for 30 seconds or so until it is just barely starting to brown.  Then mix the cauliflower together thoroughly with the breadcrumbs and garlic.

Continue to cook the cauliflower until done to your liking, stirring occasionally (a few more minutes should do it). Turn off the heat and add the pine nuts, a handful of Pecorino, and a sprinkling of sumac.  Stir again to distribute and season to taste with more salt if necessary.

Transfer to a platter or bowl. Top with a little more Pecorino and sprinkling of fresh mint or basil.

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