Fresh food. Simple and seasonal. Mostly Mediterranean.
Long gone are the days when cauliflower only shows up for parties, typically on a platter with raw broccoli florets, carrot sticks, and a bowl of sour-cream-and-onion dip. Even boiling or steaming cauliflower is passé, as many cooks have caught on to the fact that those methods often result in a rather flavorless and sometimes water-logged dish. Fortunately, today's cooks have discovered many more imaginative ways to cook this nutrient-packed cruciferous vegetable. Roasting simply with garlic and olive oil often works well, but the absolute best recipe I've come across for cauliflower is this braised dish from "All About Braising," by Molly Stevens. During the winter months, I turn to Stevens's book often, as braising -- slow cooking on low temperatures in a closed pot with liquid such as stock, wine, or beer -- is a wonderfully comforting way to cook on a frigid day. Stevens won a James Beard Award for this cookbook in 2005, and it's no wonder. Every dish I've tried from "All About Braising" has been a standout.
1. Toasting the bread crumbs: Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread bread crumbs in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring once or twice with a pancake turner, until crumbs are the color of pale toast and lightly crunchy, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool. 2. Trimming the cauliflower: Cut the cauliflower into florets, discarding the thick core. Cut into individual florets that are about 1-1/2 inches long and just about as wide. You want them small, but not trimmed so much that they are falling apart. 3. Browning the cauliflower: Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet (12-inch) over medium-high heat. When hot, add the florets and saute, turning frequently, until they are speckled all over with nice bits of brown, about 8 minutes total. Add the capers, stir to distribute and cook for another minute. 4. The braise: Pour in the stock or water, season with salt and pepper (go easy on the salt since the capers are salty), cover tightly, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently until the cauliflower is tender enough to be easily pierced with the tip of a knife, 15 to 20 minutes. If the liquid threatens to dry up at any point, add a splash of water. 5. The finish: When the cauliflower is tender, remove the lid and boil away any remaining liquid, shaking the pan so the cauliflower doesn't stick. Add a squeeze of lemon, and taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the bread crumbs and serve immediately. Variation: Add Pasta Turn this dish into a meal by boiling up to 3/4 pound of short tube-shaped pasta, such as penne, fusilli, or gemelli. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. In Step 5, don't boil away any remaining liquid. Add the pasta to the cauliflower before adding the bread crumbs, and add enough reserved pasta cooking water to moisten the dish. Drizzle with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, stir in the bread crumbs, and taste for salt and pepper. A small handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley and some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese are good finishing touches.