By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
I am the lone cauliflower eater in my house. Whenever I cook one, it’s all mine, from the tips of the fractal florets to the bottoms of the succulent stems. I’ve been known to devour an entire head in one sitting — in which case it’s not something I serve with dinner. It is dinner — and a satisfying one at that.
Although cauliflower is delightful in many incarnations, my go-to cooking method is roasting the cut-up florets at high heat, which caramelizes them, turning them irresistibly golden and floppy. The technique is as straightforward as they come: After oiling the florets and spreading them out on a sheet pan, I blast them at 425 degrees, which browns them deeply, but without charring the edges or setting off the smoke alarm.
The only real variables are the seasonings, and the options are many.
With its sweet, cabbagelike flavor, cauliflower is not exactly a blank canvas of a vegetable. But it can play nicely with others, especially sharp, salty, spicy ingredients, which help highlight its gentler side.
Here, crushed olives, fresh lemon juice, garlic and red-pepper flakes provide the needed fire and tang, while cumin adds an earthy note.
Then there’s a thin, lacy coating of Parmesan that bakes up into a crisp wafer surrounding each floret. A little like fricos — those brittle Northern Italian cheese crackers that are so fantastic with a Negroni — you’ll be hard pressed not to peel the golden bits off the pan and pop them directly into your mouth. If you’re not sharing, I highly recommend this maneuver; do it standing over the pan before adding the olive dressing. Otherwise, summon your willpower and refrain until serving time. Your dinner mates will thank you.
To get the right texture, look for strawlike shredded Parmesan rather than the powdery ground cheese. It will give you the heartiest, crunchiest texture. But the ground kind will work in a pinch.
Because this cauliflower is meant to be a main course rather than a side dish, I add a generous amount of diced pancetta to the pan, which melts its brawny drippings on the florets. This said, if you’re looking for a vegetarian dish, or something a little lighter, just leave the pork out.
Then pile the burnished florets into a bowl. And, if you’re like me, be quietly thrilled that they’re all yours.
RECIPE: Roasted Cauliflower With Pancetta, Olives and Crisp Parmesan
Yield: 2 main-dish servings or 4 side-dish servings
Total time: 45 minutes
- 1 large head cauliflower (about 1 3/4 pounds), trimmed and cut into bite-size florets (about 8 cups)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1/3 cup olives, crushed, pitted and chopped
- 1 fat garlic clove, finely grated or minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more as needed
- 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/8-inch cubes
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin or caraway seeds
- 1/2 cup shredded (not ground) Parmesan
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or mint leaves and tender stems, for serving
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt until well coated. Roast for 15 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together olives, garlic, lemon juice, 1/8 teaspoon red-pepper flakes and a large pinch of salt. Drizzle in the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, whisking well.
3. After the cauliflower has roasted for 15 minutes, add pancetta and cumin seeds to pan and gently mix to combine. Sprinkle Parmesan on top and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes, until cauliflower is tender, the pancetta rendered, and cheese is golden brown and crunchy.
4. Spoon olive dressing all over roasted cauliflower while still hot and toss to combine. Taste, and add more salt, red-pepper flakes or lemon juice, if needed. Scatter parsley over the top before serving.