Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on October 20, 2016
A fresh cauliflower looks like a bridal bouquet, and by some earthy brides, is used as one. In fact, cauliflower is actually a huge, dense cluster of underdeveloped blossoms. Commercially-grown cauliflower, by the time it is picked, cut out of its nest of broad green leaves, shrink-wrapped and shipped to the grocery store, is a homely wedge of beige — one of the least-likely looking vegetables in the beauty pageant of fall crops. Fortunately for us, at local farm stands you can buy one you can hardly lift, steps away from where it was grown.
Such abundance calls for action, and here are two ways to deal with a sudden surge of cauliflower in your life.
First, make steak.
Like most vegetables, cauliflower gets soft when you cook it, but it turns out that heating it at a low temperature before you roast helps keep its shape, a definite plus if you are trying to brown it in the oven. A large, closely packed cauliflower cut into slabs about an inch thick can be heated at 130-140 degrees for 20 minutes to help it hold its shape, and then roasted at a high heat. For a flashy side dish, I serve dramatic walnut-tipped slabs topped with a caper and wine sauce.
After you’ve cut those cauliflower steaks, you are likely to have several handfuls of florets to spare, and with those I recommend you make soup. My go-to recipe is a hearty soup from Mollie Katzen’s classic Moosewood Cookbook. This soup freezes well, and a quart of cauliflower-cheddar soup in the freezer gives me a feeling of security as I anticipate that Tuesday night in January when there is no way I’m going to the grocery store.
For years I resisted buying an immersion blender, a handheld device that works like a magic wand for soup making. I had a perfectly good blender, right? What did I need with the hand-held version? I changed my mind when I made the mistake of trying to puree an entire batch of cauliflower soup in the blender at one go. Hours later, I was still finding puddles of soup that had leaked out of the top and bottom of the blender, seeped between the countertop and the stove, and continued in a waterfall to the kitchen floor. On the plus side, it was nicely pureed, and very tasty, or at least that’s what my dog seemed to think.
5 servings as a side dish
1 large, tightly packed head of white cauliflower
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon of butter
¼ cup white wine
1. Heat the oven to 140 degrees.
2. Cut the cauliflower in half. Remove the main stem from each half, but don’t cut away the smaller stems that hold the florets together.
3. Slice each half into three or four slabs about an inch thick, cutting from the tops of the florets down.
4. Arrange the slabs on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
5. Heat the cauliflower for 20 minutes at 140 degrees, remove from the oven and increase the heat to 400 degrees.
6. Brush both sides of each cauliflower slab with olive oil.
7. Roast uncovered in a 400-degree oven for 25 minutes. If the heating element is on the bottom of your oven, put the pan on the bottom rack of the oven.
8. When the undersides show some brown, turn each slab with a spatula and return to the oven for 15 minutes, or until the other side is brown.
9. While the cauliflower is roasting, melt the butter in a small skillet until it foams, add the capers, and cook briefly at medium heat. Add the wine and continue to cook over medium heat until it reduces and is syrupy.
10. Transfer the cauliflower slabs to a serving plate and spoon the caper sauce over to serve.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup
Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s
2 cups unpeeled new potatoes cut into chunks
3 and ½ cups cauliflower florets and stems cut about the same size as the potatoes
1 cup carrot unpeeled and cut into the same size chunks as the potatoes and cauliflower.
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
I cup chopped onion
1 ½ teaspoons salt
4 cups of water
2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
¾ cup whole milk
¼ teaspoon dried dill or 3 sprigs of fresh
¼ teaspoon caraway seed
¼ teaspoon Coleman’s dry mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup buttermilk
Plain yogurt or dill for topping
1. Put the potatoes, 2 cups of the cauliflower (reserve one and a half cups of the florets), carrot, garlic, onion, salt, water in a large pot, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
2. Puree in the pot with an immersion blender, or transfer it to a blender, and puree it in two to three batches.
3. Finely chop the remaining cauliflower florets.
4. Put the pureed soup over a low heat and add the diced florets, 1 ½ cups of the cheese (reserve ½ cup), milk, dill, caraway seed, mustard and black pepper to taste. At this point you can freeze the soup.
5. To finish the soup, stir in the buttermilk and let the soup heat up, but not come to a boil. Serve topped with reserved cheese or a dab of plain yogurt with another sprig of dill.