I’ll admit it’s tremendously difficult to write about food when the world is so much different than it was just a week ago. It seems almost trite, possibly superficial to talk about things like vegetable side dishes in a world so unsettled, so divided. But the only way we are going to recover is if we do not allow ourselves to fall silent. Yesterday, I very deliberately forced myself back into the kitchen – to cook, to create, to write, to photograph – to ground myself in the things that make me me. In hard times, I long to feed and nourish people more than ever, to draw them back to the table. Comfort can be found around food. Rest can be found at the table. Even understanding becomes possible there. Everyone has something to offer when we sit down together.
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Weather: 41 degrees, rain
What I’m listening to: our yellow lab mix puppy, Rosie, whining at the window to go out front and play with the friendly neighborhood dogs
I’m often a fan of the underdog. I love to see the least likely succeed, the marginalized find a voice, and the outcast find a place to belong. While this may sound like political commentary, or perhaps a way to decide which team to root for at football games, I assure you, today we are talking about cauliflower. Cauliflower is the underdog. Though delicious and versatile, the colorless vegetable doesn’t typically stand a chance beside the captivating sheen of a garnet-hued roasted beet, the sunset tones of winter squash or carrots, a crisp head of purple cabbage, or the Pantone chart of green that encapsulates just about every other vegetable from brussels sprouts to peas, and from kale to green beans. Restaurants often shy away from cauliflower because it washes out a plate, looking pale and lifeless. In an attempt to remedy this, cauliflower is typically added to a vegetable medley, camouflaged by cheese and breadcrumbs, or tucked away inside a bowl of soup or a plate of curry.
I’m here to argue that cauliflower can be beautiful, too. Today, I offer you a recipe where cauliflower is the star of the show- whole roasted cauliflower with a garlicky lemon thyme butter sauce. I gave the entire head a quick steam in flavorful chicken broth to tenderize it a bit. Then I placed it whole into a hot oven to roast in a cast iron skillet until browned. Bring the entire steaming skillet to the table, slice off a wedge, and spoon the sauce over top. It’s a stunning and surprising way to serve this often unpopular vegetable. And I can’t stop eating it.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Thyme Butter
Yields: 1 whole head of cauliflower; 4-6 servings
- 1 head cauliflower, trimmed
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- juice of half a lemon
- 4 thyme sprigs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
To a large pot over high heat, add the chicken broth. Place the head of cauliflower into the broth, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, steaming the cauliflower for 10 minutes. Transfer the steamed cauliflower to a cast iron skillet. Season it with salt and pepper. Ladle about half of the broth from the pot over the cauliflower. In a small dish, stir together the melted butter, garlic, and lemon. Drizzle the butter mixture over the head of cauliflower. Add 4 thyme sprigs to the pan. Place the skillet into the preheated oven and roast for 10-15 minutes, until tender-crisp and golden on the outside. Note: if you’d like more color, turn the broiler on high for 2-3 minutes, or until desired color os achieved.
To serve, slice wedges of cauliflower and transfer them to serving plates. Spoon the pan juices over the cauliflower wedges. Serve promptly.