My friend Kristen asked me if I could provide a brief tutorial for how to cut up and use cauliflower. I had made this very salad for her–roasted cauliflower with toasted walnuts–and she said that, whle she loved it, she was completely intimidated by cooking cauliflower, especially cutting it up into pieces.
So here goes (don’t worry, I’ll get to the recipe!)
Cauliflower is a brassica, just like like cabbage and broccoli. It is a mass of tiny, tightly packed flower heads (called curds), which grow from a thick central stem to form a single, round head, cupped by green leaves. It has a firm, almost waxy texture, and a mild, delicate flavor. Most cauliflowers are white, but it’s also possible to find green and purple varieties, as well as the sweeter Romanesco cauliflower, with its distinctive pointed florets.
Like all brassicas, cauliflower stinks to high heaven if overcooked, so keep the cooking brief!
Pick cauliflowers with pure white heads (i.e., no weird brown spots), and crisp green leaves. A trick for determining freshness is to look at the color of the base, as it’s a good indication of how recently it’s been picked – the whiter, the fresher.
To prepare cauliflower, cut off the surrounding leaves (if they’re fresh, they can be cooked, too). For large cauliflowers, cut off individual florets from the central stem and cut again if necessary. You should end up with florets of a comparable size, so that they all cook at the same pace. Then wash. You can eat it raw, steam it, saute, or, my favorite method, roast it! IT makes it nutty and meaty and all-around fabulous.
This salad makes the most of it’s nutty flavor. I paired it with toasted walnuts (just throw them in with the cauliflower near the end), plus bitter-fresh watercress and sweet currants. It will convince anyone who thinks they do not like cauliflower that they in fact love it. Kristen, it turns out, was just such a person! Happy eating!
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil on a large baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and roast for 28 minutes. Stir in the walnuts; roast 5 to 7 minutes longer until walnuts are fragrant and toasted and cauliflower is tender. Cool 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, honey, mustard, and currants.
When the cauliflower is done, add to the bowl of dressing along with the watercress, tossing to combine. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.