Sunday, March 4, 2012

Conquering the Cauliflower, Phase I: The Iron Skillet

It has long been my dream to conquer the cauliflower. Partly because of the alliteration, and partly because—let's face it—the cauliflower is unexciting. Bland. Boring. Unmemorable.

There's nothing wrong with's just not the sort of vegetable one would rave about. No one has ever been moved to expound upon the cauliflower. No sonnets have been written. No Trojan ramekins delivered. No exclusive cookbooks devoted to the cause. (Okay, probably this last one's not true. But you get the idea.)

Except that then, one day, we ordered some cauliflower at Tuli Bistro, and I realized the error of my ways. Cauliflower, it turned out, was neither bland nor boring. Steamed cauliflower is bland and boring. Boiled cauliflower is bland and boring. Cauliflower done right is momentously, shockingly delicious.

1 head cauliflower (green* or white), divided into smallish florets
Olive oil
1 yellow onion, halved and sliced into thin half rings
2 tbsp golden raisins
1 tbsp pine nuts
1/4-1/3 cup veggie broth
Kosher salt
Freshly ground white pepper
Lemon wedges

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. When hot, add a generous glug or two of olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan. After a few seconds, add the onion. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and begins to smell sweet.

Push the onion to the side of the pan, and add the pine nuts to the other side. Stir until lightly toasted on one side, then combine with the onion and continue cooking until the onion just starts to turn golden here and there. Add the sultanas, stir once, then add the cauliflower and stir to combine. (If you had a large head of cauliflower, you may run out of room...just stick the rest in the fridge for later rather than overflowing the pan.)

Drizzle liberally with more olive oil and pan-fry for 4-5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add a pinch or two of salt and a slosh of broth (just enough to create some steam -- about 1/8 cup), cover, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Steam for 12-15 minutes, checking and stirring at 3 minute intervals (and adding a little more broth when it starts to dry out again). The goal is for the bottom to turn golden brown (without burning), while the cauliflower cooks through. So, if it starts to brown too much, turn the heat down a little and add a bit more broth. If it's not browning at all, turn the heat up a touch or wait longer before stirring, and don't add more broth yet.

When the cauliflower is nicely browned and tender (a fork should insert easily), turn off the heat. Sprinkle with a salt and white pepper to taste, drizzle very lightly with lemon juice, stir once, and serve. Garnish with lemon wedges on the side.

Serves 3-4.

*Green cauliflower, it turns out, is higher in protein than the white variety. Also it's green. Also cauliflower is a complete protein (who knew?). Also—did I mention?—it is shockingly delicious.

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