Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Where Cauliflower Is King
There was once a time when I ran with a great deal of fear in my heart from anything that was edible and purple. I once detailed on this very blog the many instances where I was paralyzed with fear at the mere site of a beet or purple potato, from the early years of my fear (salad bar at The Sizzler!) to the height of my purple nightmare (a vegan roommate and her purple stew!), and finally, how I managed to conquer the fear (roasted beet salad!). As a result, I went on a purple food rampage. First came the purple potatoes, which still had to prove their worth, followed by purple beans. After a brief pause to give other rainbow hued dishes a chance, I've once again revisited the purple genre of food.
It began during my first fall inflected visit to the farmer's market, when I found the last two remaining bunches of purple and orange cauliflower. I was instantly thrown back into my purple gastonomic reverie as I hightailed it to the front of the line to pay, pretending not to see the elderly woman also reaching for the colorful cauliflower. I was in such a hurry in fact, that I didn't even stop to consider that I rarely eat and don't even really love cauliflower all that much. Suddenly facing the fact that I'd very nearly tackled an old lady out of the way to obtain an ingredient I wasn't even that crazy about, I vowed to do right by my cauliflower and the disappointed 80 year-old soul I'd likely left behind. So, after some very specific research, I came up with the perfect recipe to showcase such a beautiful ingredient.
Since I'd chosen to use colored cauliflower instead of the more prevalent white, I wanted to do something that showcased their lovely contrasting colors instead of hiding them. The orange variety contains 25 times the amount of vitamin A that white cauliflower does, so much like the purple variety, which is chock full of the same antioxidants found in red cabbage and red wine, it does a body good. I first considered oven roasting or blanching the cauliflower and maybe tossing it with a dressing or some bechamel sauce, but in the end wanted something that contrasted with its naturally sweet, mild and almost nutty flavor. A week later I had a quick and easy recipe with a slightly acidic kick from fresh lemon juice and Dijon mustard, and a sweet undercurrent of flavor from caramelized shallots and reduced balsamic vinegar. A light coating of toasted, seasoned breadcrumbs added a bit of crunch and texture to the whole dish, which turned out great. I initially worried that the dark balsamic vinegar might overpower the bright colors of the cauliflower, but it instead reduced and lightly coated it and the shallots. Here's the final recipe, which is definitely a keeper, and a great fall side dish.
Cauliflower with Balsamic Vinegar and Shallots
2 small heads of cauliflower (or 1 large), cut into small florets
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp dried, seasoned breadcrumbs (you can season them yourself, too)
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 Tbsp butter
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
white ground pepper
1. Toast breadcrumbs in a 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Set aside.
2. Add remaining oil to skillet along with shallots and cook on medium heat until golden. Add remaining ingredients (not including breadcrumbs) and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on medium-low heat until cauliflower softens to a tender-crisp and liquid is reduced.
3. Remove from the heat and toss with half of the breadcrumbs. Plate and top with remaining breadcrumbs. Enjoy!