Cauliflower has replaced kale as the reigning vegetable. Over the past eighteen months, many food writers have hailed it “the new kale” because of its nutritional value and versatility. The New York Daily News tagged it the “produce king.” Like a “blank canvas it takes on any flavor or personality.”
Romanesco is a stunning attention-getting cauliflower cousin. It’s been a coveted item this spring at the Wells Branch Elementary School Farmer’s Market. Romanesco was first introduced in Italy and has become a favorite vegetable the world of fine cooking. Its beautiful spiral is a natural fractal, meaning that each bud is composed of a series of similar smaller buds, continuing the pattern.
Along with cabbage, turnips, radishes, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, and kale, romanesco is a member of the Brassicaeae (Cruciferous) family.
Romanesco florets caught my attention in a medley of locally-sourced veggies served with my friend’s chicken-fried-chicken at Jack Allen’s Kitchen a few weeks ago. But if Romanesco looks too pretty to cut up, try roasting some of the fresh cauliflower varieties (like cheddar and purple head) available at farm stands now.
The fire-roasting upgrade
Like all cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is delicious roasted in a wood-fired oven. Its nutritional value and versatility inspired me to try a few of the current trends. Roasting cruciferous vegetables in a wood-fired oven creates amazing taste upgrades that win over family and friends who shudder at over-cooked, water-boiled Brussels sprouts and cabbage. The same holds true for all cruciferous veggies—roasted at high heat, they are remarkably delicious.
Cauliflower the multi-tasker
Cauliflower has become a popular substitute for starchy vegetables. In low-carb diets, it replaces mashed potatoes, rice, pizza crust, and pasta—probably many more. Many of these recipes call for “ricing” the cauliflower either in a blender or food processor. We wanted to amp up the flavor by roasting it and tried two techniques.
Which to do first, rice or roast?
We tested both methods: ricing and roasting first. The flavors were similar, but the batch we riced first ended up with a lighter, fluffier texture. Dealing with the moisture in cauliflower is a challenge in dishes where it is substituted for an absorbent starch like rice or potatoes. The ample room in a wood-fired oven makes it easy to spread the “rice” across a large tray and roast it evenly.
On the other hand, the roasted florets developed beautiful caramelization. Roasting larger pieces worked well for dishes like mashed cauliflower where moisture added to a rich mouth feel. If you roast a big batch, you can divide it between roasted florets for one meal and riced cauliflower for another.
While cauliflower is in season and plentiful, try some of these delicious recipes. If you don’t have a wood-burning oven, fire up the heat in your conventional oven and finish the cauliflower under the broiler for a little browning.
Roasted cauliflower muffins with pastured egg
These cheesy cauliflower bites are great as snacks or sides, but really come into their own when served under a fried or poached egg. The muffins soak up the egg yolk in a guilt-free brunch dish. (Inspired by iBreathe.)
2 cups roasted cauliflower rice
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups grated cheese (cheddar mixed with mozzarella or Jack)
1 tablespoon onion flakes
2 eggs, beaten
one jalapeño, deveined and minced
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup coconut flour
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
Mix ingredients and divide into muffin cups. Bake in your wood-fired oven until golden (or at 375 in a conventional oven for about 30 minutes). Serve with fried or poached eggs.
Sour cream and roasted garlic cauliflower
Make with roasted rice, or use an immersion blender to create an even creamier texture that mimics mashed potatoes.
1 head of cauliflower, riced and roasted
1-2 tablespoons roasted garlic, minced
3 tablespoons melted grass-fed butter
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup garlic chives (or scallions) chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Black pepper and sea salt to taste