JeanMarie Brownson: It’s all about cauliflower

Jeanmarie Brownson: It’s All About Cauliflower
JeanMarie Brownson/TNS

Colorful cauliflowers retain their pretty hues when briefly blanched or roasted.

Cauliflower is experiencing more than 15 minutes of fame. A great deal of the popularity arises from internet recipes for cauliflower “steak.” Supermarkets sell frozen “riced” cauliflower and gluten-free pizza crusts. But nothing beats freshly cooked, slightly toothsome, peak-of-the-season florets on our table.

During the season, deep purple and lime green varieties, as well as spiky Romanesco, join the pretty white heads of this member of the cabbage family. We snap up bright orange cauliflower, aka cheddar cauliflower, at produce markets and farmers stands to roast, boil or grill.

The colorful cauliflowers retain their pretty hues when briefly blanched or roasted. Blanched florets, in assorted colors, makes a picnic-worthy salad to serve alongside grilled sausages or pork chops. Just three minutes in boiling water cooks cauliflower florets to the perfect stage for a salad. Drain well and toss with the following recipe for chunky white wine vinaigrette studded with olives, raisins and capers.

For a meatless main, roast a variety of cauliflowers with piquant poblanos and red onions. Serve as is for a vegetable side dish or top the warm mixture with feta cheese cubes and toasted pumpkin seeds for a meatless main or the filling for warm tortillas.

Look for cauliflower heads free of brown or soft spots. If bright-green, unwilted leaves surround the head, definitely cook them; they taste great steamed or roasted. Large, compact heads lend themselves to slicing into “steaks” for roasting or grilling. Smaller heads make beautiful florets: Simply use a paring knife to remove the core before separating the head into pieces just slightly larger than bite-size. Reserve the cores and any trimmings for a creamy soup.

Colorful Cauliflower with Roasted Peppers and Cilantro

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Note: Using two baking sheets helps the vegetables cook evenly and brown nicely. Use any color cauliflower here, they all taste similar, or mix it up and combine several colors.

  • 8 loosely-packed cups (total 24 ounces) cauliflower florets in bite-sized pieces (use assorted colors if desired)
  • 2 medium-size poblano peppers, stemmed, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
  • 1 large red onion, peeled
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Optional toppings:

  • 1 to 2 cups cubed or crumbled feta cheese or queso fresco
  • 1/2 cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or chopped cashews
  • Red chile hot sauce

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees on convection setting or 400 degrees on conventional setting. Have 2 large, nonstick or lightly-oiled baking sheets ready.

2. Divide cauliflower florets among the baking sheets. Cut poblano peppers into 1/2-inch wide strips. Add to baking sheets. Cut onion in half through the stem. Cut each half into 1/4-inch wide wedges. Add to baking sheets. Add half of the oil, salt and pepper to each baking sheet. Toss to coat vegetables nicely with the oil.

3. Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is lightly browned and a knife inserted comes out easily, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Serve sprinkled with cilantro, adding optional toppings as desired.

White Wine Vinaigrette with Olives, Capers and Raisins

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Note: Use this chunky vinaigrette over roasted cauliflower steaks or blanched cauliflower (or broccoli) florets. Or, spoon it over grilled boneless chicken or fish fillets.

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon spice brown mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup each: sliced green olives, dark raisins
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced chives
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Put oils, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a 16-ounce jar or container with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and shake well to mix. Stir in olives, raisins and capers. Refrigerate covered up to a week.

2. For serving, if the vinaigrette is cold, let it come to room temperature. Stir in chives and parsley.

(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)