Have you noticed how popular cauliflower has become? For a while, whole roasted cauliflower or thick slabs of sliced and grilled cauliflower were all the rage on restaurant menus but now we’re also seeing cauliflower used as a substitute for rice, pasta and even couscous.
Vegetarians and vegans love it, of course, but so do people avoiding gluten or following a paleo or Atkins diet.
Cauliflower does have an appealing nutritional profile. It is very low in calories, high in fiber and contains substantial amounts of both vitamin C and folic acid. Most people enjoy it lightly cooked but there is no reason not to nibble it raw, if you like it. Unlike certain foods — mushrooms and spinach, to name two — its nutrients do not need cooking to be available to us.
If you have a highly sensitive palate, you cannot simply substitute cauliflower for a carbohydrate without making other adjustments, as its flavor can be quite aggressive, especially if it is cooked too long. Cauliflower is best with strong flavors that match its boldness. Mustard, anchovies, olives, hot chiles, brined green peppercorns, and red wine vinegar all pair well with this brassica.
Roasting, grilling and sautéing tame cauliflower’s flavors and intensify its rich texture; all three techniques produce better results than steaming or boiling, which can make its slightly sulphuric qualities blossom.
You can enjoy cauliflower as a simple side dish or even a main course, especially if you pair it with a flavorful sauce. It is delicious with mustard vinaigrette, anchovy vinaigrette, Italian style salsa verde, chermoula, chimichurri and your favorite olive tapenade.
A classic dish from the 1950s, boiled cauliflower in cream sauce, is not the best way to serve it, especially to anyone wary of it. This dish ruined it for a lot of kids raised in the 50s and 60s, some of whom are just now beginning to warm to cauliflower. The memory of both the smell and taste and, to some, the feel of a metal spoon trying to pry our little mouths open, is a hurdle many of us can’t clear. But, honestly, these recipes are safe, even if you hated cauliflower as a child.
Here’s an easy pasta dish for a busy weeknight. If you have leftovers, be sure to let them come up to room temperature before serving.
Pasta with Cauliflower, Green Onions, Olives and Anchovies
Serves 6 to 8
— Kosher salt
1 pound dried pasta, a medium shapes, such as gnocchi or capatelli
3-4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
— Small florets of 1 cauliflower
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
1 bunch green onion, trimmed and cut into thin rounds
1 cup cracked green olives, pitted and sliced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small dice
Fill a large pot half full with water, season generously with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions until just tender. Drain and tip into a wide, shallow bowl.