Recipes

These 2 simple techniques bring out the best in cauliflower

By AMANDA COHEN

New York Times News Service

Charred cauliflower stew.
Charred cauliflower stew. The New York Times

Winter isn’t coming, it’s going, but the supermarkets are still loaded with cauliflower, and that’s a depressing prospect. Some people love this albino broccoli, other people hate it, but no one thinks it’s very exciting.

The cauliflower dish at my restaurant, Dirt Candy, requires a lot of work to wring excitement out of the produce equivalent of Muzak. At home, the rare times I cook it, I do what everyone else does: I roast it. And after a few months of roasted cauliflower, I’m dying for something different.

There are two really simple techniques that bring out the best in cauliflower: grilling and pickling.

Dumping cauliflower florets in a mixture of salt and lemon juice for 45 minutes to an hour turns them into spiky little flavor bombs, delivering high-pitched squeaks in salads, sandwiches or the stew recipe here.

Grilling cauliflower and giving it plenty of char delivers a low bass note that adds an extra dimension of flavor. Mashed cauliflower is bland, but replace half your cauliflower with grilled cauliflower before mashing, and suddenly the dish has a smoky depth. Or, use it in this cauliflower stew for an unexpected roundness.

Making a stew hearty usually requires long simmers or starting with a roux. While those techniques are great for bringing out the best in meat stews, a late-season vegetable stew should taste as if it’s tumbling toward spring, alive with fresher, brighter, punchier flavors.

This recipe delivers that heartiness by taking out half the soup, blending it and putting it back in the pot. And while cauliflower stew sounds pretty monotone, adding pickled and grilled cauliflower gives it the high and low notes you need to make it sing.

Amanda Cohen is the chef and owner of the restaurant Dirt Candy in Manhattan.

Charred Cauliflower Stew

Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes; yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 heads cauliflower (about 2 pounds each)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the grill

1/4 cup lemon juice

Salt

1 cup diced Spanish onions (about 1 small onion)

1/4 cup minced garlic (about 8 large cloves)

1 1/2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground mustard

Pinch of cayenne

1/2 cup peeled and diced parsnip (about 1 small parsnip)

1/2 cup diced celery (about 2 small stalks)

2 cups peeled and diced Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 pound potatoes)

8 cups vegetable stock or water

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup watercress

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/4 cup minced tarragon

1. Heat the grill to high and lightly oil the grates, if you’d like, to make cleanup easier. (Or, if you don’t have a grill, heat the broiler to high and lightly oil a baking sheet.) Take one of the heads of cauliflower, pull off the leaves, and slice it into big slabs, stalk and all. Throw the slices on the grill and cook on each side until you get nice char marks, about 3 minutes per side, or broil until they turn dark brown, about 10 minutes (no need to flip them). Let slices cool, then roughly chop them. (You aren’t fully cooking the slices; they’ll cook in the stew. What you want to do is get that char on there.)

2. Take the other head of cauliflower and grate 1/2 cup cauliflower florets into a small bowl. Break off a big chunk (about a quarter of the head) and set it aside, then roughly chop the rest.

3. Prepare the pickled cauliflower: Mix the grated cauliflower with lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and let sit until stew is ready to be served.

4. Put 1/4 cup oil in a large pot, and set it over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add onions, garlic, coriander, mustard and cayenne. Cook, stirring, until onions are almost translucent but haven’t browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

5. Stir in parsnips and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips soften, 3 to 4 minutes.

6. Add the raw chopped cauliflower, the big chunk of cauliflower and the potatoes. Stir a few times, then pour in the stock. Increase heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer and let cook until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 18 minutes.

7. Remove from heat and transfer that big chunk of now-cooked cauliflower into a blender along with 2 cups of the soup. Make sure you get some potatoes, parsnips and celery in there. Blend, but do it carefully. Hot soup has a tendency to explode. Start it on low and slowly increase the speed.

8. Pour the blended mixture back into your big pot of stew, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the grilled or broiled cauliflower. When you’re ready to serve, bring it up to a boil again.

9. To serve, divide watercress between 6 large bowls. Ladle the stew into the bowls and top with cheese, tarragon and pickled cauliflower.

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