Thursday, November 14, 2013

The other white starch: Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic and Lemon

(Image from

One of my first semi-independent culinary memories involves boiling cauliflower in 7th grade Home Economics class and then drowning it in a b├ęchamel cheese sauce. Other than that, the only times I remember munching on this tree-shaped veggie was on appetizer trays with French Onion Dip made from the green-and-yellow Knorr box. She never said as much, but it's safe to assume that Mom wasn't exactly a champion of cauliflower. And so, as I trudged into adulthood and developed a cooking repertoire of my own, the idea of including these mild-tasting florets didn't even cross my mind.

That is, until two years ago, midway through my first fall season at the Farmstand, when I found myself faced with bushels of multicolored cauliflower and a barrage of customer interrogations: How do you cook cauliflower? What are the health benefits? Do Cheddar and purple cauliflower taste much different than white cauliflower? What the heck is Romanesco?

Since the internet could only take me so far, I eventually broke down and brought home a particularly large, Cheddar-yellow head, but my first attempts at purees and raw salads were uninspiring. No matter what the blogs might say, when what you really want is mashed potatoes, cauliflower puree (tasty though it may be) is not a viable substitute. So I gave up on cooking it myself (opting instead for lush winter squashes and sweet potatoes) and I turned to the internet for recipe ideas and talking points to carry me through my next fall-winter season. (Did you know that cauliflower is actually an undeveloped flower? What about the fact that it's a great source of vitamin C, is packed with cancer-preventative nutrients, and has fewer calories than a potato? Fun fact! Romanesco cauliflowers are one of the most perfect examples of naturally occurring fractals.)

It wasn't until this year—my third fall at the Farmstand—that I brought home another head of cauliflower (this time an enormous stark-white one), determined to find a cooking method that would make me fall in love with the stuff. You see, if working in the food industry has taught me anything, it's that whenever you think you don't like a certain food, it's probably just because you haven't had it prepared the right way. This time, inspired by one of Emeril Lagasse's recipes, I decided to roast the cauliflower and serve it with steak and kale as an alternative to heavier baked potatoes. By keeping it in florets, I hoped that the texture and bulk would give it a more substantial, satisfying feel. And my hunch was that the lemon in the recipe would cut the richness of the steak, which I planned to top with coins of herb butter.

When the cauliflower was done, I snitched one caramelized floret from the pan, blew on it a little, and placed it on my tongue. With one bite I knew I'd found a winner. All this time, cauliflower had just been begging to be roasted...and I was only just hearing its plea. With just a few simple seasonings and fifteen minutes in the oven, the sweet, nutty flavor emerged triumphant.

Alas, I am not hosting Thanksgiving this year, but if I were, I would definitely roast up a few heads of multi-colored cauliflower. It takes no longer than 20 minutes—prep included—and just think how the lemony zing and nutty, caramelized flavor would offset rich gravies, stuffings, and casseroles. If you're not yet a cauliflower convert, this might just make you one...

Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic and Lemon

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets (there should be 5 to 6 cups)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Place the cauliflower in a single layer in a roasting pan or large oven-proof saute pan. Drizzle the olive oil evenly over the cauliflower, then scatter the garlic on top and sprinkle the lemon juice, salt, and pepper evenly on top of that. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the edges of the cauliflower florets begin to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the cauliflower with the Parmesan just before serving.


  1. I do something similar, Peg, with the cauliflower cut into "Steaks" instead of broken into florets. I also love, love, love mashed Cauliflower instead of potatoes. It's delish! For Thanksgiving this year I am making a curried Cauliflower soup that is pureed with coconut milk and topped with tamari pumpkin seeds as a first course. :) When I was little I couldn't stand this veggie. Cooked or raw. Thankful my palate has changed.

    1. Yes, I am so thankful my palate has changed, too. I love cauliflower when it's pureed or mashed...but one night I made the mistake of not warning John that they weren't mashed potatoes, and the look of disappointment on his face was priceless. haha.

  2. Roasted cauliflower is delish! I've recently started roasting all my vegetables and I have yet to find one that doesn't taste amazing.