Huh. Cauliflower. Who knew it could be so delicious?
The first time I went to the Berkeley Bowl, I remember marveling at the array of orange cauliflower (which contains 25 times the Vitamin A of white varieties; the color is from the massive quantities of beta-carotene in the veggie) and purple cauliflower (whose shocking violet color is caused by the antioxidant anthocyanin, also found in blueberries, red cabbage, and red wine) on display.
Apparently, yes, you can have your vegetables in carnival colors. I still went home with the plain Jane white variety that evening — I dunno, maybe the kaleidoscope cauliflower was just too jarring for me. It’s been awhile since I last bought a head of cauliflower. My renewed interest in it came about after a lovely Italian meal.
Did you ever notice how Italians just have a way with making simple vegetables taste so darn good? It’s the Grade A olive oil they use. That, and invoking la bella vita into their kitchens, no doubt. This particular contorno of cavolfiori was robust and full of flavor. Florets of cauliflower were roasted with sweet garlic, briny anchovies, and gilded with fruity olive oil. As each little cauliflower tree disappeared into my mouth, I plotted my strategy on how to recreate this dish at home.
I started off by cutting the cauliflower in half, then separating the branches into florets. Then, I melted down the anchovies in a skillet, stirring them until a paste formed. My husband is obsessed with all things anchovy (and all things salty for that matter), so I’ve been buying in bulk these little tins of Italian anchovies packed in olive oil.
Next, I add the smashed garlic to the pan, lemon juice, and the cauliflower, tossing it all together so that the anchovy “sauce” coats all the florets. A sprinkle of panko crumbs, a drizzle of olive oil, and into the oven it all goes.
The dish is done when the cauliflower is fork-tender and the panko has turned a crunchy golden brown. Top with grated parmigiano, salt and pepper, and you’ve got yourself one mighty fine side dish. No peacock colors necessary. The bang is all in the taste.