Best Cauliflower Ever

The food: Crispy Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers and Raisins

The story:

I have mixed feelings about cauliflower. Partly because if you roast it, your house stinks for hours afterwards, kitchen exhaust fan or no exhaust fan. Then there’s the whole gas-inducing aspect of it to consider.

But when it’s good – which, for me, tends to be when it’s browned, crisp-edged and caramelized – it’s delicious in a popcorn-y, roast potato-ish way. But with more nutritional benefits than those starchy foods.

I’ve blogged before about a regular dish in my home-cooking repertoire, Indian-style cauliflower with potatoes and peas, and just recently I had a very nice battered deep-fried rendition at Balaboosta in New York.

But the best cauliflower dish I have ever eaten is cauliflower with almonds, capers and raisins made from a recipe credited to Michael Anthony of the Gramercy Tavern restaurant and published in the New York Times.

The NYT piece tells a charming story about the chef creating the dish for his girlfriend in a successful attempt to convert her to the ranks of cauliflower lovers. The technique for it is a little fussy but the result is a mouth-pleasing combination of textures and flavours that takes cauliflower to a whole new level of awesomeness.

Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers and Raisins Adapted from Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern

1 head cauliflower, trimmed of leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons fresh soft bread crumbs (I used Panko, and the trick is to NOT use too many)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons whole almonds (again, use this amount and not more)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon finely sliced chives.
(I used only parsley of the fresh herbs and the dish was still amazing though it would undoubtedly be more amazing with the tarragon and chives as well.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut cauliflower from top to bottom in flat 1-inch thick slices. Place a large ovenproof skillet over low heat and add 1 tablespoon butter. When it has melted, add bread crumbs and toss until toasted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a plate and wipe out pan.

2. Return pan to medium heat and add 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add almonds and toss until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer almonds to a plate, let cool, and cut each almond into three pieces; set aside.

3. Wipe out pan and return to medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and cauliflower slices. Saute until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer pan to oven and roast until tender, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and add raisins, vinegar and 1 tablespoon water. Simmer until raisins are plump and soft, about 5 minutes; drain and set aside. In a small bowl, combine almonds, capers, raisins, parsley, tarragon and chives. Season with salt and pepper and toss to mix.

4. Arrange roasted cauliflower on a serving platter. Spoon almond-herb mixture evenly on top and sprinkle with toasted bread crumbs. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

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