• Stir It Up: Cauliflower gets an unexpected lift
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     | April 05,2013
     
    John Lee Photo

    Anchovies, lemon and capers turn boring cauliflower into a feast for the taste buds. The photo and recipe are from “Tyler Florence Fresh.”

    For some people it’s a match made in heaven, while for others, it sounds like sheer hell: cauliflower and anchovies.

    Even if you hate, or think you hate, cauliflower or anchovies — or both — you should try this stellar combo, which originated in the Mediterranean. (No one seems to be sure when or where.) The blandness of the cauliflower tones down the assertiveness of the anchovies, while the anchovies give a flavor blast to what can be an otherwise boring vegetable.

    Recipes employing this combination are legion. In northern Italy, anchovies are melted into a dish of olive oil, garlic and butter, and fresh vegetables such as cauliflower are dipped into this “bagna cauda” (“hot bath”). In Sicily, a piquant salad of lightly cooked cauliflower and olives is served with a dressing of pureed anchovies, parsley, capers, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and hot pepper flakes. Italians also enjoy a pasta sauce of cauliflower florets, sauteed in plenty of garlic, olive oil, chopped anchovies and hot red pepper flakes. At our house, a favorite is a Vietnamese dish of cauliflower and fish sauce (bottled fermented fish, often made with anchovies).

    The first recipe below is from Food Network celebrity chef Tyler Florence and his latest book, “Tyler Florence Fresh” (Clarkson Potter, 2012). At first glance, this book seems a bit snooty. Recipes call for ingredients such as sumac, truffles, duck and quail eggs, fenugreek, salmon roe and other items that are not necessarily lying around the kitchen.

    But upon closer inspection, the book proves to have many recipes that are completely accessible to the average home cook. More important, they are presented by a chef who is a champion of both health and flavor, a man who vigorously lays out the many worrisome problems with the modern food supply and encourages us all to go to the market, make informed choices, take those choices home and cook them.

    The second recipe is from “Quick & Easy Vietnamese” by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books, 2005). Both recipes are more than the sum of their parts.



    Roasted Cauliflower With Anchovies, Capers and Fresh Thyme

    Yield: 4 to 6 servings

    For the cauliflower:

    2 heads cauliflower (preferably different colors)

    Extra-virgin olive oil

    Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

    For the garlic chips:

    Olive oil, for frying

    3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

    To finish the dish:

    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

    3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely minced

    2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

    1 tablespoon capers (preferably salt-packed, rinsed and drained)

    4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only

    ½ cup heavy cream

    ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

    ½ lemon

    For serving:

    Freshly cracked black pepper

    Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese



    Roast the cauliflower: Line a platter with paper towels and set aside. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove the green leaves from the cauliflower and reserve. Cut cauliflower heads in half, then into bite-size florets. Cut the stalks into bite-size pieces also. Place the florets and stalk pieces in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden and tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer to the prepared platter.

    Make the garlic chips: Pour ¼ inch oil into a small saucepan or skillet. Add the garlic slices and set the pan over high heat. Heat oil until the chips are golden and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes (depending on how thinly you sliced the garlic). Drain on paper towels and set aside.

    Finish the dish: Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the 1 tablespoon oil and fry the anchovies, garlic, capers and thyme, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the anchovies and infuse the oil. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until fragrant. Add cream and cheese; bring to a simmer. Just before serving, add roasted cauliflower pieces and fold in the reserved cauliflower leaves. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, and top with the fried garlic chips, cracked black pepper and shaved cheese.

    Recipe from “Tyler Florence Fresh” (Clarkson Potter, 2012)

    Vietnamese Cauliflower With Fish Sauce, Garlic and Pepper

    Yield: 4 servings

    2 tablespoons vegetable oil

    1 tablespoon chopped garlic

    About 4 cups cauliflower florets

    2 tablespoons fish sauce (available in Asian or international aisle of most supermarkets)

    2 tablespoons water

    1 teaspoon sugar

    ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

    2 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (green and white parts)

    2 tablespoons cilantro, dill or mint (or combination)



    In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Throw in a tiny piece of garlic and, when it sizzles, add the rest. Toss well and add the cauliflower. Cook 1 minute and toss well, exposing the other sides to the hot pan. Add fish sauce, water, sugar, pepper and scallions, tossing until cauliflower is tender but still pleasantly crunchy. Stir in fresh herbs and serve.

    From “Quick & Easy Vietnamese: 75 Everyday Recipes” by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books, 2005)



    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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