Where cauliflower dares to trend

David Hagedorn / Special to The Washington Post /


Published Oct 15, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

If you dine out frequently, you might find that a chef's influence on what you eat extends beyond the restaurant. As evidence, I pose this question: Have mussels, charcuterie or flatbreads found their way onto your dining room table over the past year or two?

The truth is, chefs get bored easily and are always looking for an ingredient, whether never-heard-of or resurrected, that will become the next big thing that diners will revere and their peers will emulate. Even the side dish section of the menu, for years a rote addendum of asparagus, haricots verts and creamed spinach, is part of a trending phenomenon. If you don't think so, I have seven words for you: maple-glazed Brussels sprouts with applewood bacon.

If indications on restaurant menus all over Washington are accurate, cauliflower may well be the new Brussels sprouts.

I admit to a bit of bias. I adore Brussels sprouts, but I find cauliflower to be a much more visibly alluring vegetable, with its bold globes of cream-white curds and nests of vibrant greenery.

Those stocky outer leaves protect the head from sunlight, impeding chlorophyll development and accounting for the vegetable's color. Its nutritional characteristics are appealing — low in fats and carbs, high in Vitamin C and a source of potassium, folate, Vitamin B6, fiber and protein — and you can do just about anything to cauliflower in addition to eating it raw, including grating it for “risotto,” as some chefs do.

“I like that it is so versatile,” says Mike Isabella. “It can take the lead in a dish or highlight another ingredient. It can have the most subtle profile, such as a puree to go with lobster, or even be the centerpiece of a sandwich.”

Roasting cauliflower is a preferred method among food pros, for good reason. It rids the vegetable of much of its water, concentrates its flavor and adds the extra dimension of caramelization.

Recipes

Roasted Cauliflower with Pistachios, Olives and Raisins
Makes 6 servings.
1 lg head (2 lbs) cauliflower (outer leaves removed), broken into 11⁄2-inch florets
3 TBS canola oil
1⁄2 tsp kosher salt
1⁄2 C golden raisins
1⁄4 C dry vermouth
3 TBS unsalted butter
1⁄2 C shelled, roasted unsalted pistachios
1⁄3 C cured pitted black olives, coarsely chopped
1⁄2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Coat the cauliflower florets with the oil and salt, then spread them on the baking sheet with any flat edges down. Bake on the lower rack for 20 minutes.

Preheat the broiler, then transfer the baking sheet to the top rack and broil for 10 minutes. The florets should be browned and tender.

Meanwhile, place the raisins in a small bowl. Warm the vermouth in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, then pour it over the raisins to plump them.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter stops foaming and its solids start to brown, turning the butter golden in color, stir in the pistachios, olives, crushed red pepper flakes and lemon zest and juice. Stir the plumped raisins and any remaining vermouth into the mix. Remove from the heat.

Transfer the broiled cauliflower to the saute pan, stirring to coat and incorporate.

Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving: 280 calories, 6 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar.

— Inspired by the whole roasted cauliflower with pine nuts, black olives and golden raisins that chef Nick Stefanelli has featured on his vegetarian tasting menu at Bibiana in Washington, D.C.

Roasted Cauliflower Gratin
Makes 6 servings.
There is no need to whip up a bechamel sauce for this quick version of a gratin, made all the more alluring by first oven-roasting the cauliflower.
You'll need an 8-cup gratin dish.
Make ahead: The cauliflower can be roasted several hours in advance; warm it through in a saute pan with the cream, then assemble the gratin and broil.
1 lg head (2 lbs) cauliflower (outer leaves removed), broken into 11⁄2-inch florets
3 TBS canola oil
1⁄2 tsp kosher salt
1⁄2 C heavy cream
1 sm clove garlic, minced
1⁄2 C grated Gruyere cheese
1⁄2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1⁄2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the cauliflower florets, oil and salt in a mixing bowl to coat. Spread the florets on the baking sheet, flat edges down. (Wipe out the bowl; you'll use it again.) Bake on the lower rack for 20 minutes, then turn the oven on broil. Once it's preheated, transfer the cauliflower to the top rack and broil for 7 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned and tender. Keep the broiler on.

Transfer the florets to the same bowl you first used. Add the cream, garlic, Gruyere cheese, half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and all the pepper and nutmeg. Stir to incorporate, then spoon the cauliflower into a large gratin dish. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and return to the broiler for 5 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.

Serve hot.

Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories, 20 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 370 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar, 9 g protein.

Crisped Cauliflower with Lemon Tahini Sauce
Makes 4 servings.
Make ahead: The tahini sauce can be made a week in advance.
For the sauce:
1 C tahini
1⁄2 C fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 C water
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp kosher salt
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
For the cauliflower:
4 C canola oil, for frying
1⁄2 head cauliflower, cut into 11⁄2-inch florets (4 C)
Kosher salt
Leaves from 1⁄2 of a sm bunch of mint, minced

For the sauce: Combine the tahini, lemon juice, water, garlic, salt and hot sauce in a food processor or blender; puree until smooth.

For the cauliflower: Line a baking sheet with paper towels, then place a wire cooling rack over it.

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Working in batches as needed, carefully add the florets and fry for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the florets to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Season them with salt while still hot.

Transfer to a serving bowl; garnish with the mint. Serve with tahini sauce on the side.

Nutrition information per serving (using half the sauce): 320 calories, 8 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 28 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 590 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.

— When chef Haidar Karoum was growing up, this was a favorite dish his father would make. Now it's a bestseller on his menu at Proof restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Cauliflower Risotto
Makes 6 servings.
When you grate cauliflower down to its core, you create rice-size pieces perfect for mimicking a classic risotto.
1 head (2 lbs) cauliflower (outer leaves removed), cored and halved
2 TBS canola oil
1⁄2 sm yellow onion, finely chopped (1⁄2 C)
1⁄2 tsp kosher salt
3⁄4 C dry white wine
1 C no-salt-added vegetable broth, warmed
1⁄4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
2 TBS unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⁄2 C grated Manchego cheese
1⁄2 C heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks, then brought to room temperature

Use the large-hole side of box grater to grate each cauliflower half into rice-size pieces, stopping once you get to the stalk. The yield should be about 4 cups. (Cut the stalks into 1⁄2-inch pieces and reserve for another use, such as a puree or soup.)

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes, until softened but not browned, stirring constantly. Add the cauliflower and salt; cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the white wine and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated.

Add the broth in three equal additions, stirring for about 3 minutes, until each addition has been absorbed.

Add the pepper, nutmeg, butter and cheese, stirring until incorporated, then stir in the cream.

Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving: 230 calories, 19 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar, 4 g protein.

— District of Columbia chefs Bart Vandaele of B Too restaurant and Aaron McCloud of Cedar often feature cauliflower risotto on their menus. This recipe takes aspects of both chefs' versions and combines them.

Peppery Gobi Matar
Makes 6 servings.
Cathal Armstrong, chef and co-owner of Restaurant Eve in Old Town Alexandria, Va., features a Cauliflower With Toasted Garlic and Black Pepper recipe in his forthcoming cookbook. He simply sautes cauliflower until golden brown, then adds loads of thinly sliced garlic and freshly ground black pepper.
This recipe takes it a step further, ratcheting up the heat to mimic the Indian dish gobi (cauliflower) matar (peas).
3 TBS canola oil
1 sm head (1 lb) cauliflower (outer leaves removed), broken into 11⁄2-inch florets
1 tsp kosher salt
2 TBS unsalted butter
1 tsp best-quality curry powder
12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, minced (4 tsp)
1 serrano chili pepper, thinly sliced (unseeded)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 C fresh peas (may substitute 1 C frozen peas, plunged into hot water, then drained)

Heat the oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the cauliflower florets and salt; cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the florets are nicely browned on all sides.

Make a well in the center of the pan; add the butter there. Once it has melted, stir the curry powder into the butter; cook for several seconds, then add the garlic, ginger, serrano pepper, black pepper and peas. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently to coat and incorporate.

Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories, 3 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.