Roasting has the power to transform just about any food, but this effortless cooking technique is most dramatic when applied to winter vegetables.
This is one reason that I’m the person at the table who immediately looks at the side dishes (not dessert!) when I am handed a restaurant menu. If they have roasted vegetables, I have to order them.
These days, well-roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are my favorites. But the same technique can be applied to any hard, dense vegetable — sweet potatoes, beets, fennel, whole shallots, carrots, acorn and butternut squash. Even baking potatoes and broccoli are elevated by this technique.
This dish is delicious and healthy, to boot. I roast one to two whole heads of cauliflower until caramelized, then drizzle on an aromatic vinaigrette of capers, shallots and garlic.
The vinaigrette is good when all the ingredients are raw, but when you flash-fry them they become sweet and caramelized and match the tenor of the roasted vegetables. I love the combination of the crispy, yet tender and deeply roasted cauliflower contrasted by the clean, tangy vinegar and Dijon mustard in the vinaigrette.
Roasting transforms cauliflower from something difficult to eat to something you can’t get enough of. I liken it to popcorn because it can be similarly addictive. It is almost a magic trick to see how quickly this dish disappears, especially with people who wouldn’t touch raw or steamed cauliflower.
Roasted Cauliflower Florets
Start to finish: 45 minutes
2 heads cauliflower (about 41/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste
Fried caper vinaigrette (recipe below)
Minced country ham for garnish, optional
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet.
Wash and trim both heads of cauliflower, cutting out and discarding the core and cutting the top into large florets. Place the florets into a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, then toss (you may need to do this in 2 batches) until all the surfaces of the cauliflower are coated with a thin film of oil. Sprinkle with salt and toss again to distribute evenly.
Place the florets on the prepared rack. Roast for 30 minutes. Use tongs to turn the florets, then roast for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until deeply caramelized.
Return the florets to the bowl and, while still hot, drizzle and toss with a little of the fried caper vinaigrette (recipe follows). Add just enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat. Transfer the florets to a serving platter, then sprinkle with minced country ham.
Nutrition information per serving (calculated using a quarter of the vinaigrette recipe) (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 130 calories; 70 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 6 g fiber; 570 mg sodium.
Don’t feel like frying the capers, shallots and garlic? Give them a rough chop, then add them raw to the vinaigrette. Salt-cured capers should always be rinsed with cold water, then dried with paper towels before being used. This recipe makes plenty. You’ll need about a quarter of it for the cauliflower. The rest can be refrigerated and used on salads.
Start to finish: 10 minutes active, plus cooling
Makes 1 cup
2/3 cup olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon salt-cured capers, rinsed and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 teaspoon grated garlic (about 2 cloves)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
Pinch sea salt and ground black pepper
In a medium saute pan over medium, heat 1/4 cup of the oil. Add the capers, shallots and garlic, then cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 4 minutes, or until just starting to brown but the oil is still clear. Transfer to a medium bowl, including all of the cooking oil, and set aside to cool.
Once the mixture has cooled, add the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. While whisking, drizzle in the remaining oil. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, and use immediately or refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 days.