This whole-roasted cauliflower dish has been in the making for quite a while. I first tasted it in a restaurant in D.C. and have been trying to replicate the pure and unadulterated cauliflower taste with a nutty charred crusty exterior. It is the centerpiece of menus all over the country and beyond, to Paris and Tel Aviv. The craze has been picked up by celebrity chefs, like Jamie Oliver and Giada De Laurentiis.
According to the NY Times Recipe Lab columnist Julia Moskin: “One reason the dish has become so popular is that a whole cauliflower behaves very much like a roast of meat, in the oven and on the table. Its rough outer surface grabs onto flavor elements like fresh herbs, lemon juice and crushed spices. The whole head can be marinated or basted and browned, but the inside remains silky and tender.”
It looks so simple. But, boy, it’s easier said than done. The challenge for the home cook is to brown the exterior, while keeping the interior cooked and soft. Not mushy soft but with a bite and a satisfying toothsomeness. All that should be done with the cauliflower remains intact, not in pieces. Getting the outside browned is not an issue. But getting the inside moist and tender with a slight crunch at the same time could be a big challenge.
I like Jamie Oliver’s method of roasting the cauliflower and Giada De Laurentiis’s parsley sauce. The roasting method in Oliver’s recipe keeps the cauliflower whole. Giada’s parsley sauce helps to retain the pure unadulterated cauliflower flavor I desire. Combining the two recipes, I get a properly roasted whole head of cauliflower and a light sauce, that does not overshadow the taste of fresh cauliflower.
With some tweaking with the roasting techniques (see the tips and cheat sheet below for details), I think we have a fantastic tasting cauliflower, roasted and presented whole, and sliced up when served — just like a piece of steak, meanwhile showcasing cauliflower at its best.
Once you get the proper methodology, it is fairly straightforward to cook the head of cauliflower. Rub it with some olive oil and salt. Slow roast the whole head for an hour and a half. Make the herb sauce. The end result is a bold and gorgeous looking whole-roasted cauliflower. The clean taste, texture and aroma of fresh vegetable is what I so adore.
- Set your oven temperature at 375°F with a pan of hot water on the bottom rack to create steam. (I set my combi-steam oven at 350°F convection and 40% steam.)
- Roast the head of cauliflower in a preheated and hot cast-iron pan, core side down and uncovered, in the oven.
- Don’t be afraid to deeply brown the cauliflower. It may take longer than 1 1/2 hr, depending on the oven and size of the cauliflower. Test for desired doneness, inside the cauliflower.