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Cauliflower with Capers and Pine Nuts

In mid-December, we made the awesome decision to give 30 days notice and move into a new apartment. It was a snap judgment based on a strong desire for more space (try living and working in a 630 sq ft apartment--the charm wears off fast) and the knowledge that the apartment we desired wouldn't stay on the market long. We thought, oh hey, we'll go do our holiday traveling, and then when we get back we'll move.

What we didn't plan on was me getting the flu, and then that flu morphing into a sinus infection. The first ten days of January, for us, were comprised of little more than cardboard boxes, piles of used tissues, and oven cleaner smell. To his credit, John made two batches of chicken soup for me before we packed up the pots and pans, but after that it was takeout all the way. And NyQuil.

All that is behind us, thankfully, and we're getting to know our new-ish kitchen (to be fair, it was new in the 50s). Like most apartment kitchens, there is much to be desired, but we've both cooked in rental kitchens for so long that we just don't care. If it can be cooked, we will cook it in the kitchen we have. There's no use complaining about the appliances not being stainless steel and the lack of a hood fan. Hell, we're going to cook whatever we want anyway, smoke detectors be damned.

There is a learning curve to a new kitchen, but the best way to get over that hump is by cooking. A lot. And right now we're cooking with a lot of brassicas, since that is the one vegetable family that has figured out how to dominate winter. 

I adore a good cauliflower dish. It's just a lovely vegetable, with enough of that brassica pluck to keep things interesting, but with a generally mild, receptive disposition. It takes well to strong flavors and stands up like a champ to high heat. There isn't much sugar in cauliflower, so you can get it really, really brown without burning it in the blink of an eye. And browning is what cauliflower needs. Please--no more mushy steamed cauliflower. There aren't many injustices in the world that we can stop, but mushy cauliflower is one of them. That cauliflower needs to look like it just had a sabbatical in Miami.

This dish is all about contrast. Slightly crispy browned cauliflower, nutty brown butter, salty capers, pine nuts, sweet golden raisins, and puckery lemon juice. There's no real trick to this--get the cauliflower really brown. If it's not tender by the time it's brown, pour in a little water and cover the pan to steam it. Really, do what you want. We love capers, but we understand that some people don't enjoy them--use chopped green olives instead (I'm thinking Castelvetrano or Lucques olives would be perfect). Pine nuts are expensive, so use toasted, chopped almonds or hazelnuts or even walnuts. Add anchovies if you like and have those. Throw in red pepper flakes. Shards of Parmesan wouldn't be amiss here either.

I ate this over farro, but it would be a great side dish for an Italian meal or as the star, tossed with gnocchi or over braised dandelion greens (if over greens, definitely use the Parmesan). 

Other brassica-based dishes you might enjoy: Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Dukkah-Spiced Yogurt, Cabbage Gratin, Mashed Cauliflower with Shallots and Fried Sage

Cauliflower with Capers and Pine Nuts
Serves 4 as a side dish (can easily be doubled)

Cut into florets:
           1 small head cauliflower (about 1 pound)
Cut the florets in half so that each floret has a flat side that will sit well in the skillet.
Heat in a large skillet over medium heat:
           2 tablespoons neutral oil (safflower, canola...)
Place the florets in a single layer in the pan. Cook until very deep golden brown on the cut sides. Do not rush this. It may take about 15 to 20 minutes to get the florets well-browned.
After browning, my cauliflower wasn't quite tender to my liking, so I poured about 2 tablespoons water into the pan and covered it to steam the florets. Just poke the cauliflower with a fork--cook it until you think it's tender enough.
Remove the browned cauliflower to a serving plate. I arranged it so the browned sides were facing up because it's pretty that way.
In the same skillet that you cooked the cauliflower in, melt:
           2 tablespoons butter
Let the butter brown slightly. If you've left the pan over medium heat, this shouldn't take long. Add:
           2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Be careful. The butter is hot and will probably sizzle dramatically. Use a spatula to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add:
           1 tablespoon capers (or chopped green olives)
           2 tablespoons golden raisins
           2 tablespoons pine nuts (or chopped almonds or hazelnuts)
           1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
           1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Stir to coat the nuts and raisins with butter. Taste. It may need more lemon juice or salt--do not be shy with the lemon juice. Spoon this mixture over the cauliflower. Garnish with:
           Chopped parsley


Vanessa's picture

This looks great-going to make it tonight!
Shivali's picture

It sounds so easy & im sure it will taste great!! Thanks for sharing :)
Sahera's picture

Woow!! I'm hungry . haha

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           4 cups (1 quart) water (preferably not chlorinated)
Remove from the heat and add:
           8 tea bags or 2 tablespoons loose...