Cauliflower Panzanella

Sometimes you come home from work and find this staring at you:

Ok, not exactly.  I haven’t actually started having delusions where heads of cauliflower upbraid me for neglecting them at the end of a workday.  But maybe you know how I feel–you have bought a bunch of perishables, merrily thinking about how you’ll have plenty for a week of fresh, healthy meals.  You pick out some things you use immediately, while the sturdier, less glamorous vegetables you’ve bought are passed over day after day.  And then, shopping day long past, all you have is a cauliflower [insert here whatever vegetable you have been avoiding dealing with], and you need to make dinner.  And it’s 5:45, did I mention that?

It’s not that I’m firmly in the anti-cauliflower camp (though as the rest of my household is,  I know anytime I make it I’d better like it as I’m the one who is eating it over the next few days).  I’ve realized that when pan-fried or oven-roasted, when slightly charred and caramelized at the edges, when firm and not mushy in texture, cauliflower can actually be…good?

But though proper preparation is key, proper seasoning is also a must.  While a stint in a hot oven brings out a lot of unsung flavor, I find that cauliflower is still in essence a blank palate that needs something assertive to pep it up.

Anchovy vinaigrette perhaps?

It’s actually a perfect combination.  Somehow, when anchovies are whisked into an emulsion with lemon, garlic, and some olive oil, the resulting golden liquid is irresistible on anything and everything.  Yes, even cauliflower!

So there’s a great side dish, or a casual starter.  But since I bake bread every weekend, I often have a few hunks of that are going a bit stale–not ideal for sandwiches, but perfect for a bread salad.  I tore up half a loaf and added it to my roasted cauliflower and voila:  an easy end of summer meal.

I’d like to tell you that this dish overcame my family’s anti-cauliflower prejudices.  Maybe it would have, if they had deigned to try it.  But I can tell you that I was perfectly happy not to share.

Cauliflower Panzanella

  • One medium head of cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • Day-old country-style loaf of bread (about a half pound or so)
  • 2-3 T olive oil for drizzling

For vinaigrette:

  • 2-3 anchovy filets in oil or preserved in salt (prepared as described here).
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4c olive oil (more if using salt-packed anchovies)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut or break cauliflower into florets and spread in a single layer in a roasting pan or casserole dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on salt and pepper, and use your hands to mix well.  Tear (or cut) up your bread into rough pieces, about the size of large croutons or even larger.  Arrange on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan.

When the oven is hot, place both trays in the oven.  Toast the bread for about 10 minutes, remove from the oven, stir the cauliflower and continue to roast until the cauliflower is tender when pierced with a fork, turning a pale golden brown, even charring in spots, about 15-20 minutes more (25-30 minutes in total). (Note that it is not essential to toast the bread, but I went ahead with it because my oven was being used anyway.  I might have skipped this step if not roasting the cauliflower as well).

While the cauliflower is roasting, make the vinaigrette.  If you have a blender, or mini food processor, put all the ingredients into your mixer (breaking up the anchovies with your hands a bit) and process until emulsified.  If you don’t have a mixer to use, mince the anchovies as if you were mincing garlic (it will start to form something like a paste) and mix together with the lemon juice and garlic.  Whisk in the oil in a stream to emulsify and make the dressing.   Taste and correct seasonings (I had to add more salt, as I was wary of adding much at the beginning, knowing that anchovies themselves are very salty).

When the cauliflower is done, mix it together with the bread, drizzle the dressing on top, and toss.