Friday, February 13, 2015

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese

Hailing from the Food52 column entitled "Genius Recipes," I don't even know where to start with the sheer brilliance of this Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese recipe. Is it the presentation's artistic forte, a perfectly crackled crust atop a dome of bronzed brassicaceae?  Is it the extraordinary aromatic broth, punchy and piquant, precise for poaching? Is it the whipped goat cheese topping, sinfully creamy, finished masterfully with a light drizzle of olive oil and sea salt? Or is it the fact that this silly, under-appreciated vegetable is elevated to steak status, treated with utmost sophistication and refinement?


The answer (D! All of the above!) is obviously a combination of each of these things. And why—in my own streak of genius—I, the cauliflower steak cooking virgin, took the plunge and tried this for the first time on a crowd. Big risk, big reward: it received an overwhelmingly positive response, and therefore I get to share with you!

You heard it here first: cauliflower, broccoli's lesser-loved, pasty cousin, is quickly emerging as the hottest trending vegetable. The culinary world has finally flexed some creative muscle on the blank canvas that is the bland, awkward heft of a vegetable—ironically, the same characteristic that banished it to banality before. Off the top of my head, I've seen it processed into rice, turned into pizza crust, act as the "meat" for vegan buffalo bites, and now whole roasted as a steak. (In restaurants, it's generally served with a large steak knife thrust deeply into the center—now we're just being dramatic.)

Though roasted whole, the cauliflower works best as a side—cut into wedges to split amongst diners. The recipe makes a more than generous amount of whipped goat cheese (its pretty rich), so I recommend halving the recipe if you don't plan to use it as a sauce for other things. (Have faith though, I would literally eat it slathered on a rock.) The poaching liquid, which falls quizzically into the "best thing I ever ate" category despite utilizing only pantry items, can also be reserved for other uses: you can save it to make this recipe again the very next night (I did!) or use as a broth for mussels, pasta, or zuppa di pesce.

The original recipe is written by Alon Shaya for Bon Appetit, was slightly adapted by Kristen Miglore for Food52, and further adapted (lightened up) by me. I've proactively eliminated all butter, cream cheese, and cream; leaving all decadence to the poaching liquid and goat cheese, and of course, the natural flavors of the man of the hour, le cauliflower.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese (adapted from Food52)
Serves 4 side servings

Ingredients:
Roasted Cauliflower:
1 head cauliflower, whole, stem trimmed and leaves removed
2 ½ cups dry white wine
cup olive oil plus more for serving (can use less, but cauliflower may not thoroughly brown and crackle)
kosher salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bay leaf

Whipped Goat Cheese:
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
3 ounces feta cheese
6 ounces plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil plus more for serving
Coarse sea salt

 Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 475° F. Bring wine, oil, a generous sprinkle of salt, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, sugar, bay leaf, and 8 cups water to a boil in a large pot.
  2. Carefully lower in cauliflower, reduce heat, and simmer, turning occasionally, until a knife easily inserts into center, 12 minutes.
  3. Using 2 slotted spoons or a mesh strainer or spider, transfer cauliflower to a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, draining well. Reserve at least ½ cup of poaching liquid.
  4. Roast, rotating pan halfway through, until brown all over, 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. While cauliflower is roasting, make whipped goat cheese: blend goat cheese, feta, yogurt, and 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a food processor until smooth; season with sea salt. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil. (Note: Whipped goat cheese can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill in the refrigerator.)
  6. When cauliflower is finished roasting, transfer to a plate. Spoon a few tablespoons of poaching liquid over the cauliflower. Serve with whipped goat cheese.

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