There is a season: Caramelized cauliflower sweet from the oven

  • Cauliflower, browned and caramelized by 40 minutes in the oven, is topped with romesco sauce. MOLLY PARR

For the Gazette
Published: 12/25/2020 7:37:52 PM

Winter has settled on the area, which means I do a lot of complaining about the temperature, the snow, and the slim pickings when it comes to fresh vegetables. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the produce we do have — I love a good beet salad. But now we’ve entered the time of year when my pantry starts to play a key role in dishes.

That means there’s oftentimes a bowl of beans soaking overnight on the counter. I do more with pasta and grains, and my canned and jarred vegetables start appearing in dishes. There are still fresh vegetables, but I must admit I do tire of rutabagas by the end of January. Don’t even get me started on March.

This dish makes use of pantry items to elevate a vegetable available now — the mundane cauliflower — into a regal dish that could be ordered in a fancy restaurant.

Cauliflower, more than any other vegetable, thrives in a hot oven. It changes from white and bulbous to brown and caramelized with a sweet nuttiness that I am powerless to stop eating. I sliced a head into one-inch thick steaks and roasted them whole, then played with them as though they were a blank canvas to be decorated.

Sometimes I make a pesto for this, but more often than not, I whip up a romesco sauce with jarred roasted red peppers I keep in my pantry, and a combination of nuts I keep in my freezer chest in the basement.

The first time I had romesco was on a handmade ravioli from the late, great Northampton restaurant Viva Fresh Pasta about 15 years ago. Depending on the size of the jar of peppers, I make a double portion that then gets used as a spread on bread, as a pasta sauce, tossed with beans, and slathered chimichurri-style on these unbelievably tasty cauliflower steaks.

Last night I made this dish and my husband and I devoured the entire cauliflower as though it was candy. There were no leftovers. I suspect if you made this dish, the same would be true.

Cauliflower steaks

One head cauliflower, cleaned

Extra virgin olive oil

Pinch kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400F

Set the head of cauliflower on its base on a cutting board. Using a chef’s knife, slice it into 1-inch slabs. There should be about five whole pieces, but don’t neglect the crumbs and uneven bits. Take those, plus the slabs, and toss with a glug of oil and pinch of salt.

Lay the slabs, and all the little bits, down on a large roasting pan.

Roast on the middle rack of the hot oven. Check it at 20 minutes, although it should take about 40 minutes for proper browning and caramelization to take place.

While the cauliflower roasts, make the romesco sauce.

When the cauliflower has completely softened and browned, remove the tray from the oven.

Romesco sauce

One half cup of almonds or a quarter cup each of almonds and hazelnuts

2 garlic cloves, peeled

2 roasted red peppers

2 sundried tomatoes (if dried, rehydrate first)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Add the nuts and garlic to the bowl of a food processor and combine for 20 seconds. Add the red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, red wine vinegar, kosher salt and red pepper flakes and process. Drizzle the oil while the processor is going and process long enough for the oil to emulsify but for the nuts to still have a crunch to them.

Plate by topping a cauliflower steak with romesco sauce.

Molly Parr lives in Florence with her husband and two young daughters. She’s been writing her food blog, Cheap Beets, since 2010. Send questions or comments to

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