I love Paula Wolfert and I love cauliflower. Here is a recipe from Paula for cauliflower. What could be better?
As a cookbook writer, Paula has been a visionary, an innovator who was exploring and writing about authentic Mediterranean cuisine long before it was trendy. Her classic book on Moroccan food was published in 1973, and she has promoted the food of the region ever since with a series of acclaimed books such as The Cooking of Southwest France, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, Mediterranean Grains and Greens, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking and, most recently, The Cooking of Morocco (2012 James Beard Award winner for best international cookbook).
Recently, Wolfert was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Well, actually, to be precise, she was diagnosed by two different neurologists with either early-stage Alzheimer’s disease or “mild cognitive impairment, a form of dementia that can progress to Alzheimer’s.” In addition to changing her diet by adding in more super foods, she has become an Alzheimer’s activist. This April, she is behind a fundraiser dinner for the cause. The Mediterranean Feast menu will include her pan roasted cauliflower.
As she explained in a PBS segment with Judy Woodruff, Wolfert learned this cauliflower recipe from a well-known chef and cookbook author, Arto der Haroutunian (born in Syria to Armenian parents and then transplanted to England). She likes it because “it is so simple to make.”
This is the basic idea: cook cauliflower in oil in a pot until it gets soft and caramelized. Then add garlic, tomatoes, raisins and pine nuts. After that, put in in the oven in an oven-proof casserole. Finally, sprinkle with lemon juice and parsley. It is a nice change of pace from the usual oven-roasted cauliflower and the texture is superior, I think.
Pan Roasted Cauliflower
Adapted from Paula Wolfert. I changed around the directions just a little. Take a look at the original recipe–Wolfert’s way is the authentic way and my way is the not-so -authentic-but-easier-for-me way. The first time I made it, the cauliflower was cooked the normal amount of time, which was good. The next time, I cooked the cauliflower to death, which was much better. Cooked longer, the cauliflower is tender, sweet and easier to eat in general.
4 Tbl. olive oil
4 cups cauliflower florets
1 tsp. sugar (can leave out–I’ve tried with and without and without is fine)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbl. raisins (original recipe calls for plumping in hot water for 10 minutes-not necessary IMHO)
2 cups diced tomatoes (preferably peeled and seeded, but I have also made this with halved grape tomatoes)
2 Tbl. pine nuts (I substitute sliced/slivered almonds because pine nuts are so expensive)
salt, pepper, to taste
pinch crushed red pepper (I use a little hot sauce)
2 Tbl. chopped parsley or scallions
1 1/2 Tbl. lemon juice
Heat the oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the florets (with sugar, if using) and cook, stirring often, until the cauliflower softens and browns. You will not need to stir so much at the beginning and you will need to stir almost constantly towards the end as the cauliflower browns deeply and a fond (a layer of sticky brown caramelized gunk) forms on the bottom of the pot.
Once the cauliflower is very tender and well browned, add the garlic and stir for a minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the raisins, tomatoes and hot pepper. Cook some more, about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes soften and the raisins plump. Stir 1/4 cup hot water, adjust seasoning as needed and put in a heat-proof casserole pan. Sprinkle over the nuts. Heat in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, until cauliflower is very tender.
Sprinkle over parsley (or scallion) and lemon juice and let stand 30 minutes before serving.
This tastes even better if reheated and kept warm for a long time in the oven.
Note: the second time I made this, I cooked the cauliflower so long in the pan that it didn’t need to be baked in the oven. After I added the hot water, I just stirred everything around to delgaze the pan and cooked it a couple of minutes more. Then I put the cauliflower into a oven-proof casserole with the lemon juice, nuts and chopped scallion for later reheating in the oven before serving.