All right, referring to thick slices of cauliflower as “steaks” may be reaching a bit. But it sounds better than “slabs,” and it’s much less wordy than “thick slices of cauliflower.” Come along, please.
The daughter was here visiting for a few (too few) heavenly days. It was bitterly cold the entire time. Between dropping her at the airport very early one morning and the time she arrived home, she’d traveled 91 degrees in temperature. Okay, so I’m including our wind chill in the calculation, but I’m sure you get my drift. It was damn cold.
When we weren’t wrapped in blankets, sipping strong café au lait, reading books and napping, we bundled up and sallied forth to walk the dogs along the river, see a movie, have dinner out. And to collect groceries to cook together at home. It was such a treasure to have her here to cook for and with. Tonight, I turned on the light in her room so it wouldn’t be dark, and began dreaming up a dinner to honor her in my once-again solitary kitchen. I was thinking coffee.
I know you know how addicted I am to The Splendid Table on podcasts. A recent one featured Daniel Patterson talking about roasting vegetables over coffee beans. Well, the daughter had brought me a big, beautiful bag of espresso beans, which we enjoyed mightily, and I had a pretty little head of cauliflower just begging for something to be done with it.
Having a crisper drawer full of carrots for the bunnies (I load them up on carrots and apples in cold weather), I’d been wanting to make a carrot sauce I came across a while ago that just won’t leave me alone.
For once, I planned ahead. On Sunday I settled back in after a long hike with the dogs, and set the cauliflower to roast slowly and gently. The benefits were two-fold: it could take as long it needed to, and the house smelled amazing. And since this dinner comes together in layers, I double-checked that I had a stash of rice in the freezer. I did! I moved it to the refrigerator to thaw. A wonderful weeknight dinner would come together in a matter of minutes.
1 head cauliflower, split in half (because it’s easier to slice it into large, thick “steaks” starting from the middle), stem & leaves removed
2 ounces olive oil
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
1 1/2 to 2 cups coffee beans
1. Preheat oven to 325º. We’re going to roast the cauliflower slowly so as to permit it to be gently infused with flavor from the coffee beans.
2. Cut the cauliflower into slices about 1/2″ thick. Brush each side with olive oil, and season gently with salt and pepper.
3. Pour the coffee beans into a roasting pan large enough to contain them in a shallow layer and permit you to arrange the slices of cauliflower over them. This is very like arranging a jigsaw puzzle. A living one. Roast for about an hour, until the densest part can be easily pierced with a paring knife. Within about 15 minutes, your kitchen will begin to smell amazing. Once it was cool, I sealed it up and refrigerated it until this evening.
These beans traveled far to get here, so I’m not going to take them for granted. Rather, once cooled, I zipped them into a plastic bag to store in the freezer until I come across something else begging to be roasted over them.
CREAMY CARROT SAUCE
One of my favorite blogs is written by a Scandinavian woman who divides her time between Copenhagen and Italy. It is called Italian Notes, and details her love for all things Italian. Especially food. Read about her Tuscan Mushrooms and you’ll be booking a flight for Florence. And I’ll be your seat mate. The David? Forget it. Bring on the food markets!
I digress. As I mentioned, I’ve been dreaming of her Carrot Sauce. I have no idea why I haven’t made it before now, but suddenly I had a feeling it would make the perfect base for our roasted cauliflower. The sauce comes together very quickly; reheat it if necessary before serving. Once you make it the first time, you will start thinking of many ways to serve it.
3 carrots (use 4 if they’re on the puny side)
100 ml water (3 1/2 ounces)
50 ml olive oil (just shy of 2 ounces)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (give yourself extra points if you have a sweet Meyer lemon)
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
Ingeniously, cream is not an ingredient; rather, the puréed sauce derives its creamy, silken consistency simply from tender carrots, water, and olive oil.
Peel the carrots and remove the stem and tip ends. Cut them into 1/2″ rounds.
Cover the pot, bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to an active simmer. Cook until the largest pieces can be very easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 5 to 8 minutes, depending how active your simmer is.
To purée them, use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked carrots to a blender or food processor (it was a small enough amount that I used the blender). Add the olive oil to the carrots as they purée. Purée until absolutely, perfectly smooth, scraping down the sides as needed, and adding some of the cooking water about an ounce at a time as needed to help achieve a velvety smooth consistency. Finally, add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt, if necessary, and some grinds of pepper.
A cup of your favorite rice, cooked (I had pulled a ziplock bag of Lundberg Farms Wild Blend from the freezer to the refrigerator a couple of days earlier)
2 ounces olive oil
1 ounce honey
In a small bowl, warm the olive oil and honey in a microwave for about 30 seconds using medium power. Any higher, and you’ll be cleaning up a mess. After they are warmed, whisk them together. The honey is going to play well with the sweetness of the carrots and their lemon juice, while the olive oil will bring up the subtle coffee notes.
Arrange a puddle of carrot sauce in the center of a plate. Add some spoonfuls of rice, then arrange some cauliflower slices over it, and finish with two or three spoonfuls of the honey-olive oil sauce.
I lit some candles, as we did each night. Then I picked up her dinner napkin, gave it a kiss, and spread it over my lap.