A few years ago in Paris, I went to dinner at my friend Julie’s. She served a roasted cauliflower salad from a new cookbook she’d bought after eating at Ottolenghi restaurant in London.
“Cauliflower,” I thought. “How, um, interesting.”
I put a spoonful on my plate to be polite.
After that, I had another, larger helping, and maybe one more after that. I don’t remember how much cauliflower I ate that evening, but I went home and immediately ordered the Ottolenghi cookbook for myself. I made the recipe I had at Julie’s and then started developing my own, mixing cauliflower with grains, making vinaigrettes and even developing a recipe for cauliflower galettes with chipotle crème fraiche for my cookbook, because I now loved cauliflower so.
As do the French — so much that one of their most commonly used terms of endearment is “mon petit chou,” or simply “chou-chou,” both short for chou-fleur, which is French for cauliflower.
Maybe it’s their love of this veggie that makes it grow so big in France — often larger than a basketball and much heavier, which is OK as long as you remember to bring your lime green wheely cart with you to the market.
In the U.S., I’ve yet to see a cauliflower even half the size of the French ones.
My own cauliflower crush started with that recipe from Ottolenghi (my adaptation is below). Not long after that, I found cauliflower as a silky puree underneath a delicate white fish at one of my favorite bistros near the Bastille, and I knew something was up.
Later, back in the U.S., where food seems to have trends rather than seasons, cauliflower had been anointed the new “it” vegetable alongside kale. It was everywhere. In pizza crusts for the gluten-free. As “mock” mashed potatoes for the carb-free. Thickly sliced and served as “steaks.” Tossed in hot sauce and served like Buffalo wings.
What made cauliflower suddenly chic? Probably the roasting, which caramelizes and crisps the outside, leaving the inside tender, thereby turning cauliflower’s ho-humness into hubba-hubba. If you ask me, serving it naked — with only a bit of olive oil, sea salt and pepper — is the best way to eat it, and right off the pan, like popcorn.
I may make tacos with the last bits of roasted cauliflower in my fridge, along with some black beans, cheese and avocado for dinner. Photos to appear on your Pinterest feed soon.