Cauliflower varieties — from the pale green Romanesco with its fairy-tale turrets to the butter-gold or vibrant purple heads — are available throughout the year, but are now in their prime. And though strikingly different in color, all taste pretty much the same as the white — relatively mild with a texture that becomes almost creamy when cooked.
When shopping for cauliflower, look for heads with tightly knit florets and a bright green base with firm leaves that entwine them. Avoid any heads that are discolored or have brown spots that indicate age and a loss of flavor. The best way to store cauliflower is to wrap it in a lightly dampened paper towel in a loosely closed plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator. It should keep this way for a week.
Cauliflower is immensely versatile and a terrific contender for spice — coriander, cumin, chiles, paprika and fresh ginger are better choices than heavy cream and gooey cheese. Think of the florets for curries, stir-fries and spicy stews. Though cauliflower “steaks” may seem like an oxymoron, their heft rivals cuts of beef, pork or chicken. When cut into thick slabs, seared in a hot pan and then finished in the oven, they develop a substantial meaty texture and turn slightly nutty with caramelized edges. These are the perfect foil for a fresh salsa, salsa verde or olive tapenade. Sandwich the “steaks” in a crusty roll with grilled onions, or top with a fried or poached egg, or set on polenta with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.
Or, just like any good steak, all they really need is a shot of Worcestershire or hot sauce and squeeze of lemon. Serve with a big green salad and a hunk of rustic bread. Dinner, done!
Cauliflower Steaks With Cherry Tomato Salsa
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: You’ll end up with a few stray florets and bits of cauliflower when you cut the head into steaks. Either save them for another use or toss them with oil and add to the roasting pan with the steaks. They’ll turn into crisp, brown nuggets to enjoy alongside. Serve with this cherry tomato salsa or your favorite prepared salsa, or a dash of Worcestershire or hot sauce. From Beth Dooley.
For the cauliflower:
• 2 medium cauliflower heads, about 1 lb. or more each
• 2 to 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
• 1/4 tsp. sea salt
• 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
For the salsa:
• 2 c. cherry tomatoes
• 1 tbsp. chopped jalapeño pepper, to taste
• 1/4 c. chopped red onion, to taste
• 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
• 1/4 c. lime juice, or to taste
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To prepare cauliflower steaks: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Trim the outer leaves of the cauliflower. Cut the head in half lengthwise through the core. Cut slabs 1 1/2 inch thick from each cauliflower half. Save remaining cauliflower for another use or toss with a little oil (see Note).
Film a heavy skillet with 1 tablespoon of the oil and set over a medium-high heat. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, sear off each of the slices until lightly browned on both sides, about 1 to 2 minutes per side, and then set on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the remaining bits of cauliflower to the pan. Roast in the oven until the cauliflower is tender and caramelized, about 8 to 12 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with the salsa.
To prepare the salsa: Toss all of the ingredients together and adjust the seasonings, adding more lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.