Whole roasted cauliflower, white miso and furikake
Everything old is new again when it comes to retro anything, and the cauliflower is the food world’s latest makeover item. Because the cauliflower is such a daggy, old-fashioned, homely vegetable it has not had much time in the limelight.
It’s not as delicate as a zucchini flower, it’s not a tray of exotic foraged-at-sunrise coastal sea succulents, and it’s not organic wasabi grown in pure spring water in Tasmania.
But cauliflower simply makes me feel good – for no exotic reason other than being really good to eat. I think it is also one of the more perplexing vegetables. It swings effortlessly across various regions around the world, sitting comfortably along with chilli, turmeric and spices in India, just as it is being baked smothered in a rich cheese sauce. I don’t need to go into the merit of the cauliflower cheese other than stating that the cheese sauce improves with the addition of a bay leaf and a pinch of nutmeg.
A popular item now in restaurants, cauliflower’s versatility and its ability to pair with and carry a range of flavours is a useful thing when developing recipes. One of the most familiar combinations I have seen over the years is the pairing of seared scallops with cauliflower puree. Pureed cauliflower soup is comfort food at its heartiest, flavoured with a knob of butter, a splash of cream, salt and white pepper.
As much as I have enjoyed cauliflower cheese all my life, I now prefer cauliflower matched with spices and more elusive flavours. Cauliflower is by no means a neutral flavour but its simplicity is a great base for louder, umami-packed flavours. The white miso dressing and nori-based seasoning is testament to this. Other bold flavours also work a treat.
I like to sauté little florets with a pinch of cumin, coriander seeds, dried chilli and salt. Warmed and served on a pat of hummus with a sprinkling of pine nuts and sumac, it is an excellent vegetarian meal.
A beginner’s riff on the cauliflower cheese: if you can’t be tossed making the cheese sauce, start by cutting in half small florets about the size of a 10-cent piece. Lay these tightly on a baking tray, cut side up. Drizzle with a light olive oil and roast for five minutes in a hot oven. Remove from the oven and dust with plenty of finely grated parmesan cheese. Return to the oven and continue to bake until golden and the stalk tender. Dust the cauliflower with plenty of black pepper and a pinch of salt before serving.
Whole roasted cauliflower, white miso and furikake
– 1 whole cauliflower
– 2 tbsp soft butter
– 85g white miso
– 120ml rice wine vinegar
– 1 tbsp honey
– 45ml water
– 125ml grapeseed oil
– soy sauce, to taste
– 2 tbsp furikake (see recipe below)
Preheat your oven to 190ºC.
Trim the base of the cauliflower so it sits upright in a tight-fitting ovenproof dish. Spread one tablespoon of the soft butter over the cauliflower and season with a pinch of salt.
Place the cauliflower in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and rub the remaining tablespoon of butter over the cauliflower. Return to the oven and roast for another 10 minutes. Remove the cauliflower and pierce with a skewer. If it offers little resistance, it is ready. If it still seems a bit firm, return the cauliflower to the oven, reduce the temperature to 170ºC, and continue to check every five minutes until it is cooked.
Meanwhile, to make the dressing, puree the white miso, rice wine vinegar, honey and water in an upright blender. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the oil to emulsify the dressing. Season with a little soy sauce to taste and set aside.
When the roasted cauliflower is ready to serve, spoon over it five tablespoons of dressing. Sprinkle with a heady amount of the furikake, below, and serve whole at the table.
Furikake is a umami-packed seasoning that is usually sprinkled over rice. It’s available in most Asian groceries, but I like to make my own for its freshness.
– 1 orange
– 1 tbsp sesame seeds
– 1 tsp black sesame seeds
– 1 sheet nori
– 6g shaved kombu
– 5g (about 4 tbsp) shaved bonito
– 1½ teaspoons wild rice, puffed
Preheat your oven to 100ºC.
Zest the orange directly onto a tray lined with a sheet of baking paper. Place the tray in the oven and dehydrate the orange zest for about one hour. When the orange is dry, take it out and increase the oven temperature to 160ºC. Toast both kinds of sesame seeds in the oven for five minutes or until the white sesame seeds are golden.
Meanwhile, spread out the nori, kombu and bonito on another baking tray lined with baking paper. Turn the oven off and place the tray in the oven. Leave for two to three minutes to gently toast the ingredients.
Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind the dried orange zest and puffed rice to a coarse powder. Crush the nori into small pieces. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and gently crush them with your hand.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 26, 2016 as "Fruits of the florets". Subscribe here.