Thursday, October 22, 2009

cauliflower with almonds, raisins and capers

cauliflower with almonds and raisins

Look, I know what most of you out there: “How on earth is she cooking with a newborn to take care of?” and that, quite possibly, one of two scenarios might be going through your head. One is that I am SuperDeb, a mutant human with cooking, sleep-deprivation-handling and time management superpowers, sweeping around my tiny apartment and even tinier kitchen in my Smitten Kitchen cape, trying to make all the other barely-holding-it-together new mamas look bad. Another scenario would be closer to something that you’d hear about on the evening network news scare report: Maybe Deb is a Bad Mother! Maybe little Jacob is crying and neglected while his mother selfishly pursues her cooking interests! You can practically hear viewers clucking their tongues in dismay for miles.


The truth, as is so often the case, is much more melodrama-free, I hope you’ll be relieved for me to admit. The truth is that I’ve had a ton of help, namely in the form of Jacob’s papa, who was not only granted two weeks mpaternity leave, but his kind bosses let him work from home for another two, amounting to a whole month of round-the-clock assistance. That all came to a screeching halt this week when Alex returned to his office and I was left, for the first time ever, in the solo care of my own child. Needless to say, this week has been a leetle bit different in terms of idle time in the kitchen.

sliced cauliflower

And yet, crazy enough, I made this dish that I’d bookmarked a lifetime ago, tried and failed to make seven weeks ago, pre-baby (when I had all of the time in the world — what was I thinking?), and yet, there I was with a soundly napping one-month old and I ran with it. Er, ran in the direction of the kitchen, that was.

lots of prep

Funny thing is, this is a pretty fussy recipe for one to squeeze in during nap time. Like many fancy restaurant chef recipes, each element is prepared separately and assembled at the last minute, and yet these mini-stages of prep worked perfectly for my predicament. I toasted the bread crumbs in butter, then checked on the baby, fried the almonds in olive oil, then checked on the baby, browned the cauliflower, checked on the baby, and so forth right through plumping the raisins in butter and white wine vinegar, rinsing the capers and tossing the mix with minced herbs. And then, since Wee Jacob was still napping (do I owe him a pony, or what?) when I was done, I grabbed a fork and ineloquently wolfed down my first lunch in days that had not been a hastily assembled peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hoo boy, mama could really get used to feasts like this.

cauliflower with almonds and raisins

Cauliflower, previously: Silky Cauliflower Soup, Cauliflower Gratin, Cauliflower Salad with Green Olives and Capers, Cauliflower, Bean and Feta Salad and one of my hands-down favorites, Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Feta.

One year ago: Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
Two years ago: Gluten-Free Chocolate Financiers
Three years ago: Spinach Quiche

Cauliflower With Almonds, Capers and Raisins
Perfect as printed from Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern

This dish has a great story, by the way — it’s supposed to convert the cauliflower-haters. When Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern met his wife, he was horriified to learn that she did not like cauliflower, and set out on what he called the “cauliflower operation”, creating five dishes solely to woo her and change her mind. This is one of them, and it called to me not only for the cute story, not only because Michael Anthony is one of the few chefs I will allow myself some fawning over, having followed the trail of his stepped-up simple food from Blue Hill at Stone Barns back to Manhattan, but because my mother always used to serve (steamed) cauliflower with breadcrumbs that she’d fried briefly in butter, and to this day, I think the vegetable tastes best with something crunchy, salty and buttery on top. I was pleased to see that it’s not just me.

Yield: 4 servings (sure, totally)

1 head cauliflower, trimmed of leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh soft bread crumbs
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons whole almonds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons golden raisins (I had only dark ones on hand, nobody complained)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon finely sliced chives.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut cauliflower from top to bottom in 1-inch slices. Place a large ovenproof skillet over low heat and add one tablespoon butter. When it has melted, add bread crumbs and toss until toasted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a plate and wipe out pan.

2. Return pan to medium heat and add one teaspoon olive oil. Add almonds and toss until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer almonds to a plate, let cool, and cut each almond into three pieces*; set aside.

3. Wipe out pan and return to medium heat. Add remaining one tablespoon olive oil and cauliflower slices. Sauté until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer pan to oven and roast until tender, about 12 minutes. (I had to brown my cauliflower in batches, not having enough surface area in my pan, but tossed everything back in to roast it.) Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and add raisins, vinegar and 1 tablespoon water. Simmer until raisins are plump and soft, about 5 minutes; drain and set aside. In a small bowl, combine almonds, capers, raisins, parsley, tarragon and chives. Season with salt and pepper and toss to mix.

4. Arrange roasted cauliflower on a serving platter. Spoon almond-herb mixture evenly on top and sprinkle with toasted bread crumbs. Serve immediately.

* I read this step and laughed and laughed. Yes, SURE. Let’s all cut our almonds into thirds! Anyone have a scalpel and some tweezers? Impossible! And then the strangest thing happened: I stopped rolling my eyes — “chef recipes!” — long enough to try it and it turns out with a sharp knife one can absolutely cut almonds into thirds. This isn’t to say that you must, unless you’re feeling fancy. You are more than welcome to cut yours into halves or fifths or even roughly chop them and I won’t tell a soul. It can be our little secret.


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