My mother used to steam a whole head of cauliflower, and when it was about done, melt a pat or two of butter in a cast-iron frying pan (back when all of our skillets were cast-iron, and I found them heavy and annoying and embarrassingly old-fashioned; oh, Deb), then toss in enough seasoned breadcrumbs (always seasoned “Italian-style” which makes me chuckle because what would Italian seasoning be in Italy, salt and pepper?**) to absorb the butter and cook them until they were a browned together. This would be sprinkled on and pressed against the cauliflower and it’s really no surprise that I become a cauliflower person, is it? Salty butter, brown butter-crisped crumbs will do that to a person.
I make it almost the same way, but of course, I’ve fiddled a bit over the years. I prefer browning the butter a little bit before adding the crumbs because, obviously: brown butter. I use plain breadcrumbs (panko, Japanese-style breadcrumbs are my favorite) but I add a little bit of minced shallot, garlic, finely grated lemon zest, salt and pepper for seasoning, plus some parsley or chives, and I dress the cauliflower with a little bit of lemon juice before putting the crumbs on, just to perk it up a little.
This is an ideal dish for a weekday night, or even that little holiday you may have heard of that’s coming up next week? It’s kind of minor, so don’t sweat it. The dish doesn’t care whether you steam or roast you cauliflower, whole or in chunks, or if you make it in advance. The cauliflower and crumbs can be made separately, then re-warmed together before serving. You can very likely make this with ingredients you already have around. And nobody, or nobody I want to be friends with, finds the flavor of deeply toasted, brown butter-drenched breadcrumbs with minced shallots, garlic and lemon less than spoon-worthy. The best stuff falls to the bottom of the serving dish, and that’s exactly where you’ll find me,
swatting your spoon away with mine exhibiting the warmth and generosity of the season by giving you dibs. Yup.
* Oh, phew. I think I just figured out what to make for dinner tonight.
** Or perhaps 34 primary and 20 additional sub-ingredients? Mm, yummy HFCS, cottonseed oil and Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate…
Thanksgiving recipes: My favorites are listed here, but if you think I’ve missed something, head to the search box (top left, under the logo) and type in the ingredient — I bet we have something. Unless you’re looking for a whole turkey recipe… um, next year, I promise. [Thanksgiving Recipes]
More Thanksgiving this week: I realized near the end of last week that I had five Thanksgiving dishes left to share with you, and wouldn’t it be fun to post each day this week about one? So, Monday was Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions, Tuesday was my favorite Apple-Herb Stuffing for All Seasons and today is cauliflower. If all goes well (so many tiny inconvenient things — meetings and tests and tours and a waning case of laryngitis — are plotting against us this week, but I’m going to persevere), there might be some sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, squash or a campy dessert before the end of the week. I love these dishes too much to keep them from you any longer.
Cauliflower with Brown Butter Crumbs
Inspired by Mama/Grandma Smitten
Serves 6, or more if there are many dishes on the table
1 medium head cauliflower (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
Oil for pan, if roasting
4 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter
1 medium or 2 tiny shallots, finely minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
Approximately 3/4 cup panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Few gratings of lemon zest
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley or chives
To steam cauliflower: Set a steamer basket (see Notes) inside a large pot. Bring about one inch of water to a boil in the pot, lower cauliflower, whole or in large florets, into basket, and cover pot with lid. Reduce heat to medium. Let cauliflower steam for 10 to 20 minutes (less time if using a proper steamer basket, longer if using the modified basket below), or until it is easily pierced with a knife.
To roast cauliflower: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with oil. Scatter cauliflower florets evenly over pan and roast until cauliflower is brown at edges and easily pierced with a knife, about 20 to 30 minutes. Toss and flip pieces once, halfway through roasting time, to ensure that they brown easily.
Make brown butter crumbs: When cauliflower is almost done, melt butter in a heavy frying pan over medium heat, and continue to cook it after it is melted until it is a little brown, and smells toasty. Working quickly, stir in the shallots, and let them hiss in the butter for about 30 seconds. Add the breadcrumbs, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon table salt (if using unsalted butter, skip if using salted) and a few grinds of black pepper and cook together, stirring frequently, until crumbs are a shade darker, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Add a scrape or two of lemon zest and adjust seasonings to taste.
Assemble dish: Place whole cooked cauliflower or cauliflower florets in a low serving bowl. Toss gently with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Spoon crumbs over cauliflower, pressing them onto the florets as you can, and letting the rest fall into the serving dish. Scatter herbs over top and serve with a large spoon.
Do ahead: Steam or roast cauliflower and make crumbs; keep them separate until serving. Just before serving, rewarm cauliflower and add crumbs.
- Don’t have a steamer basket? Me neither, or not one I’ve been able to find in a couple years, which probably means it’s an Elmo cradle somewhere. Anyway, I suspend a mesh metal strainer with handles over the pot with bubbling water, and set the lid on as best as possible. More water escapes (it’s best to check it halfway through, and make sure you don’t need to add more), but it does the job just fine.
- Why panko? They’re fluffy and pale, light, crisp and neutrally flavored, thus they are great to keep around for times when you don’t feel like making your own. I keep mine in an airtight jar in the cabinet and they last a long time.
- Don’t have panko breadcrumbs? Here’s how I fake them when I don’t: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Tear two to three slices of soft, crustless white bread into 1-inch pieces and pulse them in a food processor until coarsely ground. Transfer crumbs to a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool. Use. [This will make 3/4 to 1 full cup.]