I was, shall we say, a feisty little devil when I was very young. I had about the temper control of a raging volcano. And, when I wanted my way, I really wanted my way. Rumor (which I shall neither confirm nor deny) has it that I would pull out all the stops in order to control the situation, including but not limited to: dumping jars of food or pitchers of juice on the floor, holding my breath until I passed out, and peeing my pants (yeah, I’m never ever going to live that one down). One particularly vivid memory has to do with cauliflower. One of the dishes in my mother’s repertoire when I was growing up was a sort of baked cauliflower casserole with some cheese and some mushrooms and maybe some lemon juice or something of the sort. Now, I was okay with the cheese, but when you are 4 or 5 being faced with both cooked cauliflower and mushrooms in a single dish is overwhelmingly abhorrent. If I remember correctly, in my young mind it was approximately on par with being served a casserole of brains (which, come to think of it, some people would probably happily eat. Not I, I’m afraid.). What followed at the dinner table was a classic case of frustrated parent trying to get picky child to take just one bite. I’m sure you can envision the scene. But, when said picky child was finally required to take just one bite, things got interesting. I put the bite of cauliflower in my mouth, gagged it down. And then promptly threw up all over the place, just to show my parents how I felt about vegetables. It was not one of my finer moments.
Over time, I grew more appreciative of cauliflower. In fact, I have grown to love it, as long as it is roasted or sauteed so that the outsides turn brown and caramelized and the insides are just tender. Cauliflower can be nondescript, receding into the background and taking on whatever flavors you let it mingle with be they curry or lemon juice. Or it can be confined to adding body and a bit of creaminess to a blended soup without giving it a powerful flavor. But, if you can coax the shy flavor out, it is actually quite lovely, sweet and nutty. And sauteeing the cauliflower does just that. All you need to do is toss little florets into a pan with a pat of butter (or olive oil) and a sprinkling of sea salt, let them relax in the sizzle for a bit, stirring them up a couple of times, and soon you’ll have a beautiful simple side dish.
But, sometimes you want even a little more to liven the cauliflower up. A handful of herbs, a few cloves of garlic, a hint of lemon. Or all of the above. One of my recent favorite additions to cauliflower is golden garlicky breadcrumbs. I think of it as sort of an homage to the old cauliflower casserole my mother tried to serve me. Panko breadcrumbs, toasted with some garlic and tossed with some parsley give the cauliflower a perky crunch and a peppy crust of flavor that is completely addictive. You could toss in a handful of lemon zest or a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese as well to really get the party started. This is a nice light side dish to accompany any sort of roast, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself happily eating a bowl of it by itself for lunch.
Cauliflower Sautee with Garlic Breadcrumbs
- 1/4-1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 large head of cauliflower cut into very small florets (about the size of olives)
- 1 1/2 Tbs. butter or olive
- salt and pepper
- In a large frying pan, heat 1 Tbs. of butter over medium heat until melted and bubbly. Stir in the garlic and the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring pretty much constantly, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from the heat and scrape the breadcrumbs into a small bowl. Toss with the parsley.
- Wipe out the frying pan and return it to the stove. Heat the 1 1/2 Tbs. butter or olive oil then stir in the cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower florets are tender and nicely browned on the outside, around 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl. Just before serving, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and toss gently.