We all heard the fairy tales when we were growing up. The one where the princess kisses a frog and it magically turns into a prince. Or the one about the lovely damsel who falls madly in love with a hideous beast.
My hope is that those classic tales will inspire you, my undoubtedly beautiful readers, to consider for a moment pressing your lips up against what may at first glance appear to be the frog of the fairy tale. I'm hoping you'll get past your initial aversions, and like the heroine Roxane of another story, take this Cyrano of a recipe on a first date at the very least.
So who, or rather what, is this beast, this Shrek of the kitchen?
Before I unveil my recipe, let me remind you that in yesterday's post I promised to provide a surprising use for my beloved Spanish anchovies. This recipe fulfills that promise.
So, close your eyes and pucker your lips.... no, that won't work. How will you finish reading?
Enough suspense. Without further ado, meet slow-roasted cauliflower with pounded anchovies.
Wait! Before you close that window, bare with me just a little while longer. Beneath his ugly visage, this Quasimoto is quite lovable.
A bath in a generous amount of olive oil and a languorous stint in a very hot sauna (your oven) combine to transform this pale and gnarled member of the brassica family (whose ugly stepsisters include brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale) into a vegetable that even avowed cauliflower haters will not recognize. The alchemy of slow-roasting causes it to lose its faintly bitter and sulfuric disposition and melt into an impossibly tender, sweetly caramelized vegetable with the texture of a fat French fry.
If it is too much to ask you to top an often reviled vegetable with an even more despised pungent fish, try saucing the cauliflower with just a squeeze of lemon or a sauce of minced parsley, olive oil and toasted almonds or hazelnuts.
On the other hand, if it is not the anchovy but the cauliflower that frightens you, then use this powerful anchovy sauce to perk up steamed broccoli or a salad of chicories, such as radicchio, escarole or frisée. A judicious drizzle of the sauce will also elevate to another level your every day roast chicken, lamb chops, or nearly any pasta.
The pounded anchovy sauce is an emulsion of olive oil and anchovies, with a whisper of lemon juice and a rumor of garlic, so it is vital to use your best extra virgin oil and Spanish anchovies packed in olive oil (not, however, the white Spanish anchovies marinated in vinegar called boquerones, which are unsuitable for this sauce). The recipe is similar to the vinaigrette I used to dress cardoons recently, minus the vinegar.
Go ahead. Close your eyes and open your heart and taste buds to a new world, one where cauliflower and anchovies are as desirable as a cup of Parisian hot chocolate or a ripe summer peach. Be like Julia Roberts in the early nineties. Allow this Lyle Lovett to serenade your tongue.
By the way, this post is my (extremely early) entry for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging (some of us start our weekends sooner than others), sponsored by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. Once again, rather than an herb, I chose an ugly duckling vegetable, the cauliflower.
For those who were wondering, no this is not my entry for Rachael's ugly food photo contest?
*It may not be as popular in the blogging community as a recipe for flourless chocolate cake and the like, but in my house it is one of our most favorite. But then again, we both love anything involving either cauliflower or anchovies. I never liked the popular kids much any way. Cheerleaders, football players, who needs 'em?
Slow-Roasted Cauliflower with Pounded Anchovies
For the cauliflower
1 medium-sized head of cauliflower
3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
1 T parsley, chopped
For the breadcrumbs
1 slice country bread, crusts removed
2 t extra virgin olive oil
For the anchovy sauce
¼ clove of garlic
1 t lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 anchovy fillets, preferably Spanish, packed in olive oil
3 T extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350˚F (175˚C). Remove any green leaves from cauliflower. Place head of cauliflower stem side down on a cutting board and slice like a loaf of bread into ¾-inch (2 cm) thick slices through the stem and all.
Toss cauliflower slices in a bowl with the oil and generous amounts of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Lay out in one layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place pan in oven and bake for 1 hour, turning the pieces every 10 minutes. The cauliflower should shrink in size, turn deep golden brown, extremely tender and fall apart easily (see before and after pictures). It may appear ready after 40 minutes, but you want to press on and wait until the cauliflower completely collapses. Some smaller bits will turn dark brown and crispy. Do not discard them. They are the best parts.
While the cauliflower is roasting, tear the bread into tiny pieces. Place in a small shallow pan and drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with salt. Put in oven next to cauliflower. Bake until toasted and crisp, about 10-15 minutes.
Prepare the anchovy sauce. Pulverize the piece of garlic in a mortar with a pestle. Pour lemon juice over it and let sit for 10 minutes to remove the rawness. Coarsely chop the anchovy fillets and then add them to the mortar and pound to a paste. Drizzle in the olive oil while stirring with the pestle until a thick, pourable sauce is formed.
Place the roasted cauliflower on plates, drizzle with anchovy sauce, sprinkle with chopped parsley and breadcrumbs, and serve, either warm or at room temperature.