This cauliflower recipe is very similar (and inspired by) the roasted cauliflower with brown butter recipe that I made a while ago, which is extremely tasty but can't be eaten cold since the brown butter sauce will solidify and the brown butter sauce may make it hard to use as an ingredient in another dish. The recipe below uses very little cooking fat, so it makes a nice light roasted cauliflower that is appropriate for use in other dishes (hot or cold), such as a salad or as a topping for a pizza (which is the plan for tonight). This plain roasted cauliflower is also nice on its own, as a light minimal side vegetable dish. You can also cut up the cauliflower into florets and roast them, but lately I've liked roasting the cauliflower head whole, since it allows you get the cauliflower more evenly brown, since the entire surface of the cauliflower is exposed to the heat evenly.
1 large head of cauliflower, or 2 small ones
The cauliflower needs to be very dry, in order to roast and not steam. If your cauliflower isn't dirty, it may not even need to be washed. If you do wash it, dry it thoroughly. Cut off the leaves, and shorten the stalk (enough for the cauliflower head to sit comfortably on a flat surface).
Preheat oven to 450 F (I put mine as hot as it will go, which is around 450 - 475 F).
Spread a little olive oil in the bottom of a cast iron pan which is big enough to fit your cauliflower comfortably. You only want enough olive oil to moisten the bottom of the pan; if you have too much olive oil it will create a lot of smoke, since olive oil has a low smoking point. Optionally, you can put a pat of butter on top of the cauliflower head, about 1/2 - 1 Tbsp; if the butter is soft, then you can spread it all over. Sprinkle salt all over.
Roast the cauliflower in the oven until the edges have browned and caramelized and you can easily insert a butter knife into the middle of it. For my small cauliflowers in the photo above, this only took 45 minutes, but this will take up to 1 1/2 hours for large cauliflowers.
Below is another variation of a roasted cauliflower recipe. At some point in the last year or so, I read something that suggested that it was easier to brown the cauliflower if you seared it in a pan before roasting it. Since I love the caramelized bits of cauliflower best, I've had the suggestion in my queue ever since, although unfortunately I can't remember where the suggestion originated though possibly it is from TheYearInFood.com's "Cauliflower Steaks with Harissa", though I may have also added this link to my queue because it tops the cauliflower with harissa or because I liked how the cauliflower steaks looked since they resemble trees. This recipe refers to BonAppetit.com's "Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce", which states at the top that "by cutting a whole cauliflower into thick slices, you can brown and caramelize it like a meaty steak." In any case, cutting cauliflower into steaks and pan-frying it before roasting it has been on my todo list for a while. I finally got around to it, although the reason was because I wanted to try making toum (Lebanese garlic sauce) and wanted something to eat it with. The toum attempt (with quantities equal to 1/4 the size suggested in the recipe) was a failure (but is still usable as a raw garlic oil sauce, so I used that instead of a minced garlic clove in the tahini sauce), but the roasted cauliflower worked out amazingly. It was also nice to dab some of the "raw garlic oil sauce (failed toum)" on an occasional bit of the porchetta that we ate this with.
At first glance it seems that there would be no difference between roasting the entire time versus pan frying first, since I used the same pan for both. However, there is a slightly difference which leads to amazing results. First, cutting the cauliflower into flat steaks means that there is more surface area to brown. Second, it is easier to watch and turn the cauliflower and add additional oil as necessary to make sure both sides get evenly brown when you are pan frying. I find that when I roast, I often tend not to take the pan out as often as I should to stir the ingredients, and the cast iron pan that I use to roast gets dry; pan frying fixes that problem. So it turns out that the suggestion to pan fry cauliflower before roasting in order to get the cauliflower really browned is a great suggestion.
I served this topped with tahini sauce; I used this recipe from Saveur.com as my base for the sauce.
high heat oil (such as grapeseed)
large cast iron skillet
Preheat 400 F. Place the cast iron skillet in the oven while it is heating, so that you can use its heat to warm up you pan (alternatively, you can preheat your pan on your stovetop, but this uses more energy since you are heating the oven anyways).
Cut the cauliflower into 4 steaks about 1 inch wide each. Some of the cauliflower florets may break off. Discard any pieces that are smaller than crumbs or peas. Keep the rest of the pieces.
Place cast iron pan on stove top and turn the heat as high as your burner goes. Allow it to heat for a little longer, and then add enough oil to coat pan. Let the oil heat, and then pan fry the cauliflower steaks and broken off pieces in 2 batches, about 5 minutes each side, or until the cauliflower is browned. Add enough oil to coat pan in between each batch and try to disturb as little as possible, so that they become browned and so that the steaks do not break up.
Temporarily set all of the cauliflower aside and recoat the bottom of the cast iron pan with oil. Allow the oil to heat up again, and place all of the cauliflower pieces in the pan, preferably in a single layer and with the flat side of the steaks having much contact to the pan as possible. Roast at 400 F for 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft enough to pierce with a fork.
Drizzle tahini sauce on the cauliflower just before serving. Can be served hot or at room temperature.
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup tahini (stir the contents of the jar to reincorporate any oil that has separated before measuring)
1/4 cup water
salt to taste*
1 finely minced garlic clove
Place all ingredients except water into a bowl. Use a small whisk (because it makes the sauce creamy) to slowly mix in the water in small batches until you get the desired consistency.
* 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt is tooo much, because tahini already has salt in it. I like my tahini to not be too salty because I like to eat globs of it (e.g. nearly by the spoonful).