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Growing up in California we always had cauliflower, and I’m very happy to see so many people enjoying it nowadays since even when I was young in the 80s it wasn’t so popular. I use a microwave to par-cook the cauliflower, and once you give it a try I doubt you’ll go back to regular steaming. This version swims in a rich peanut butter and butter sauce with Aleppo pepper, but it is indeed a great blank canvas and I’ve included some other suggestions as usual.
1 whole head of cauliflower (look for one without any discolored spots), washed
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 stick salted butter
Chives for garnish
You can either leave the cauliflower whole or separate it into florets. Whole is more sensational as a presentation, but takes longer to cook and will not cook quite as evenly. It’s up to you and both ways are fun. Either way make sure to save the leaves on the bottom. They crisp up nicely in the oven like chips. The ribs will remain fairly tough but can always be thinly sliced and added to a soup or braise for great flavor.
Preheat your oven to 450°F and put a rack towards the bottom third. If you have a convection oven set it to 425°F. If you want to use your grill prepare it for indirect cooking.
Microwave* the cauliflower on a plate, uncovered, until tender. If it is whole you will want to put it on the edge of the plate, then rotate 180° now and again, this will help it cook more evenly. I find that about 8 minutes will cook a whole one, but start checking (use a knife to pierce the flesh and see if it’s become soft after about 6 minutes). Remove the whole cauliflower and rub the leaves with olive oil and a bit of salt, place the cauliflower leaf side down on a baking sheet.
Florets take about 4-5 minutes to microwave, you can remove the smaller pieces to a sheet pan as they become tender (they will cook faster the smaller they are). Coat the leaves with olive oil and salt and put them on the pan as well.
Roast the cauliflower in the oven until browned and crispy (this will really depend on your tastes but I start checking around 12 minutes for a full head and 7-8 minutes for florets. On a grill cook the cauliflower on a sheet pan on the cool side until done. The leaves will crisp and brown like chips. You can serve them or just eat them immediately as a cook’s treat.
While the cauliflower is roasting make a sauce using the peanut butter, butter, and Aleppo pepper. Adjust to your tastes with more Aleppo and/or salt.
Serve the cauliflower with the sauce and garnish with chive rings.
* Don’t have a microwave? Try this preparation to cook the cauliflower and make the sauce as above.
Roasted cauliflower is fantastic covered in bagna cauda and toasted breadcrumbs.
If you want to make it vegan try making a sauce with 4 parts peanut butter or tahini, 1 part white miso, and 2 parts olive or coconut oil. Again try any spices you like!