I love cauliflower. Its subtle nature presents a world of possibilities to the creative cook. But it has to be cooked correctly and combined with the right flavors.
For inspiration, I tend to look to the Mediterranean, where this vegetable originated (cauliflower later became a staple in northern Europe, where it thrives as a cold-weather, frost-resistant crop). This may comes as a surprise to those who know cauliflower only through cheese-laden casseroles or bland puréed soups. But I find that the bold, vibrant flavors of Mediterranean cuisine are the perfect counterpoint to cauliflower’s mild manners.
Keep it out of hot water
For the most part, I prefer roasting cauliflower to boiling or steaming because the high, dry heat concentrates the flavor, adds nuttiness, and encourages caramelization, which increases the complexity of the flavor. Sautéing is another favorite method; it delivers similar results to roasting. I often roast more than I plan to eat, saving the leftovers to toss with a quick vinaigrette the next day.
Boiling or steaming tends to bring out the one-dimensional, cabbagy side of cauliflower, and it doesn’t help to eliminate the water that cauliflower is so full of. If you do find that you need very simply cooked cauliflower for part of a recipe, I suggest steaming rather than boiling, because at least the cauliflower won’t absorb more water.