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I’m just going to put this one out there: I have a feeling we could all stand to shake up our roasted vegetable game this time of year, am I right? We’ve only just crossed the threshold into spring, but a quick look outside will tell you real spring is still a ways off. Farmers markets are still featuring the hard-working root and cruciferous gang (God bless ’em), with only the sturdiest, leafy greens showing their faces. We’re in a bit of a seasonal holding pattern here, and I’m accepting all forms of inspiration to keep me going until the stands really start to hit their stride.
Enter one magical, beautiful whole roasted cauliflower.
I first started seeing this showstopping cauliflower pop up on my Instagram feed last year, after acclaimed chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened his long-awaited vegetarian restaurant, ABCV, here in New York. The menu puts every farm-fresh ingredient on a pedestal, dressing them up and honoring them in a way that gets you really excited about vegetables. Chef de cuisine Neal Harden has done just this with ABCV's whole roasted cauliflower, a truly glorious entrée showered with a host of bright, jazzy accoutrements like pickled red onion, chile, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds, served with a creamy, turmeric-inflected tahini sauce. Since I enjoyed Alon Shaya’s popular whole roasted cauliflower so much, I knew I had to try ABCV’s, too.
Wow, right? “This dish is very popular, as you can imagine,” chef Harden tells me. So popular, in fact, that the restaurant sells upwards of 100 orders per day. “I can barely find the space to put them all.”
Read on for the rest of my interview with chef Harden, and get ready to give your florets a break by re-creating this stunner at home. Fair warning: This recipe is a doozy, but don’t let that intimidate you! (It’s worth it.) Many of these components will yield more than is necessary for the recipe, and chef Harden would encourage you to go ahead and make those sturdy pickled pearl onions and dehydrated Kalamata olives to enjoy long after you’ve made this dish. Be sure to let us know how it goes.
HANA ASBRINK: Tell us what inspired this dish. Had you tried Israeli star chef Eyal Shani’s signature whole roasted cauliflower before?
CHEF NEAL HARDEN: The inspiration was just the desire to have a kind of centerpiece, something that a table can really saw into and divide up, like a roast. It’s a clear display of hearty abundance and a fun thing to tear apart and eat. I’ve never tasted Eyal Shani’s cauliflower, but as an aesthetic object, I think it has influenced everyone.
HA: Are there any components of the dish that you’ve modified to make it easier to make for the home cook?
NH: At the restaurant, we use specialized ovens, such as a combination oven (half steam, half heat) to start it, and we finish it in a wood oven for a smoky char. I definitely had to simplify that, but otherwise I mostly kept it the same. It has a pretty gratuitous list of garnishes, and I suspect many may choose to leave a couple out with little loss of deliciousness.
HA: What do you love most about this dish? Do you ever change it up for the season (or would customers have your head!)?
NH: We have not changed it yet due to overwhelming popularity. We have some guests that eat the cauliflower a few times a week. That being said, at some point I will assuredly give it a makeover. I love how elemental whole, wood-roasted vegetables are. It feels primal and modern at the same time, like we’re feeding plant-based cave people.
HA: How do you like to eat your cauliflower at home?
NH: I don’t get to eat much at home, so the last thing I ate with cauliflower at home was a pasta my wife made with soft-cooked cauliflower, capers, and tons of lemon and parsley. At work, I sometimes purée the slightly overcooked and smoky cauliflower with olive oil to dip pita in, almost like a cauliflower baba ghanoush. It’s delicious. [Editor’s note: Trying this immediately!]
HA: What are you most looking forward to this spring?
NH: All of the peas. I love peas. That, and the locally foraged things like taranome shoots, nettles, and fresh bamboo. And fresh anise hyssop.
HA: We love ABCV for putting vegetables front and center. What are some easy ways for a home cook to do this, for example, reimagining cauliflower as a main “roast”?
NH: Whole roasted vegetables are a pleasure and always a great way to do that. Sandwiches, too, which aren’t thought of as often. Layers of peppers, beets, onions, fennel, and herbs with great olive oil and mustard, or a tapenade on sourdough—that makes a great and surprising deli sandwich.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Turmeric-Tahini Sauce & Pistachios
- For the pickled pearl onions:
- Set 1:
- 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- Set 2:
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 Thai chiles, split
- Set 3:
- 3 cups red pearl onions (white okay), halved lengthwise and peeled
- For the whole roasted cauliflower:
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 medium head cauliflower (orange, if available)
- For the pistachio-sesame condiment:
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo chile flakes
- 1 cup raw pistachios, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- Zest from 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- For the dried Kalamata olives:
- 1/4 cup Kalamata olives
- For the turmeric-tahini sauce:
- 2-inch piece peeled fresh turmeric
- 1/2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon chickpea miso or white miso
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 small shallot, roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
- 1 large pinch garam masala
- To serve:
- 1 whole roasted cauliflower
- 1 tablespoon pistachio-sesame condiment
- 1 teaspoon dried Kalamata olives, roughly broken up
- 1 heaping tablespoon of herb mix (equal parts parsley chiffonade, mint chiffonade, and dill roughly chopped)
- 5 to 6 thin slices finger (or Fresno) chili, seeds removed
- 7 or more thin petals pickled pearl onion
- 10 fresh pomegranate seeds
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 3 lemon slices
Have you ever roasted a cauliflower whole? Tell us about it below!