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Today: Take one head of cauliflower. Add almost nothing. Serves two.
If you carve two inch-thick planks from a cauliflower's middle, not only do these cross-sections hold together much better than you'd think, they look like a tree! A beautiful little oak you can fry up like a steak and eat.
There are plenty of cauliflower steaks out there on the internet, but I'm partial to this recipe from farm-to-table genius Dan Barber -- true to his mission, it's the fullest celebration of cauliflower's talents.
He sears the steaks in a little vegetable oil, salt, and pepper and finishes roasting them in the oven, which gives them a deep brown crust. The remains of the cauliflower becomes florets that are simmered till soft in water and milk, then blitzed into a weightless white cloud.
He uses every part of the buffalo, as they say, and adds almost nothing to distract you. The cauliflower's sweet, subtle flavors are unobscured; its textures are at their best. He brings together the nutty crisped edges you get from roasting, and the unearthly creaminess of a purée (remember, whipping up cauliflower's natural pectin turns it creamy even without dairy).
Of course, you could just make one part of this recipe or the other. If you wanted to stick with the steaks and top them with olive relish or gremolata, I for one have no problem keeping a tupperware of squeaky florets in the fridge for a satisfyingly punishing snack.
But there is something deeply appealing about slashing through your slab of cauliflower, and plunging it into the downy bed of puree -- like a chicken-fried steak surrendering to its cream gravy.
How to serve it? I admit it's not exactly a complete meal. So add a salad, maybe with some lentils or meaty lardons. Or serve it as a first course at a dinner party, before winey braised short ribs or a shank of some sort.
Or maybe with a side of cauliflower. Just kidding.
Dan Barber's Cauliflower Steaks with Cauliflower Purée
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit (February 2008)
One 1 1/2-pound head of cauliflower
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional for brushing
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom
More ways to work a cauliflower: