This is the type of food I crave as fall approaches – or anytime really. It’s a jumble of textures and flavors, the type of dish that’s different and interesting bite after bite. The mix of pan-roasted and raw cauliflower works remarkably well (a trick I picked up from Yotam Ottolenghi), and it's a good example of how a small change in technique can cast a familiar ingredient in a whole new light. —EmilyC
large head of cauliflower (about 2 1/2 pounds), trimmed
extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional as needed
fennel seed, lightly crushed with the back of a knife
kosher salt, to taste
pancetta, finely chopped
small tart apple (such as honeycrisp), halved, cored, and very thinly sliced
large celery stalk, thinly sliced crosswise
celery leaves, or mix of celery leaves and flat-leaf parsley leaves
finely chopped dill leaves
Juice from 1 large lemon (or 2 small ones)
In This Recipe
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
To prepare cauliflower, cut the head of cauliflower in half. Cut the first half into small florets. Place in a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil (this will promote deeper, more even roasting), Aleppo, fennel seed, and kosher salt, to taste. Thinly slice or shave the other half (the slicing blade of a food processor makes quick work of this task). You’re aiming for a combination of thin slices and the little bits of florets that fall off while slicing. Break apart any large pieces so they're easier to eat. Set aside (this is the half that's eaten raw).
In a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, leaving the rendered fat in the skillet. You should have enough fat to cover the bottom of your skillet; supplement with olive oil if needed.
Return the skillet to the burner at medium-high heat. When the fat begins to shimmer, add the cauliflower florets (the first half that you tossed with spices, salt, and olive oil) in a single, even layer, taking care to avoid overcrowding which will cause the cauliflower to steam. (Cook the cauliflower florets in batches, if needed.) Sauté for several minutes without disturbing – you want the cauliflower to caramelize, then flip the florets and brown on the other side, another minute or two. At this point, the cauliflower should be nicely browned but not cooked through. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Check often to avoid mushy cauliflower. Remove skillet from oven.
Immediately toss the thinly sliced, raw cauliflower with the pan-roasted cauliflower in the skillet (or a large bowl); the residual heat will relax the crunch of the raw cauliflower. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then add the pancetta, apple, celery, celery leaves, and dill. Add lemon juice (starting with about 2 tablespoons and adding more, to taste) and 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil; toss to combine. Adjust salt to taste, and drizzle a little more extra-virgin olive oil over the salad, if desired. Serve while still warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be gently reheated in a skillet or microwave until the cauliflower is just warm.