Just because cool weather and fall produce have arrived doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good salad. I’m not sure if there’s anything that mandates a “salad” but the simple treatment of fresh ingredients, and the clean feeling you get from eating it. This salad, for instance, is served warm thanks to crisp, lightly roasted cauliflower and romanesco florets — and it has no lettuce greens. However, I like to roast the leaves from these brassicas along with them until savory chips to sprinkle the salad with texture. And a cool, crunchy, fresh component is achieved with sliced pears, a little underripe and extra-tart.
So it’s a salad, alright — one very particular to fall. I’m so glad it’s finally come, too, because I’ve been craving some of these favorite fall foods. High on that list would be cauliflower and romanesco, a vibrant lime-green cousin to the former plant and broccoli, also closely related. It cooks more akin to cauliflower, although its florets might not be quite as dense. The coiled, strange surface of the romesco head looks like another planet, or, as my uncle once observed, “like the Buddha’s hair.”
Another fall staple of mine are apples and pears. (Who’s not in that camp?) Just in season and crisp and fresh as ever, the pears beckoned me at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket last Saturday. I like to purchase them rather firm, and enjoy their gradual stages throughout the week until buttery soft and dripping with juice. On the day of making this salad, they were quite crunchy and had just a hint of that slightly tropical pear flavor along with a sharp acidity.
I roasted a few florets of both cauliflower and romanesco for no longer than ten minutes at 450 degrees, coated in just olive oil and salt. While that was happening, I thought the flavor of maple in a simple vinaigrette dressing would marry the sweet brassicas and sour pears well, and smack of another favorite fall flavor. So I whisked a little apple cider vinegar, pure maple syrup and extra-virgin olive oil in a small bowl. No salt or pepper needed, I decided afterward. The salad was ready to toss.
Because it was newly purchased as one of my fall-winter windowsill herbs, I sprinkled some thyme leaves on this salad for a final touch. I’m not sure it was necessary or rather more of a distraction, as those cauliflower and romesco peaks with the maple-y dressing were so enjoyable on their own. It’s definitely a combination I’ll be repeating over the season, now that its time has come.
Roasted Cauliflower and Romanesco Salad with Pears and Maple Vinaigrette
(makes 2-3 servings)
1/2 small head cauliflower, trimmed to small florets of even sizes
1/2 small head romanesco, trimmed to small florets of even sizes
handful of romesco and cauliflower leaves
1 firm pear, any type (I used Bosc), thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
few leaves fresh thyme (optional)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss all the florets and leaves in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, or just until lightly coated, and a couple pinches of sea salt. Arrange in a single layer on a roasting sheet and roast for 8-10 minutes, or just until lightly browned in parts. Let cool for a few moments before transferring to a bowl.
Whisk the vinegar, maple syrup and about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small bowl. Drizzle on the cooling vegetables and toss lightly with the pears. Transfer to a plate and serve warm with the optional fresh thyme for garnish.
(for 2-3 servings)
1/2 head cauliflower (at $3/each): $1.50
1/2 head romesco (at $4/each): $2.00
1 pear (at $2/lb): $0.80
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil: $0.30
1 tablespoon maple syrup: $0.20
1 teaspoon cider vinegar: $0.05
Three brownie points: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, and most other members of the brassica family (i.e. kale and brussels sprouts) truly amaze with their nutritional benefits. High in Vitamin C and other antioxidants, Vitamin K (especially the romanesco here, with its dark-green leaves), a good source of protein, and many other vitamins and minerals, they’re super foods we should all be eating more of, and low in calories to boot. The pears that provide that touch of magic in this salad are no slackers, either (especially when you keep the peels on, which I do) — adding some potassium and fiber to this nutritional salad. With natural sugars from the maple syrup and heart-healthy olive oil as the only added fat, this savory little salad can do little harm, it seems.
Eight maple leaves: I’m hard-pressed to remember where I got my maple syrup from, as it was transferred to a mason jar at some point a year (or two?) ago. But I’m guessing it was somewhere in Vermont or Upstate New York. The cauliflower, romanesco and pears were just purchased at the Greenmarket, from local farms, too. These sparse few ingredients and a little splash of oil and vinegar are all it takes to make a satisfying (and very sustainable, local farm-friendly) meal sometimes.