I don’t mean to pretend: a) that cauliflower totally resembles steak; b) you should eat cauliflower as a meat substitute, works just as well; or c) cauliflower is inherently awesomer when sliced in thick and satisfying slabs. No, no, no. But this is fun, and you should try it.
Roasted cauliflower is great — crispy and caramelized at the peaks, soft and juicy inside. But it doesn’t make a very substantial dish, this jumble of floret bits. Yet roasted at exactly the same temperature, for about the same time, thick, hearty slabs of cauliflower heads come out impressive — something to break out a fork and knife for. And sauces! Why not? And steakhouse sides, like a buttery mushroom topping with shallots and wine reduction. And with those in tow, that promotes the roasted cauliflower from a side dish to the main attraction on the plate. So maybe I am sort of saying a, b, and c in a small way. (Wait, am I being sarcastic? I don’t even know anymore…)
Ah, lunch debates. Seriously though, if you’ve only served yourself roasted cauliflower as a jumble of chopped-up florets, this method is refreshingly fun. It also incorporates a lot of the core of the cauliflower head, that solid stem base. This so often gets trimmed to oblivion when chopping up neat, uniform florets. However, once roasted, the stem was really delicious — sweet and juicy as can be, while crisped a little on both sides. It also serves the purpose of holding together the midsection of cauliflower as a whole, steak-like slice.
But, this style of slicing will produce a lot of sad, unevenly chopped-at bits of cauliflower on your board. Not ideal. The last thing these trimmings are, however, is waste. Tuck them away in a freezer bag to toss the next day into your stir-fry, pasta, scrambled eggs, or burrito. Anything goes! Make a soup with the scraps. And don’t worry if your “steaks” don’t come out perfectly even. A cauliflower head is not an orange, it will never slice cleanly and perfect.
Finally, I picked up some purple cauliflower, because it was just so fetching at the farmers market recently. Early fall is the best time to score brassicas — broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and most recently, Brussels sprouts. They’re so sweet and fresh, because they prefer growing under slightly cooler conditions than most summer vegetables. Yes, it’s truly the best time of year to substitute a cauliflower midsection for a beef steak, for a change. It will be so flavorful and satisfying. I’m being totally serious now.
Roasted Cauliflower “Steaks” with Mushrooms
(makes about 2 servings)
1 large head cauliflower
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pint oyster mushrooms, trimmed to evenly-sized pieces (or any mushroom you like, such as button, sliced evenly)
1 small shallot, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the cauliflower head of large leaves. Place stem side-up on a cutting board. Starting with one side, slice a clean edge into that side, and continue to slice the head into four roughly 1/2″ sections. Safe the trimmings for a later use. Gently coat both sides with the olive oil, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Place down on a baking sheet, and roast for 10-15 minutes, turning once halfway to brown the opposite side.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a saucepan, and add the shallots once it’s melted. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally and adding a pinch of salt and pepper, until softened and translucent but not brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the pan along with a pinch of salt and pepper and increase heat to medium. cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned in patches, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil (increasing heat once again to medium-high or high). Let simmer uncovered to cook off the alcohol and reduce liquid by one half, about 3-4 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding extra salt and pepper as desired. Stir in the extra tablespoon of butter and once melted, remove from heat. Serve the cauliflower “steaks” with the mushroom as a topping.
(for 2 servings)
1 head cauliflower: $4.00
1 pint oyster mushrooms: $5.00
1 shallot: $0.25
1 cup dry white wine: $1.00
2 tablespoons butter: $0.30
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper: $0.30
Five brownie points: Whether it’s purple, orange, green or white, cauliflower has an abundance of antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin A. It’s also rich in fiber and potassium, even with all that stem/base part. Since you’re saving floret trimmings anyway, go ahead and save any fresh-looking leafy greens that come along with the head — they’re nutritious for you as well.
Eight maple leaves: Everything you see can be foraged right now locally, from the butter to the wine included. With the exception of olive oil for the Northeast region (and salt and pepper), this is a perfectly seasonal dish that you can take advantage of this fall.