Saturday, September 24, 2005

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Saturday afternoon, in the middle of a happy, energetic Halloween day, Birdy said, suddenly, "Mama, will you take my temperature?" Let me just say--and this is not hindsight talking--I did not have a good feeling about it. You know how it is. Only when you sit your child down do you see the peculiarly fluorescent rosiness of her cheeks, the damp stringiness of her hair, the dry and peeling lips; a hand to the forehead offers immediate clamminess and then a deeper warmth, the feverish immunological teapot under the padded cozy of skin and bones. The thermometer offered digital confirmation. And so a tearful Birdy was stuck pretend trick-or-treating from our own giant cookie tin of candy while her brother and their friends--Frank Sinatra, Athena, Dread Pirate, and Cheetah Superhero--toured the neighborhood merrily.

Poor little thing. We read Sick Day and When Vera Was Sick. We drank many fluids. We watched Snow White and traded feminist commentary. ("This is so stereoptypical," she said, when the prince showed up to rescue his dead/sleeping girlfriend. "It is," I said. "Totally." But I was distracted by the utter perversity of the dwarves keeping her in a glass coffin. Maybe they could have just taxidermied her and arranged mechanically for her to continue to do all their housework.)

Where was I? Cauliflower salad? No. Not just yet. Old Blue Eyes came home late and flopped onto the bed with me, dumped his candy out between us. We ate Whoppers and miniature Butterfingers and talked about Y2K (he loves to hear the stories about his dad and me watching the local news on New Year's Eve, 2-month-old him asleep on the couch between us as the catastrophic tales unfolded of this or that person needing to reset their clock radio). We ate gummy body parts and talked about evolution ("Is it adaptive for people to like sugar so much?" Ben mused aloud, and I imagined a caveman ogling my sugar-fed bottom with thoughts of furthering the species. "I think so," I said.). We ate 3 Musketeers Bars and stopped talking because a terrible, manic lethargy was settling over us. It reminded me of college--especially when Ben said, "Oh, man, stop me--please." So we brushed our teeth and put the candy away.

The next morning, Birdy was still feverish, but well enough to sort and trade, since Ben had trick-or-treated as her proxy. So there was more eating of candy, more talking about candy, more groaning entreaties around candy. And this is where the cauliflower salad comes in. I needed to eat vegetables; I needed the kids to eat vegetables. I felt like the profound vegetableness of caulflower and broccoli would scrub some of the sugary yuck from our insides. And I was right. In fact, Ben hovered around the bowl as I was folding the golden roasted veggies into the vividly flavorful dressing, and he plucked pieces out and crooned, "Oooh, that's so good," in that way people do, about vegetables, when they've eaten way too much candy.

It is a perfect salad: salty and tangy, sweet from the caramelized vegetables, bright with lemon and parsley, pungent with capers and anchovies. You can substitute fish sauce for the anchovies if you like. Or leave them out altogether, if you must; the salad will be fully unfunky that way, which is how some prefer it. A fish-hating friend came over and I tried to talk her into trying it--she likes Caesar salad, after all, with the faint fishiness of its dressing. Maybe next time. But let me know how it goes, either way. Okay, but now I have to go cram more Tylenol into my swinish child. Poor thing.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad
Serves 4-6

Roasting brings out the incredible sweetness of the cauliflower. Feel free to swap in some broccoli, as I did here, though if you use all broccoli, you'll miss the velvety, luxurious tenderness of the cauliflower. Something crunchy is a nice addition: buttered bread crumbs or toasted pine nuts. But it's also lovely without.

2 1/2 pounds cauliflower, or a mix of cauliflower and broccoli, to yield 2 pounds of trimmed stems and florets
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
Juice and grated zest of half a lemon
2 teaspoons capers
1 anchovy or 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled and pressed through a garlic press
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 450. Trim the vegetables, slicing off any tough ends, peeling the stems a bit, and slicing the stems and heads into bite-sized pieces and florets. On a large, rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the veggies with the olive oil, sprinkle with one teaspoon of salt, and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes, then shake the pan and/or flip over the vegetables with a spatula, and roast another 5 or so minutes, until the vegetables are browning in spots and tender.

Meanwhile, stir together the lemon juice and zest, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the capers, anchovy, and garlic. Use a fork to mash up the anchovy as you combine the mixture, then dip a piece of cauliflower in to taste: it should be salty and lemony. Fold the veggies into the dressing, add the parsley and a grinding of black pepper, then taste and adjust the seasonings again. Serve warm or at room temperature or, less ideally, cold.

1 comment:

  1. My little Benjamin had three helpings of this tonight and proclaimed it the best salad he's ever had. He might have been dessert fishing, but I'll take it.