Saffron Cauliflower

cauliflower 1 3.15.14Versatile cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables. Roast it, sauté it, mash it, or dip it in egg, then breadcrumbs, and fry ’til tender. Always wonderful.

Mellow and satisfying with subtle flavors, it also holds its own with bigger, more distinct flavors. So when I came across this saffron cauliflower recipe while leafing through my copy of the Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook Plenty, I really wanted to try it. British cook Ottolenghi brings Mediterranean-Middle Eastern inspiration to the entries in this all-vegetables cookbook, that is rich in colors, ingredients, and textures.

In this recipe, which I adapted a little to accommodate ingredients I already had, the exotic aroma of saffron, the sweetness from raisins and long-cooked onions, and the slight saltiness of green olives work beautifully with cauliflower, which remains central even as it plays well with the others.

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons saffron
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 2 12-ounce packages cauliflower florets (or 1 medium cauliflower, divided into medium florets)
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2/3 cup Thompson raisins (if you use raisins that are very dry, soak them in water for a few minutes, then drain)
  • 1/2 cup Luques green olives (or other nice-quality green olive)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons cilantro

I preheated the oven to 400°F, then put the saffron strands in a small bowl, over which I poured the boiling water. While that infused, I sliced the onions and pitted and halved the olives.

Then I put everything, except for the cilantro, into a larger bowl, mixing it all together with my hands, giving the white florets (as well as my hands!) a good stir in the yellow saffron-water infusion.

Transferred that to an ovenproof pan, which I covered with foil and placed in the oven to cook for 40 to 45 minutes. Until the cauliflower was tender but still a bit firm. About halfway through I pulled the pan out to give everything a stir, covered again and returned to the oven to finish cooking.

When it was done, I removed the foil and allowed it to cool down slightly, before stirring in the cilantro, and adjusting the seasoning.

cauliflower 5 3.15.14I don’t know how to describe the flavor of saffron. It’s distinct. It’s more a permeating scent than a taste. As simple as this dish is, there’s a lushness to it because of that, and because of the mellowed olives, juicy raisins, the onions cooked to a drapey softness, citrusy cilantro.

All mingling with golden-hued cauliflower…showing off its glamour side.

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