Not Your Momma’s Veggies
We’ve all got that childhood memory where mom puts a big steaming bowl of boiled brussel sprouts or cauliflower in front of us, our legs squirming in the booster seat. Perhaps the veggies were microwaved instead so they’d be considered “steamed”, but the end result was always the same. “Ewwww, gross! I’m not eatin’ that!” Or, those more polite children or those who happen to like most veggies might push them around on their plates and take an occasional tiny bite.
Growing up, my mom grew cauliflower in the garden and we ate it steamed with some butter and maybe some processed cheese melted on top. It was okay – I didn’t mind it. But I never loved it. I guess my aversion was to the lack of color and the mush factor. It wasn’t until I was casually watching Mike Colameco’s Food Show on PBS one day that I latched on to pan seared cauliflower and never looked back!
Brussel sprouts were another matter. We didn’t grow them at home so I never encountered a single brussel sprout until college where I happily made their acquaintance in a lovely braised dish. That reminds me…I should show you how to braise them too.
Anyway, moving on.
With her gorgeous photos of browned brussel sprouts, Heidi at 101Cookbooks reminded me of the crisp head of cauliflower in my fridge that I’d been planning to pan sear. Serendipity! Adding brussel sprouts to the mix would be perfect.
The general idea with the cauliflower is to cut it into big flat slices that can be laid in the skillet to sear and brown on one side and then be flipped to do the same on the other side. Having a fresh compact head of cauliflower makes this mission more possible. While I did have a lovely fresh head I’d gotten from Paradise Organics, a family organic farm out in Lancaster County that sets up shop next to us at the Headhouse Market, it had a scraggly inner core that didn’t lend itself to cutting sturdy slices. If you find yourself with a head of cauliflower like this, don’t fret. Just let it crumble and toss it a bit more in the skillet since it won’t have two distinctive sides to flip.
Thanks to the recent receipt of bulk spices I told you about yesterday, I have plenty of heady saffron at my disposal. Infusing it in the oil and butter seemed an excellent way to start using these gorgeous red strands. Aside from the anticipated enhancement of the caramelized color (saffron imparts its red orange hues to anything it touches), I was hoping to get an added depth of flavor. I’d like to think I’m a good enough writer to describe the resulting taste. But, alas, I’m not. I can only quote D: “Hmm, it’s nicely seasoned.” And indeed it was.
Saffron Infused Pan Seared Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts
A Straight from the Farm Original (inspired by Mike Colameco)
1 small tight head of cauliflower
15 small firm brussel sprouts
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. butter
a pinch (roughly 1/4 t.) of saffron strands
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan or asagio cheese for grating
Trim stems and loose leaves off cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Carefully slice the cauliflower in an effort to create 1/2 inch thick “sheets” of it – the tighter the head the better luck you’ll have getting big flat pieces instead of little bits. For the brussel sprout, slice them in half lengthwise.
Over very low heat in a large heavy skillet, combine oil, butter and saffron. Allow to very gently simmer for 3-4 minutes to bring out the saffron. Place brussel sprout halves cut side down in the skillet. Add as many cauliflower slices as possible in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cook over low heat for 5-7 minutes, being sure to not brown the undersides of the vegetables too much. Leave brussel sprouts face down but turn cauliflower after 4 minutes or so. When brussel sprouts are becoming tender (press the tops of them to see if they have some give), raise heat to medium-high and caramelize the vegetables – about 2 more minutes.
Cook the remaining cauliflower if it didn’t all fit in the skillet. Place vegetables on a platter and sprinkle with grated cheese. Serve immediately.
NOTE: If you want to speed up the cooking time and/or cut down on the fat, place whole brussel sprouts in a microwave safe bowl with a tablespoon of water and zap for 1 minute on high. This will essentially parboil them so that they cook more quickly when place in the skillet. Reduce both the amount of cooking time and the butter and oil by half. You should not do this with the cauliflower though as it will turn to mush.
Why not do this all the time? I like mine a little more buttery and rich, an essence that is imparted through the slow cooking at the start.