Pan Seared Cauliflower & Creamy Tomato Sauce
I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with cauliflower. It’s one of those vegetables I was somewhat forced to eat as a kid and, though I squirmed in my chair, I managed to get it down. Thankfully my mom usually took mercy on us kids and combined it with broccoli and cheese. And in my mind’s eye, cauliflower was always just that: broccoli’s pale and tasteless cousin.
I’m not going to lie to you…I was pretty much hitting the nail on the head with my childhood assessment of cauliflower. As a cook with a passion for putting local produce to use though, I’ve discovered that cauliflower is just a vehicle for shuttling other amazing flavors into your mouth. Case and point: that dreamy Creamy Cauliflower Garlic Soup that I made last winter and the Roasted Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Mash I declared the “perfect dish” many moons ago.
When a mammoth head of cauliflower at the last-of-the-season farmers market made its way into my shopping bag along with a small tub of the most mouth-watering sun-dried tomato marinated goat cheese from my friend at Shellbark Hollow Farm, the wheels in my head began to turn in that way that makes me giddy as I can nearly taste the flavors coming together. The only thing that needed sousing out was how to prepare the cauliflower…
Pan searing a vegetable like cauliflower gives you the opportunity to infuse it with the flavors of high-quality olive oil and a good butter as well as any herbs or seasoning. I heated sprigs of rosemary in my skillet, giving the finished cauliflower a wonderful wafting aroma that enticed me to eat a few pieces even before the sauce was ready. I have to say, if I had to eat “plain” cauliflower, this is the preparation I would always use. The slices were tender but not at all soggy, and the searing added a great deal of depth to an otherwise bland vegetable.
The real star of this show though is the sauce. It really is reminiscent of creamy vodka sauce, but it’s a much simpler one to put together. The key is to find yourself some outstanding local goat cheese that hasn’t been over processed. Just a few tablespoons makes this sauce a stand-out. Next time I’ll be sure to make a double batch since I also really enjoyed having the little bit of leftovers over a bowl of pasta the next day. So, while cauliflower hasn’t made its way to the tippy top of my favorite vegetables list, it can be quite tasty when it finds a good dinner companion.
Pan Seared Cauliflower & Creamy Tomato Sauce
A Straight from the Farm Original
1 large head of cauliflower
4 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 T. butter
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 T. finely minced garlic
1 T. tomato paste
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
3 T. goat cheese
3 T. heavy cream
1/2 t. fresh oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Scrub the cauliflower. Use a large sharp knife to cut the cauliflower into slices about a half inch thick. If big pieces of the core/stem come with a slice, you can remove it, being careful to keep the slice intact.
Heat a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter over high heat in a large heavy skillet until the butter is melted. Put one sprig of rosemary in the hot skillet and give it a shake to get it coated. Lay one layer of cauliflower slices in the hot skillet and allow to cook for 4-5 minutes or until you start seeing the browning around the edges. Use a spatula to carefully flip the pieces over, giving the pan a gentle shake once they are all turned over to redistribute the oil and butter. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Continue to cook until second side is also golden and the pieces are tender, about 3-4 minutes.
Repeat this process, adding an additional tablespoon of oil and of butter to the hot skillet before each new batch of cauliflower. Keep seared cauliflower under foil or in a warm oven to keep it hot until ready to serve.
To make the sauce, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and a sprig of rosemary. Stir until fragrant and garlic is turning golden. Add the tomato paste and stir briskly to incorporate. Add the diced tomatoes and allow mixture to simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Use a potato masher or large spoon to break up the larger chunks of tomato. Add the goat cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and mixed into the sauce. Stir in the cream and oregano. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
To serve, plate up the cauliflower and top with the warm sauce. Cauliflower and sauce can be made the day before and reheated (cauliflower in the oven and sauce on the stove works best) just before serving. Also delicious when served over a pile of warm whole wheat pasta.