Cauliflower and Crabs
December 12, 2004

Although I'm not overly easy to please in the vegetable department, I have always liked raw cauliflower. After drooling over tales of roasted cauliflower from my good friend at work, I started craving this new idea. The craving went on for a few weeks because, try as I might, I couldn't find cauliflower in supermarkets or at the farmer's market. That in itself is a bit odd because cauliflower isn't really seasonal -- it's usually available year-round.

The first night I made it was a few days after Thanksgiving. Dr. Mathra, my little sister, and I were still rolling around on the brined turkey breast, orange and cranberry relish, ginger-steamed broccoli, roasted fingerling potatoes and fennel I had whipped up -- we wanted to keep it small this year -- and I was craving something on the lighter side.

Now, I should mention that my bourbon-spiced pumpkin cheesecake was still in the fridge, getting slowly getting consumed over each passing day. We were doing that thing where you don't cut an actual piece and put it on plate like any other civilized human being because you're convinced that you're actually eating less if all you do is shave small amounts away with the side of a fork. Of course, when you do that, you invariably leave behind a jagged line and have to busy yourself with smoothing it out. Lots of smoothing out. A piece of the ginger graham cracker crust pulls away even more of the fluffy, moussey filling than you anticipated and you can't just leave that weird hole there -- you must even it out. I know you know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, as Nessa shuffled for our fortieth game of Clue, I took the opportunity to hack up the newly purchased cauliflower head, toss the florets with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and throw it into a 475 oven. I stirred it every so often and let the pale vegetable roast until it got dark and crispy at the tips, about 35-40 minutes.

Wow. Just wow. It was like candy. I shoveled each bite in so fast because I didn't want that taste to leave my mouth. Ever. I think the last time I prepared something so simple that floored both me and my husband so completely was when I discovered roasted fennel.

This cauliflower wasn't even like cauliflower anymore. It had caramelized at the tips, but because of the quick cooking in a very hot and dry oven, the florets were not at all mushy. They had softened slightly but still retained a very pleasing crunch. After my husband and I cleaned our plates, we stuck our fingers in the roasting pan and grabbed up the "burned" bits. Burned, hah! In fact, the darker the bits, the sweeter the taste. My husband rolled his eyes and proclaimed that the roasted cauliflower was as addicting as McDonald's French fries and without the guilt. I refuse to understand why this dish isn't on every menu in every restaurant all across the world. You just haven't lived until you've eaten this dish. I don't think I could put this any more plainly: make this. Tonight.

About three days later, I roasted more cauliflower, this time following a recipe that called for only 30 minutes at 400. I ended up roasting it longer because I didn't get any of the color I wanted after only 30 minutes. By the end, I had upped the temp to 435 and roasted the cauliflower for a total of 55 minutes. It was a disappointment -- the cauliflower was nice and caramelized but it was far too soft. Hot and fast is definitely the way to go.

Roasting is clearly my preference with so many vegetables. See my rave on roasting corn in the husks and my new-found love for Brussels sprouts. When we were mistakenly delivered three pounds of baby carrots, I roasted them until they browned and turned them into a spicy Ginger and Curried Carrot soup. While perfectly delicious raw, fennel and cauliflower are both sublime when roasted and I've heard that roasting broccoli might achieve the same effect. Since I'm not overly fond of that particular vegetable, I'll have to attempt it soon.

Last time I was at the Ferry Building, I noticed my fish guys had in the season's first haul of Dungeness crabs, so this past weekend my husband and I picked up two of the not-so-little monsters. With their shells, they easily weighed about two pounds. At home, we cleaned them, quartered the bodies, and I made some preliminary cracks in the legs before slathering them with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette and leaving them at room temperature for an hour to marinate. What perfection the sea never had. It took us about 1 1/2 hours to eat the little buggers, but the reward was big, firm chunks of sweet snow white meat tinged with the slightest of blushes. As we sucked the meat and juice out of every last leg, we made a solemn vow not to wait until Christmas Eve to have them again.

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