Monday, December 14, 2009

Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers, and Raisins

Gramercy Tavern in New York City is one of my favorite restaurants in the world. I have only eaten there once, for lunch, on a cold February day in 2007. I dined with the man that would become my literary agent, representing and shepherding me through the book writing process.

Our meal was perfect: perfect wine, perfect service, perfect food. The funny thing is, I don't exactly remember what I ate. I was too busy trying to appear smart and elegant. I felt I had to be savvy enough to convince this fellow I was a young writer worth taking a chance on. Luckily he did not see me nearly slip in my boots and fall on the way to the bathroom. Luckily he felt I was worth taking a chance on.

I know one thing I did not have for lunch at Gramercy Tavern on that February day: cauliflower. Even if I was a fan of cauliflower at the time (and I wasn't), a side of milky florets would have hardly seemed the right choice for such a potentially life changing meal.

Cauliflower is a better weeknight dish, which is when I made it. I was interested in this recipe solely because of the Gramercy Tavern connection. Though I like cauliflower, I hardly ever think of it passionately as I stroll the grocery store aisles.

But oh my, this cauliflower was divine. It was such a simple dish to make but tasted so decadent. I ate it several times again that week, always over fresh pasta with a splash of olive oil across the top for extra slipperiness and oomph.

After making this Gramercy Tavern dish at home, I long to return to the restaurant. I'd sit at the long wooden bar, order a glass of good French wine -- or two-- and a heaping plate of cauliflower. Yes, it is that good.

It is a dish that proves that sometimes the simple things are best, that memory is a great instigator of hunger, and that meals shared with friends are sometimes the best of all, even if you can't remember what you ate.

Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers, and Raisins
From Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern.
Another reason I was drawn to this recipe was the personal story behind it: When Chef Michael Anthony met his future wife, he was horrified to learn she did not like cauliflower. He set out on what he called a "cauliflower operation," creating five dishes to woo her and help her change her mind. This is one of the dishes. It would woo me, that's for sure -- but only if a suitor doubled the almonds, raisins, and capers in the dish. In my opinion there were not nearly enough.

1 head cauliflower, trimmed of leaves
1 and 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons fresh soft breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons whole almonds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut cauliflower from top to bottom in one-inch slices. Place a large ovenproof skillet over low heat and add one tablespoon butter. When it has melted, add bread crumbs and toss until toasted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a plate and wipe out pan.
2. Return pan to medium heat and add one teaspoon of olive oil. Add almonds and toss until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer almonds to a plate, let cool, cut each almond into three pieces* and set aside.
3. Wipe out pan and return to medium heat. Add remaining one tablespoon olive oil and cauliflower slices. Saute until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer pan to oven and roast until tender, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and add raisins, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon water. Simmer until raisins are plump and soft, about 5 minutes; drain and set aside. In a small bowl, combine almonds, capers, raisins, parsley, tarragon and chives. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to mix.
4. Arrange roasted cauliflower on a serving platter. Spoon almond-herb mixture evenly on top and sprinkle with toasted bread crumbs, serve immediately.
Yield: 4-ish servings
* Yes, believe it or not, it is possible to cut those roasted almonds into 3 pieces.

No comments: