It’s been 533 days since my last visit to New York City, and ever since I left I’ve been longing for another piece of cauliflower pizza from Sullivan Street Bakery. Probably not too many people can say they’ve had cauliflower that blew their mind. But I can. Thin shavings of caramelized, roasted cauliflower atop a rectangular slab of crackly-thin crust, tasting of coarse salt and fruity olive oil. With each bite I couldn’t wait for the next – what was in it? Garlic, yes. Parmiggiano? Pecorino? And those little flecks? Tiny, briny, brilliant bits of green olive. Sullivan Street Bakery is famous for its bread, and the crust was ethereally crisp and flavorful. But it was the cauliflower that blew my mind.
With its mild taste and pale color, cauliflower is inoffensive but unsexy as far as vegetables go. I know many people who would only eat it in creamy, cheesy casserole form. In recent years, carb-counters have discovered pureed cauliflower as an excellent substitute for mashed potatoes. But in its neutrality cauliflower is a very versatile vegetable that takes well to many preparations and flavors. There are some vegetables – broccoli rabe, for example – whose strong flavor dominates any preparation. But cauliflower doesn’t want to stand alone; it wants to carry savory seasonings from the pan to your palate. If you like Parmesan, garlic, olives and olive oil, you will like this cauliflower.
Jim Lahey, mastermind behind the Sullivan Street Bakery, started a revolution in home bread baking with his no-knead bread, popularized by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. But people are drawn to the bakery for Lahey’s pizzas. He makes pizzas the way bakeries (as opposed to pizzerias) do in Italy – in large sheets of very thin crust, topped with a single vegetable or tomato sauce (usually not both) or simply olive oil, fresh rosemary and salt. Particularly well known is Lahey’s potato pizza, with the thinnest slices of crisply baked potato layered on top, featured on Martha Stewart’s show years ago.
After our cauliflower pizza discovery, my friend Lily surprised me with Lahey’s book, My Bread, in the mail. Lily has made the bread with good success, but the first thing I tried was the pizza. I’m not an experienced bread maker, so I didn’t expect to create anything close to Lahey’s version. But the recipe was surprisingly easy and the results delightfully similar to the original.
I haven’t had a chance to make the pizza again, but I keep coming back to the cauliflower – it’s wonderful tossed with pasta (Lahey’s pizza was inspired by a pasta he’d had in Italy) and makes a spectacular side dish. I made a similar recipe once from epicurious (with pan-cooked florets that did not compare to Lahey’s oven-roasted thin slices) that had chopped almonds. I think I’ll add those next time.
And now to get started with a lovely cauliflower (I dare you to call me homely!).
Cut 1/4-inch slices. Don’t worry if they fall apart.
Into a large bowl with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper and/or and crushed red pepper. Taste to check seasoning. Don’t skimp on the salt – cauliflower likes it – but also keep in mind the cheese and olives add some saltiness as well. Even if you don’t like heat, I do recommend at least a pinch of crushed red pepper.
Add minced garlic, grated Parmesan and chopped green olives. Mine here were the pimiento-stuffed variety. Kalamata olives would also be good.
Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet and spread cauliflower evenly.
Bake for 25-30 minutes in a 400 degree F oven, until edges start to brown and caramelize.
Makes a wonderful side dish – salty, soft-crisp with deliciously caramelized edges and a hint of garlic and cheese. Minced parsley would be fresh and pretty on top.
Or incredible pizza (a whole head of cauliflower goes on one pizza – looks like a lot when raw but cooks down).
Or a homey pasta, tossed with a bit of pasta cooking water or any other liquid you have on hand (chicken stock, wine, cream) and a final drizzle of olive oil and dusting of Parmesan. A sprinkle of fresh toasted breadcrumbs or chopped or slivered almonds would be wonderful.
Also makes a perfect lunch on its own for the cauliflower-obsessed.
Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan and Olives
Inspired by Jim Lahey of NYC’s Sullivan Street Bakery, this roasted cauliflower makes a wonderful pizza, pasta or side dish.
- 1 medium head cauliflower
- 3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Crushed red pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup green olives, chopped
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- Italian flat-leaf parsley, optional
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Remove leaves and cut stem of cauliflower. Rinse well and shake off excess water.
- Place head of cauliflower upright on large cutting board. Cut into 1/4-inch slices. Don’t worry if the slices fall apart.
- Place sliced cauliflower in large mixing bowl. Season well with olive oil, salt, black pepper and/or crushed red pepper. Stir to mix well and taste to check seasoning.
- Add chopped garlic, Parmesan and olives. Mix well.
- Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread cauliflower mixture evenly.
- Bake for 25-35 minutes, until cauliflower is well-roasted and edges start to brown.
- Serve with a sprinkle of additional Parmesan, minced parsley and/or flaky Kosher or sea salt.
- Roasting and seasoning well are the keys to this dish – cauliflower should have a concentrated, roasted flavor. If it tastes merely cooked, not roasted, bake for a few more minutes some edges are very brown. If it seems dry, add another drizzle of olive oil. And if it tastes bland, sprinkle on a bit more salt.
- If you overload your baking sheet, cauliflower below the top layer gets more steamed than roasted. In this case, keep an eye on the baking sheet and stir the cauliflower when the top gets browned. It may take a few rounds of this to get all the cauliflower nicely roasted.
- For cauliflower pizza, try to cut cauliflower as thin as possible (Lahey recommends using a mandoline). Spread cauliflower mixture over thinly rolled pizza dough and bake until cauliflower begins to brown. Pile the cauliflower generously, as it cooks down during baking.
- For cauliflower pasta, cook pasta in a generous amount of salted water to al dente, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Toss drained hot pasta with roasted cauliflower and add a bit of pasta water (you can also use chicken stock, cream, even a knob of cream cheese). Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, additional Parmesan and/or a sprinkling of minced parsley.
- For a heartier dish, sprinkle chopped or slivered almonds (even better toasted) over the cauliflower before serving. Fresh toasted breadcrumbs are also wonderful.
Here’s the link to a printable version.