We've all seen cauliflower. Many varieties exist, but most often it's a creamy white globe wrapped in a tight embrace of steady green leaves. We see them on store shelves and in Farmer's Market bins, usually in close proximity to broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables. The term cruciferous derives it's name from Cruciferae, or "cross-bearing". If you take a close, close look at a broccoli floret, for example, you can see a tiny cross in the tippy-top of each blossom.
Cruciferous vegetables are wonderfully healthy. Lightly cooked, they are sweepers of the blood, encouraging healthy growth and regeneration of the liver. Many times, however, nursing mothers must avoid this group of vegetables as it can cause colic in nursing infants. Still, for the majority of our population, they are a tasty, inexpensive choice!
The family of cruciferous vegetables is among the most common and widely eaten vegetables in the world. That said, how many of us reach for the brain-like looking cauliflower at our markets or think to ourselves at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, "I think I'll make cauliflower for dinner tonight"! Okay, maybe some, but even for me, it's a challenge to think about how I am going to best showcase this formidable vegetable to my family.
For those who did a large portion of growing up in the mid-to-late 20th century, boiled cauliflower with gloppy artificial orange cheese from a can was the way cauliflower was presented to us. Although a true cauliflower gratin is a lovely thing to behold, our 1970's dinner plate was most often holding over-boiled, wet chunks of insipid white globs with Martian-orange cheese sauce sliding off it into a sticky puddle. There are, thankfully, countless ways to prepare this terrific vegetable.
My current favorite way is the invention of my friend, Chef Laura Baucom. It is one of the rare dishes that only contain 3 ingredients.
First, set your oven to Screaming Hot. Don't have that temperature setting on your oven? Just use 425-450 conventional, or 400-425 convection. Wash the cauliflower and chop it into bite-size pieces. Place on a sheet pan and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. You can use canola oil or even butter if you like, but stay away from artificial fats. Extra virgin olive oil, as most of us know is a great source of heart-healthy and cancer-fighting Omega-3 fatty acids, so try to incorporate it when you can.
Once you've topped the cauliflower with EVOO, sprinkle some lemon pepper over the top- I use about 2-3 TBSP per head of cauliflower- and toss to coat. Commercial lemon pepper is a bog-standard dry spice mix. If you prefer to make your own, just use salt, pepper, grated onion, and lemon zest- leave all this in a dry place for 24 hours and store in an airtight container.
After you've added the lemon pepper, sprinkle with 2-3 TBSP of dried dill or 1/2 cup of fresh chopped dill and toss. Place the sheet pan in the oven for approximately 10-12 minutes, then set your oven for High broil and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes, until the tips of the cauliflower are golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve hot.