We are getting SO close to spring time that it hurts...I'm ready to come out of culinary hibernation and get this show on the road. I'm ready to see some color out there, and we all know I can't wait to over-purchase boatloads of highly perishable baby vegetables and items that are only available for a small window of time. Seems logical, no? I just get excited. I've sort of learned how to maintain my enthusiasm and not go overboard, but it generally works out in the end.
That being said, it seems as though we here in New York are still a couple weeks out from breaking free of winter's root vegetable shackles and into the realm of unicorns and rainbows....I mean fiddleheads, ramps, spring garlic, and....rainbows. Fortunately, I was able to stumble upon a bit of color in my travels today...even though those colors sprung from an oft-rejected vegetable, the cauliflower. We all know that I have a place in my heart for cauliflower, whether it's plain roasted, made into a soup, or as a puree base for some dish, to name a few examples. Today's selection: orange, purple and green. My affinity for the combination of these colors is also a problem, but I suppose everything has to ultimately come full circle. Sadly, the green was not of the variety of one of my favorite, and probably one of the coolest vegetables ever: the Romanesco cauliflower, which grows in kind of a conical, logarithmic spiral. Nature showcasing Fibonacci. What more could you ask for?! But I digress.
I wanted to showcase vegetables instead of making a protein the main event. We all know I love my meats and fishes, but it's sometimes fun to be able to combine a slew of flavors and textures that equally balance one another out. And this is exactly what happened with this dish - easy and delicious, and that's all there is to it!
Salad of Roasted Cauliflower, Raw Mushrooms, Fennel, and Parsley with Lemon
2 cups of cauliflower, cut into small florets and thickly sliced (1/4")
A pinch of chili flakes
2 cups of cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup fennel, thinly sliced - reserve the fronds
1 lemon, zested and halved for juicing
1 handful Italian parsley, picked
Fresh Ground Pepper
Fennel Pollen (if ya' nasty)
Preheat your oven to 400F. Toss the cauliflower with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, the chili flakes, a generous pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a roasting pan. Slide the pan into the oven, and let cook for about 20 minutes, until just fork tender, tossing occasionally. Right before removing the cauliflower from the oven, great about a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese over top, toss together and finish in the oven for just another minute before plating.
While the cauliflower is roasting, you can prepare the raw, shaved salad. In a separate bowl, toss the mushrooms, fennel slices, parsley, and lemon zest together. If you're not a big fan of large chunks of parsley, feel free to chop it up as opposed to leaving the leaves whole. Squeeze in the juice of your lemon and about 2 T tablespoons of olive oil. Toss the entire mixture together - the mushrooms will soak up pretty much all of the oil and juice that you've combined it with. Season with salt and pepper to taste, giving it one final toss to come together. Set aside and let the flavors come together.
To plate, divide the raw salad portion equally amongst four plates (this, by the way, can be eaten all by itself and fare very well!). Divvy up the cauliflower, scattering it on top and around the mushroom salad. It's all going to be mixed together right before you eat it anyway. Heck, if you're not a plating obsessor like I am, toss it all together in one bowl and dole it out!
Finish each plate with a quick grind of black pepper, a generous grating of Parmesan cheese, and finally, a scattering of fennel fronds, just for good measure. If you have fennel pollen on hand, give it a sprinkle for that little....je ne sais quoi. Get your fork ready, and dig in!
Although this can be done equally as well with standard white cauliflower, the visual aspect of the dish with the multicolored cauliflower takes it to the next level. The roasting of the cauliflower gives it a bit of sweetness and nuttiness that counteracts the earthiness and freshness of the raw salad. Being so thinly sliced, the fennel definitely doesn't overpower the dish with an anise-y flavor, but kind of subtly sneaks up on you as your eating it. Same with those chili flakes! The lemon, as it usually does, brightens up the dish and brings it all together. And obviously, Parmesan cheese makes everything fabulous. A bit of saltiness, a bit of earthiness, but also a bit of sharpness to top it all off.