Autumn's flowers

Roastables need not be meat
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Most people rate summer more highly than autumn, and the reason is simple: summer means no school, autumn means back to school, and most people don't like school. Therefore: summer over autumn. This straightforward syllogism manages to invert what is to me an elemental truth: that autumn is the most wonderful time of year, especially around here. Autumn brings warm days, holiday catalogues, apples, peppers, the last of the heirloom tomatoes, and nights cool and crisp enough to make turning on the oven a legitimate possibility.

Yes, the roastery is once again open, and roastables need not be meat. Many members of the vegetable kingdom take quite nicely to a turn in the oven, including some difficult cases. Asparagus, for me, is transformed by roasting into an irresistible treat; so is cauliflower. Cauliflower has long been a problem child in the kitchen, pallid-looking and quite cabbage-stinky if boiled or steamed, the usual methods of readying it for the table. I had nearly given up on it until my brother revealed to me that he'd been roasting cauliflower — cut into florets, seasoned with just some extra-virgin olive oil and — on a baking sheet in a hot oven until tender and lightly caramelized, to acclaim.

There was wisdom here, certainly. But I'd also clipped from the San Francisco Chronicle a recipe for spicy cauliflower from Pizzeria Delfina, which combined the florets with chili flakes, garlic, anchovies, and chopped pickled peppers. The fly in this otherwise tasty ointment was that the cauliflower was supposed to be fried, and I try to steer away from fried these days.

So, instead of frying, how about roasting the florets until golden and tender, then mixing in the ancillary ingredients? It works pretty well. The keys are an oven pre-heated to full blast, florets cut to a uniform size and laid in a single layer on a baking or cookie sheet with a generous splash of olive oil, and a careful turning (with tongs or a spatula) after six or so minutes, to make sure the florets brown evenly. When they're well colored all the way around, add the other ingredients (mixing them in with your implement) and return to the oven for a last minute or two so the flavors melt together some. If your audience includes people who don't like cauliflower, prepare to accept some surprised plaudits.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

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