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Eat This! Cauliflower, versatile and underrated

Courtright’s roasted Atlantic stone bass over cauliflower puree

Courtright’s roasted Atlantic stone bass over cauliflower puree.

Cauliflower

What it is: A vastly underrated vegetable, rarely seen on American menus, cauliflower (Brassica oleracea botrytis) is actually a cluster of immature flower buds. Its name contracts the Latin for “cabbage flower,” and it comes from the same cruciferous family, along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and collard greens.

It has a mild, nutty, lightly tangy flavor, and it readily meshes with all sorts of seasonings and ingredients. Mark Twain called it “cabbage with a college education.”

Where it comes from: Cauliflower dates back more than two millennia to the ancient gardens of Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. Records show it in cultivation in the sixth century B.C. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote about it in the first century.

Most of the U.S. crop grows in California, though Arizona, New York, Michigan, Oregon and Texas also market cauliflower. Different varieties of cauliflower are available year round but it’s at peak season in the fall.

Jerome Bacle

Jerome Bacle

What to do with it: “You can cook it almost any way you want; blanched, raw, baked, sauteed, in puree, pickled and many more, which makes it a perfect vegetable for summer and fall seasons; that’s why I choose it,” says Chef Jerome Bacle of Courtright’s in Willow Springs. Every Friday, Bacle creates a three-course, $35 prix-fixe menu highlighting a seasonal ingredient. For a recent dinner, he used cauliflower in the appetizer, entree and dessert.

“The texture stays usually crunchy when it is not overcooked, and has a mild flavor. It can be as well interesting to use in a dessert for the more adventurous cooks. And that’s exactly what I thought when I created the theme menu using one single ingredient from appetizer to dessert.” Bacle used the vegetable in cauliflower parmesan soup and then pureed it with purple mustard as a base for roasted fish.

“The more challenging was the dessert,” he says, “where I made a cauliflower vanilla ice cream with a warm chocolate cake.”

Choose firm cauliflower heads with white or creamy, tightly packed curd and fresh-looking, green jacket leaves. Store wapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to five days.

Courtright’s roasted Atlantic stone bass with cauliflower puree
French purple mustard, Nicoise olive and teardrop tomato fricassee, grilled baby fennel and lemon-thyme emulsion
Chef Jerome Bacle

Cauliflower puree:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup chopped shallots
3 cups coarsely chopped cauliflower
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon French purple mustard (available at gourmet shops; tarragon mustard may substitute)
Salt and pepper

Sauce:
2 cups beurre blanc infused with 4 big sprigs lemon thyme

Fish:
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 6-ounce fillets Atlantic stone bass (aka Carolina wreckfish), or other fish such as striped bass, grouper, Lake Erie bass or walleyed pike

Vegetables:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup Nicoise olives, pitted and cut in half
1 pint teardrop tomatoes, cut in half
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon chopped basil
8 pieces baby fennel, cleaned and trimmed
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the puree: Heat a medium pan over medium heat, the oil and butter and cook the shallots and cauliflower till soft. Stir in the cream, scraping the pan, and simmer until thick.

Season with salt and pepper and puree in a blender, add the purple mustard, blend again and adjust seasoning if necessary. Strain.

Make the sauce: Follow any standard recipe for beurre blanc, adding 2 sprigs of lemon thyme. After straining, infuse 2 more sprigs in the very hot sauce for about 10 minutes. Keep warm.

Cook the fish: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet with olive oil over high heat. Sear the fish to give a nice coloration on one side, and then flip it in the pan and add a bit of butter; put it the hot oven for 6 to 8 minutes, remove, and let it rest on a rack for 4 to 5 minutes.

Prepare the vegetables: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and quickly saute the olives and tomatoes; add chopped garlic and herbs.

Oil the baby fennel and season with salt. Grill or saute till crisp tender.

To serve: Divide the puree among four plates. Mix the sauce with a hand blender to make the emulsion nice, and pour around the puree. Top with the vegetables and fish. 4 servings.

 
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