This recipe comes from Amy Thielen’s most wonderful first cookbook, The New Midwestern Table. I cannot praise the merits of this book enough, and it is easily my favourite cookbook of the year. I have cooked so often from Amy’s recipes in the past year, that I’ve lost count of how many wonderful things I’ve made through the seasons. What I do remember is that every recipe has been a gem, waiting patiently to be discovered as I peruse the book over and over again. There are internet groups who are cooking their way through Amy’s book, and I’m envious of all the great food I know they are sampling that I have yet to try.
Amy’s recipe calls for salt pork, but since it’s often difficult for me to find a good piece of fresh salt pork, I substituted (upon Amy’s suggestion) some diced pancetta that I buy at my local Italian bakery, and I have to say that I was most pleased with the results. Amy is adamant about using ingredients she finds locally and regularly, and I’m a strong advocate of the same concept. I’ve also noticed that if I cook a recipe with ingredients I routinely have in my pantry, I will go back to it again and again, until I can make it without the recipe book by my side.
Meat and Tater Man is not a fan of cauliflower in general, so I secretly prayed that the pancetta would enable this recipe to shine as the star of the show. Anything bacon or pork flavoured usually wins him over, so it was the lure of meat that made me gamble on a not well liked vegetable recipe to begin with. That, and the fact that I’ve had such astonishing success in cooking (and joyfully eating) Amy’s recipes made it worth the try. Let me tell you that this one was worth the gamble.
Amy is a genius at combining flavours, and this recipe doesn’t fail on that front. She lets the cauliflower shine by roasting it to bring out its naturally sweet nutty flavours, and punches up the taste with some meaty saltiness from the pork, and adds an acidic edge by throwing in some capers. A back note of garlic and sage brings it all together and creates a side dish that sings alongside any main course you serve it with. If you struggle serving brassicas to your loved ones, give this a try and successfully convert them to the joys of roasted cauliflower. You won’t be disappointed.
This recipe is Amy Thielen's from her venerable cookbook, The New Midwestern Table.
Amy offers some good substitutions in her recipe. I used pancetta instead of salt pork, capers instead of pickles, and dried sage instead of fresh leaves. I didn't have fresh parsley, but made it anyways and it was fabulous.
I also halved the recipe, and it turned out perfectly. I give the original ingredients amounts below. Feel free to reduce them if you have only 2 people to feed.
- 5 oz salt pork or pancetta, cut into small cubes
- Canola oil, for the pan
- 7 cups medium cauliflower florets (from 1 small or 1/2 extra large head cauliflower)
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- 6 fresh sage leaves, sliced (or 1 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves)
- 3 tbsp drained capers or chopped sour pickles
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Heat a heavy ovenproof 12 inch skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium heat and add the salt pork (or pancetta). Cook, stirring until crisp on the edges, about 7 minutes.
- Remove the pork from the pan, leaving the fat behind, and set aside.
- If the fat from the pork doesn't cover the bottom of the pan, add enough canola oil to just coat the bottom, and heat it over medium high heat.
- Fry the cauliflower in batches - only as much as will fit in one snug layer at a time - until deeply browned on both sides, about 8 minutes.
- Season the cauliflower with pepper and a little salt (just a little because the pork and capers are salty).
- Return all of the cauliflower to the pan, add the garlic, and transfer it to the oven.
- Roast, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until the cauliflower tests tender when poked with a fork.
- Remove the pan from the oven, and add the butter, sage and pork.
- Stir until the butter foams and then subsides. Add the capers and parsley, stir to combine, and pour into a shallow serving dish or platter.