Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about sponges. Well: not actual sponges, but sponge-like behavior. Specifically the sponge-like behavior that occurs when you cook something–pasta, beans, vegetables–and then add them to an incredibly flavorful, incredibly potent mixture (a sauce, a dressing) allowing all that flavor to get sucked up inside.
This is why it’s always best to take your pasta out of the water a minute before its done and finish it in the sauce; it’s also why it’s best to toss boiled potatoes in a dressing for potato salad right out of the water–you went those pores to be open, to sponge up all that fatty goodness. And sucking up fatty goodness is precisely what I wanted the cauliflower to do when I set about making a marinated cauliflower salad.
Traditionally, that’s done by boiling the cauliflower until just al dente and then adding it to a dressing. For this marinated cauliflower salad I decided to try something bold: I roasted the cauliflower first.
That’s really easily done: no recipe required. Heat your oven to 425 or, if you’re bold like me, 450. Cut cauliflower into florets (I like to cut off a big hunk and then break it, by hand, into florets) and then toss those florets with olive oil, salt and pepper on a cookie sheet. Pop into the oven and roast, tossing every so often, until the cauliflower is golden all over and easily penetrated with a knife.
Meanwhile, make your dressing. You can go in many directions; I made mine with chopped garlic, chopped red onion, capers, a big spoonful of spicy French mustard, lots of lemon juice, a splash of white wine vinegar, and olive oil. When the cauliflower came out of the oven, I immediately tossed it in this dressing and then added lots of chopped parsley:
As expected, the cauliflower acted like a sponge and drank lots of that flavor in. After 20 minutes or so, I poured off any remaining dressing and then covered the bowl with plastic and refrigerated. (This is a great make-ahead salad for a dinner party.)
To finish, I made some croutons by cutting sourdough bread into tiny cubes, tossing those cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper and toasting them in that same 425 oven. I also washed and spun dry some spicy arugula.
To plate, I tossed the arugula with good olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and lifted it (by hand) into bowls. Then I topped each mound of arugula with a pile of marinated cauliflower and finished by sprinkling on the croutons.
It’s an unexpected but delightful start to a meal, combining something everyone loves (roasted cauliflower) with something many people find boring (salad). And it’s all because of sponges! Well: sponge-like behavior. To put it another way, cauliflower sucks—sucks up dressing—and that’s why this salad tastes so good.