Recipe: Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Basil Pesto

I found this very clever and delicious recipe in the New York Times last year, adapted from Joan Weir, and I have further tweaked it to suit my preferences.  The roasted whole cauliflower topped with herbs or pesto makes a beautiful presentation.  Just slice it like a pie and let your guests help themselves.

Ingredients for Cauliflower:

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Ingredients for Pesto:

  • 1 ½ cup coarsely chopped basil, parsley, cilantro or mint or a combination
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chopped garlic, about 2 cloves
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, almonds or walnuts, toasting optional
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons good Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat the oven while you prepare the cauliflower. Place a heavy ovenproof skillet (a cast iron skillet looks very nice) or a baking sheet in the oven and turn the heat to 375 degrees.  Place a small pan of hot water on the floor of the oven to create steam.
  2. Break off and discard the outer leaves from the cauliflower. Cut off the bottom of the stem, and then use the tip of a small sharp knife to cut off the leaves close to the stem.  Carefully cut out the hard core of the cauliflower, near the bottom.  Leave the main stem intact and make sure not to cut through any of the florets.
  3. Rinse the cauliflower and place on a work surface, core side up. Drizzle with olive oil and use your hands to rub over the cauliflower until evenly coated.  Sprinkle with salt.
  4. Place the cauliflower on the hot pan in the oven, core side down, and cook until VERY tender all the way through when pierced with a knife, at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours. During the cooking, baste 2 or 3 times with more olive oil.  It should brown nicely.  If you have a convection feature, use it toward the end of baking to brown the crust.
  5. Make the pesto: Wash the basil in cold water, then pat it dry as possible with a kitchen towel.  Put the basil, garlic, pine nuts, oil, cheese in a food processor, and pulse briefly,
  6. When cauliflower is tender, remove from the oven.
  7. Serve cauliflower in the cast iron skillet or from a serving plate. Cut into pie-shaped wedges and spoon the pesto around each wedge.

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