Roasted cauliflower is a revelation. The flavors are concentrated, the texture is firm, yet tender and the aroma is sweet. Quite the opposite of cauliflower cooked any other way.
But, beware. A head of cauliflower that's been in storage too long won't give the same results as a sparking fresh one. Vegetables, as you know, are composed primarily of water. Once picked, they'll begin to loose their water, or dehydrate. Think of a carrot that's been in the vegetable bin too long. It's limp. But re-hydrate it in a large bowl filled with very cold water and a handful of ice cubes. Guaranteed some of its original snap will return.
The more moisture—or fresher—the cauliflower the more delicious will be the roasted version. But, like the over the hill carrot, if when you break off a floweret and you don't hear an audible snap, then it'll benefit from a little hydration. Try this soaking trick with green beans, broccoli (broken into flowerets), fennel (halved), bell peppers and asparagus and then roast away.
For roasted cauliflower and other vegetables the oven temperature should be very hot. I prefer to preheat the oven to 450°F. That blast of heat will sear the vegetables and seal in the flavors. And don't crowd them in the roasting pan. They'll come out best if they've roasted in a roomy environment. Use a heavy duty rimmed sheet pan , Le Creuset baking dish, or other pan made of heavy material that will conduct the high temperature evenly.
No need to get fancy with seasonings. You want to enhance the taste of the vegetable, not mask it with other flavors. Typically I simply toss the vegetable of choice—or if using slices, brush them-- in olive oil and add a sprinkling of coarse salt. Sometimes I add garlic cloves that have been flattened with the side of a heavy knife. If using the garlic make sure to place it in the center of the pan where it's least likely to get overly browned and bitter. Baking time is anywhere from 15 minutes for slender veggies like asparagus or green beans to 20 or 25 minutes for chunkier ones like broccoli and cauliflower. To finish, add a sprinkling of chopped fresh rosemary, thyme or oregano—or all three—if you're feeling extravagant.
1 medium head cauliflower, about 1-1/2 pounds, cut into 1-1/2 inch flowerets, or slice through the heads making ½ inch thick "steaks"
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-3 garlic cloves, bruised
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs
Preheat oven to 450°F. Place cauliflower and garlic in a large roomy baking pan or on a heavy sheet pan with sides and toss with the oil, salt and pepper.
Roast until cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through roasting.
Sprinkle with herb and serve.
Variation: Curry Roasted Cauliflower
Prepare as directed but substitute 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro for the parsley and add 1 teaspoon curry powder.
Variation adopted from "The All New Good Housekeeping Cook Book," edited by Susan Westmoreland, Hearst Books, 2001