I made this dish last week, on the eve of the holiday weekend, and, while it was spot-on that night, it felt all wrong as I flipped through the photos. Who wants cauliflower over the Fourth of July weekend? When burgers beckon, and fire crackers sizzle and sputter, and ice cream is mandatory, whether it be perched atop a sugar cone or plunked into a frothy pint of root beer? When vegetables, if they must be eaten at all, take the much more summery shape of corn on the cob, or juicy tomatoes? When fruit is suddenly available in all hues, and often in pie format?
Right: me neither.
And, in fact, I didn’t even want to write about cauliflower. So the eve of the holiday weekend, slid into the end of the holiday weekend, which slid into the week after the holiday weekend, which brings us to exactly now. A time when cauliflower, with the spark of chili flakes and the zing of lemons, sounds entirely perfect, after the indulgences that preceded it.
So, it turns out that the cauliflower was well-timed after all. Cauliflower’s like that, you know? It rumbles around the crisper drawer, neglected and picked over, until the right moment strikes—the moment when it’s just the thing. For me, that moment is almost always when I find myself home alone—Kevin on a work trip or at a ball game. He’s not much of a fan of the vegetable, and I adore it, so I take full advantage of my solo meals. Sometimes I roast it, sometimes I steam it, sometimes I eat it raw.
Here, I seared florets in a hot pan slicked with olive oil and a good scattering of chili flakes. After a toss in the oil, I left the florets alone, so they would brown in spots. Meanwhile, I whizzed up a heel of rustic, seeded bread in the food processor. Those bread crumbs, once oiled and salted, toasted in the oven, until they were deeply golden, crunchy and immediately pronounced my new favorite condiment. I sprinkled the bread crumbs over the cauliflower, now blistered in spots, and slid a wedge of lemon alongside the heap. That night, it hit the spot. I think it would do the same tonight, with the holiday and its fireworks behind us.
About those fizzling firecrackers: some photos, here. If you crane your neck from our deck, you can see the big fireworks over the skyline. And there are some, shall we say, non-sponsored shows closer to our apartment that light up our deck. But, for my money, I love to scan the horizon, where fireworks are exploding as far as the eye can see. We were away for the weekend (Big Sur! Napa! More on that, soon.), but I was so glad we got home in time for the show.
Spicy Cauliflower with Bread Crumbs
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
red pepper flakes, to taste
salt, to taste
1 lemon, juiced, plus additional lemon wedges for serving
1 cup 1-inch cubes of day-old bread
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes (a big pinch, if you like heat) to the oil, and fry the flakes for 30 seconds. Add the florets to the pan and add salt, to taste. Stir the florets to coat in the oil and arrange them in a single layer. Allow the florets to cook, without disturbing until they are blistered in spots. Give the pan a shake, and allow the florets to cook—without disturbing—for a few minutes more. Stir in the lemon juice. Transfer to a plate.
Meanwhile, pulse the bread cubes in a food processor until they are coarsely ground. Toss the bread crumbs in the remaining oil and a pinch of salt. Bake the crumbs on a baking sheet until they are golden brown, 10-15 minutes. Top the cauliflower with the bread crumbs, and serve with a lemon wedge or two.