Spicy Crunchy Cauliflower

When I left San Francisco for my WWOOFing adventure, I didn’t know when or if I’d be returning. That sounds more ominous than it actually was, but at the time it felt just as ominous as it sounded. I was a recent college grad – jobless, homeless (in reality, I had a lot of homes), and freaked the heck out about my undetermined future.

But, as they tend to do, things worked themselves out and I found myself a wonderful job smack dab in the middle of San Francisco. That took care of the job part; now how about the home part? Luckily enough, my Illinois-based grandmother had decided to spend the winter in San Francisco and sublet a charming flat in Noe Valley. Guess how many bedrooms. Two! It was smooth sailing.

The past couple months have been exceptional. Our place is a 15-minute bike ride to work and a mere two blocks from the Mission. Plus, I get to live with my grandmother, which is a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. Now I know that not all grandmothers are alike, so I can’t exactly advise that if you ever have the chance to live with your grandmother, you should take it. But I can say with confidence that if you ever have the chance to live with my grandmother, you’d be a fool to walk away.

If there’s one thing she and I have in common, it’s a love of food. Even more so, it’s a love of cooking it. Where I’m usually winging it in the kitchen, Savta (grandmother in Hebrew) knows every trick in the book. Together, we’ve played around with cake, kale, salmon, and now – you guessed it – cauliflower.

A couple weeks ago, my dad was in town for the holidays. Being the pizza aficionado that he is, it only seemed right to taste test one of SF’s beloved ‘za spots. Pizzeria Delfina is right in the neighborhood – just a few steep hills away. In addition to the carbonara pizza (wow!) and burrata (double wow), we ordered a side of their famed cauliflower. In the past, cauliflower never really crossed my mind as something I would want to eat. It never occurred to me that this cabbage-y thing was anything special. But, per the waiter’s recommendation, I obliged.

Good thing, too. This cauliflower was charred and crunchy, spicy and rich. The flavors and textures were better than most Brussels sprouts I’ve eaten, which is saying a lot because b-sprouts are my main squeeze. Here was a wholesome veggie-forward side that rivaled the pizza as the favorite dish of the night.

I might have ordered seconds if not for the burrata that swooped in and captivated my attention.

Much like the Schoolhouse Kale Salad, I finished that meal knowing I’d have to recreate it. A simple Google search led me right to the recipe, but we didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand, so, instead, we created a simplified, though similarly prize worthy rendition.

By pan-frying the cauliflower, the outside gets brown and crispy while the inside stays tender and creamy. Sautéing it with the spicy pepper infuses a slight tinge of heat – just the right amount so you taste it, but not so much that your lips go numb.

Though we served it as a side (along with a whole pan-grilled Branzino), this could easily hold its own as a main course, or even beneath a soft poached egg.

I’m telling you, cauliflower is the new Brussels sprout. Delfina is on to something, and Savta and I are following.

Ingredients (serves 2-4)

  • 1 head cauliflower

  • Olive oil

  • 1 2-inch calabrese or other hot pepper, seeds removed and sliced into small pieces

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • Salt to taste

  • Few pinches Parmesan cheese

  1. Rinse the cauliflower and cut florets from one another. Halve or quarter them, depending on size. Each piece should be no longer than 1.5 inches. Small bits will fall off, which is desired.

  2. In a medium frying pan, heat ½ an inch of olive oil until just bubbling. Add the cauliflower and a pinch of salt to the hot oil and sauté for 5 minutes, until pieces are starting to get browned. Keep the heat high.

  3. Add garlic and pepper and sauté until most of the cauliflower is charred and the insides are tender but not mushy.

  4. Place in a serving bowl and top with fresh Parmesan cheese. Serve piping hot.