Recently read an interview with Chef René Redzepi in Bon Appétit.  I wholeheartedly share his perspective regarding plant-based cooking:

“The reason we should eat our vegetables isn’t because they’re better for us.  We should be plucking and roasting our friends from the plant kingdom, first and foremost, because they are damned delicious.” – Chef René Redzepi, The Vegetable Butcher

Couldn’t say it better myself.  There is way too much focus on what we should and should not eat, instead of cherishing what nature simply provides, in all its glorious shapes, colors, and flavors.

Roasted cauliflower has quickly become my new favorite vegetable dishes.  Have prepared it at least a half  dozen times in the past few weeks.  Boring old cauliflower and its slightly flashier cousin, romanesco (with its curious little spikes), are roasted and then tossed in a [“secret”] aioli, just enough to lightly coat, and then topped with chopped Marcona almonds and fresh mint.

Had a version of this dish during a recent trip to one of my favorite cities — Chicago — a food lover’s paradise; the rendition I’m thinking about featured roasted Brussels sprouts, which were then quickly fried (I don’t recall Marcona almonds being part of the dish, but they add a welcome crunch).  Don’t omit the mint; it adds a really nice little something to the finished dish.

Okay, the sauce, an aioli of sorts (olive oil and egg yolk slowly whisked together to form an emulsion), is not really any big secret.  Though, I fear most will run the other way just hearing the word ‘anchovy’ mentionedOnce upon a time, I too did not for anchovies, but have since come to cherish these salty little guys.  When incorporated into a sauce, anchovies are sufficiently subtle and lend an umami-like quality to the finished dish.  For those of you who have misgivngs regarding anchovies, I wish you could taste this dish before being privy to its ingredients.

Simple and very tasty, while elevating rather nondescript cauliflower to a new level.

Roasted Cauliflower & Romanesco with Anchovy Aioli

1 large head of cauliflower (or combination of cauliflower and romansco)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Anchovy Aioli (recipe below)
[Marcona] almonds, chopped, for garnish
Fresh mint, thinly sliced for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Cut the cauliflower into individual florets.  Toss lightly in olive oil (a tablespoon or so).  Season with salt and pepper.  Spread florets onto a baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast about 30 minutes, tossing halfway through, until tender and caramelized in spots.

Toss with desired amount of anchovy aioli, just enough to lightly coat.  Taste and season with salt and black pepper as needed.  Top with chopped almonds and fresh mint.  Serve immediately.

Anchovy Aioli

4 oil packed anchovies
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to tasteP
Pinch of cayenne

Place the anchovies and garlic in a mortar with a pinch of salt and pound with a pestle to make a thick paste.  Add the egg yolk.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, slower at first — drop by drop — until it forms an emulsion (you’ll need to add the olive oil very slowly at first, otherwise the ailoli will break/separate).  Continue to add the olive oil in a slow stream, whisking all the while, until thick and creamy.  Add the lemon juice and whisk to combine.  Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.

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