This time of year, I want to eat fresh local tomatoes every day until there are no more. For some reason, the finality of tomato season resonates more than other vegetables. Maybe fresh corn is equal in its limited and anticipated season, but real tomatoes picked ripe tastes like summer and the ground from which it has grown. There is nothing like it.
As much as I love fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes are high on my list for having exceptional flavor, particularly roasted cherry tomatoes. Roasting cherry tomatoes concentrate their natural sweetness giving them an amazing punch of pizzazz. As a result, paring roasted cherry tomatoes with other foods, just makes everything taste better, especially creamy cheese, fish or grilled meats.
One of my favorite ways to use roasted cherry tomatoes is to mix them with pasta and make a pasta sauce. Other than chopping up fresh tomatoes and adding them to pasta, roasting cherry tomatoes are one of the easiest methods for making a pasta sauce. Just scatter the tomatoes over a sheet pan, drizzle olive oil and salt, then roast for 30 minutes or so. The other bonus to roasting cherry or grape tomatoes is there is no splatter on the stove or countertop.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
I started roasting cherry tomatoes after I saw a photograph of burrata with roasted cherry tomatoes drizzled with basil pesto. Immediately, I knew this appetizer was something I had to discover. Since then I roast cherry tomatoes whenever I get the chance. I especially like to roast them alongside tender white fish like sole, plaice or turbot. They give the delicate fish a much-needed flavor boost.
Roasting cherry tomatoes for pasta sauce requires nothing more than a generous dose of good olive oil and fresh herbs. When they bake together in the oven the juices from the tomatoes and olive oil blend and create a silky sauce that clings to the pasta. There is not a lot of this pan juice, so it is important to use the right size pan to prevent the pan juices from drying out. If that does happen, deglaze the pan with some of the pasta water or wine, then pour the glaze over the pasta.
This summer I never missed an opportunity to roast garlic or onions. So, whenever I roasted vegetables like broccoli, I scattered cloves of garlic, still in their papery skins and roasted the cloves along with the other veggies. Like roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic is one of those foods that just make everything taste better. It does take some time to get the garlic browned and sweet, but I help the process along by slicing large garlic cloves in half. When all done, you can smear the roasted garlic cloves on bread, or spread it over the roasted vegetables for added depth of flavor.
For this recipe, the garlic will not get as caramelized because it only takes 20-30 minutes to roast cherry tomatoes. Yet, in this short timeframe, the garlic becomes soft and sweet. Once the tomatoes are finished I fish out the garlic cloves and remove the papery skins. From there you can decide if you want the garlic cloves left whole in the sauce or chopped up. I decided to chop mine up making sure there was roasted garlic throughout the pasta sauce. Feel free to prepare the garlic any way you wish. Yet, I do not recommend you mince the garlic before you roast it, as garlic burns easily. Burned garlic tastes very bitter.
How Much Pasta
I once read a note written by Marcella Hazan that when making a pasta dish, it is the pasta that is the primary ingredient, not the sauce or added ingredients. Therefore, the add-ins should be limited in proportion to not take away from the pasta. I love pasta as much as anyone, but I prefer my pasta meals filled with lots of add-ins. This way for every bite I get the fresh flavors of the added ingredients and pasta. Additionally, it is healthier to eat pasta with lots of vegetables because they help slow down the metabolism of the pasta from the extra fiber. This is a long-winded explanation for how much pasta to serve with 2 pounds ( 1 kg) of tomatoes. My preference is a half-pound of pasta, (250g), but use the amount you prefer.
Mix it Up
Add creamy goat cheese to the spaghetti and roasted cherry tomatoes. Scatter spoonfuls of goat cheese on each plate or on the serving platter after the spaghetti and roasted tomato sauce are mixed together.
Add fresh ricotta cheese to the spaghetti and roasted cherry tomatoes. Serve the pasta meal with a tablespoonful of fresh ricotta cheese on the side.
Add shrimp to the sauce. Five minutes before the tomatoes finish roasting, scatter peeled and seasoned shrimp on the roasting pan with the tomatoes. Roast until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through. Toss the shrimp and tomatoes with spaghetti or another choice of pasta.
Spaghetti with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Roasted cherry or grape tomatoes develop a lovely concentrated sweetness and a melty and silky texture perfect for pasta sauce. In this recipe the tomatoes roast along with fresh herbs, garlic, and shallots for an extra flavor boost.
I listed two amounts of pasta in the recipe. Use either a half-pound or a full pound of pasta with 2 lbs. of cherry tomatoes. If you are in the camp that pasta is the main and featured ingredient, then cook the full pound. Yet, if you are like me and enjoy more add-ins with a pasta meal, then a half-pound is preferable. This way you get more tomatoes with each bite. A half-pound of pasta with the roasted cherry tomato sauce is enough for 4 servings.
- 2 lbs (1 kg) cherry or grape tomatoes washed and dried
- 8 cloves of garlic peel intact
- 4-6 small shallots peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
- 3 TB (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil plus more for finishing
- ½ tsp Kosher Salt
- A few rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sprigs of fresh herbs like basil or thyme
- ½ - 1 lb. (250 - 500 g) pasta like spaghetti linguine, or see note
- Romano Cheese for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and place the oven rack in the middle position.
Keep the skins on each garlic clove, but trim off the root end. This will make peeling the roasted garlic easier when the cloves are hot. If any of the garlic cloves are large, slice them in half lengthwise with the skins still on.
Depending on how large your shallots are, slice them in half lengthwise or in fourths lengthwise if they are too big.
Add the tomatoes, garlic cloves and shallots to a rimmed baking sheet or shallow flameproof baking pan, large enough to hold the vegetables in one layer. You do not want the pan to be too big or the juices from the tomatoes will dry up in the oven.
Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes, garlic, and shallots, then sprinkle them with Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Toss in half of the fresh herbs, then use your clean hands and mix until all the vegetables are nicely coated with olive oil.
Slide the pan into the oven and roast for 20 minutes. After twenty minutes check the tomatoes if they are soft and starting to split. Also, the garlic will look soft and starting to brown, along with the shallots. You can stop roasting now or roast an additional 5 -10 minutes more to really soften the tomatoes and garlic. Once done to your liking remove from the oven.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Cook the pasta al dente, just done with a little bite in the middle. Remove the pasta from the water and add to a bowl. Reserve some pasta water to deglaze the pan and add to the sauce. Ideally, you want to time it, so the pasta is done at the same time as the tomatoes.
Right after you take the tomatoes out of the oven, carefully (the garlic is very hot) remove the papery skin from the roasted garlic. You can add the garlic cloves back in with the tomatoes whole or chop them up.
Add the tomatoes, garlic, and shallots to the spaghetti scraping as much of the pan juices to the bowl. If your pan juices dried up, set the roasting pan over two burners then add some pasta water and deglaze the pan. Reduce the juices then add to the pasta and tomatoes.
Toss the spaghetti to get the tomatoes evenly mixed in. Add a little more pasta water if it seems dry. Sprinkle the remaining fresh basil over the pasta and drizzle with more olive oil. (This is a good place for adding your best quality olive oil.) Serve immediately with grated Romano cheese and fresh black pepper.
I believe just about any shape pasta will taste nice with the roasted cherry tomato sauce. Spaghetti and linguine are traditional choices, but tubular or unusual pasta shapes like campanelle are nice. I recommend shying away from flat pasta shapes like bow ties, farfalle, or ones that are small.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
In Spain they call it, a la plancha. Italians refer to it as, a la piastra. In Greece, on a staz. No matter what you call it, it’s a centuries old Mediterranean technique for grilling vegetables, fish and meats. In Spain they use a round metal plate, but in Greece they use a piece of sheet metal placed directly on the grill. From Italy, a stone or a metal plate creates a hot flat surface over an open flame. Essentially, it is a flat metal or stone griddle, set over a grill grate over an open flame. Mediterranean cooks know how to grill their vegetables because these grilled vegetables never tasted so good.
This technique does not produce fancy crisscross grill marks on your grilled vegetables, but what you do get are tender vegetables that retain some bite and have a good sear from the stone or griddle. Ultimately, the more surface area that touches the vegetables, means more flavor on your grilled vegetables from the sear. Another bonus is, no more vegetables falling through the grates and flare ups. Mediterranean style grilled vegetables are sweet, lightly flavored from the fire’s smoke, and seared to perfection.
A New Way with Grilled Vegetables
It all started yesterday on an impulse after coming upon the phrase, “… a la piastra,” in one of my cookbooks. It was an “Ah ha” moment for me with the realization of a refrigerator full of vegetables and an old cast iron griddle begging for use. With my fingers crossed and plans for dinner and a blog post on the horizon, I decided to give “A la piastra” grilling technique a try. It was just meant to be.
I do love the flavor of grilled vegetables, but when I grill chicken or meats, I don’t always grill vegetables for a side dish. Mainly, I do not want my whole dinner tasting all the same. Also, depending on how many people we are cooking for, there is just no room on my 22-inch charcoal grill.
Because this was somewhat impulsive, and I was “recipe testing”, I did not cook the vegetables in an organized manner, but fit the different vegetables here and there along with our dinner of stuffed rainbow trout. I was not sure how long the grill would stay hot, so I cooked things together instead of one at a time. Regardless of my cooking organization, I don’t mind a hodgepodge of grilled vegetables because my job was to use up a bunch of vegetables and test out this grilling technique. I call this mission a delicious success, hodgepodge or not. Now, I have a beautiful mess of tasty grilled vegetables ready whenever I want them.
Grilled Vegetables a la Piastra
What I discovered is if you have a cast iron pan or griddle, they create a hot surface to make delicious grilled vegetables, fish and meets. I have yet to test other types of food, but I can’t imagine there is an issue using this technique for shellfish, chicken or steak. Grilling a la piastra or plancha, works particularly well with thin vegetables or sliced vegetables that would normally fall through the spaces on a grill grate. I loved using this technique with thinly sliced zucchini, asparagus, sliced onions, and garlic scapes. Some additional vegetables I want to try are fennel, eggplant and mushrooms.
It is my opinion that grilling bell peppers works better over the open grill grate. They just took longer to get blistered and charred when on the hot surface vs the grill grates. Also corn works better over the open fire and by better, I mean it does not take as long to cook.
Fruit like lemons and oranges grill nicely on a hot plate, but my mind is not made up for peaches. My peach halves stuck to both the grill grate and the cast iron griddle, but this was also the first time I grilled peaches.
How to Grill Vegetables a la Piastra
First, this technique is best using a charcoal grill, but I believe will work with a gas grill, but you won’t get the smoky flavor. Using either grill you must make a hot fire that will last for a while depending on how much food you are grilling. Get the charcoal good and hot, then place the griddle pan or stone on your grate. Heat up your griddle surface for 15 minutes until the surface gets really hot. Close the lid if you are using a gas grill, keep the lid off if you are using a charcoal grill.
Once the grill is hot, oil the grill grate. Do not oil the hot griddle. It is possible that the oil soaked paper towel could burst into flames from the heat of the pan. Instead, generously coat the vegetables and fish in canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point. Arrange the vegetables on the surface of your “griddle” and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the vegetable.
Depending on the surface area of your plate, you will need to cook the vegetables in shifts. Just to be organized, cook the same vegetables all at the same time. Once done, remove the vegetables off the grill and place them spaced out on a tray or plate. If you pile them up, the vegetables will steam and get soggy.
Once done, let the grill plate cool completely before handling. If possible, use tongs and a scrubby to scrape off any stuck on bits while the surface is still hot. It is easier to clean off the charred bits when the plate is still hot, but not at the expense of getting burned.
Equipment for Grilling Vegetables
- You need a grill, preferably a charcoal grill but a gas one will work fine.
- Good quality charcoal without lighter fluid and a charcoal chimney to start the coals.
- BBQ quality oven mitt or glove.
- A cast iron pan or griddle, pizza stone, baking steel or food grade metal or stone surface that can tolerate temperature up to 700°F (371°C). Some pizza stones can only withstand temperatures up to 500°F (260°C) or lower.
- Long metal BBQ tongs without plastic tips.
- A good BBQ spatula.
- Several trays for putting the grilled vegetables on.
- A timer is helpful
What to do with all these grilled vegetables?
Serve grilled vegetables with grilled fish, grilled tofu, grilled chicken or steak, or roast chicken.
Assemble a platter of grilled vegetables, olives, cured meats, cheeses and crusty bread. Dine al fresco for a light dinner or a cocktail party.
Make a light pesto dressing with muddled basil leaves, smashed garlic, olive oil and vinegar and dress the grilled vegetables.
Grilled vegetable sandwiches with crusty bread, basil mayo or sriracha mayo, with Gouda or mozzarella cheese (smoked or plain) and grilled vegetables.
Frittata with grilled vegetables.
Where to buy a La Plancha griddle pan?
The Big Green Egg has a la plancha griddle for the Big Green Egg. It could work on other round grills depending on the size of the pan and your grill. (Not an add)
Lodge makes a round carbon steel griddle pan. They also make griddle pans in different sizes, shapes and materials. (Not an add)
Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style
- red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 red onion sliced into rings about ¼-inch .5 cm thick
- 1-2 leeks sliced in half lengthwise, cleaned and root and dark green parts trimmed off
- 4-6 garlic cloves peel on
- 2 zucchini sliced lengthwise into ¼- inch .5 cm thick slices
- 1 yellow squash sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch .5 cm thick slices
- 12 or more asparagus spears ends trimmed
- 8 garlic scapes optional
- 2 lemons cut in half across the width.
- 1 peach cut in half across the equator optional
- 2 ears of corn husk and silk threads removed optional
- 1 fennel bulb stalks removed and sliced in 1/4 -inch (.5 cm) slices (optional)
- 2-3 TB Canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 loaf French bread sliced on a diagonal optional
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TB Red wine vinegar
- 1 large bunch of basil leaves cleaned and stems removed
Prepare your grill. If using a gas grill, heat to 450°F (230°C). For a charcoal grill, fill a charcoal chimney to the top with charcoal. Rest the chimney on the charcoal grate. Light the chimney according to manufacture instructions. Heat the charcoal until all the coals are very hot. They will look mostly grey with streaks of black throughout each lump or briquette. Put on an BBQ mitt and carefully empty the hot charcoal onto the grate. Add an additional half chimney’s worth of charcoal and spread out over the hot charcoal. Arrange the charcoal over the bottom of the whole grate, but with one side having more charcoal than the other. Place the top grilling grate on the grill and the grill pan over the side with the most charcoal. Heat until the grill pan and grate are good and hot, about 15 minutes. Close lid if using a gas grill. The grill pan is hot when you flick water on the grill pan and it bubbles up and dances on the surface.
While the grill is heating up, add the zucchini slices, asparagus and scapes in a large bowl and drizzle about 1 TB (15 ml) of oil over the prepared vegetables. Use the remaining oil to baste the remaining vegetables. Arrange the onion slices and leek halves on a sheet pan and baste with oil on both sides. Baste some oil over the cut surface of the cut lemons. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of Kosher salt over the vegetables, except the bell peppers.
When the grill is hot, arrange the bell peppers on the side of the grill without the grill pan. Every few minutes, use long tongs to turn the bell peppers over so the whole pepper gets a good char and is blistered, about 15 minutes. Once the bell peppers get black all over, place them in a medium bowl and tightly cover with foil and plastic wrap. Set aside to allow the peppers to steam in the bowl for at least 15 minutes.
If using corn on the cob, place them on the grill grate with the bell peppers. Start the corn when you start the peppers. Cook the corn turning them periodically to get an even char on all sides, about 8-10 minutes total.
Meanwhile, arrange the onion slices, garlic cloves and leeks on the grill pan. Cook for 2 minutes then turn over on the other side. You want the onions and leeks to get soft with a nice sear on both sides. Once done, remove from the grill and place on a tray. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The garlic is done, when you see some brown spots on the peel and they are soft in the middle.
Place the lemon halves cut side down on the grill or grill pan and cook until a good sear develops on the cut side, about 3-4 minutes.
When there is room on the grill pan, arrange the zucchini and yellow squash slices on the grate and cook about 2-3 minutes per side. You want browned surface on both sides and tender slices of squash with a slight crispness. Place the squash on a tray when done. Lightly sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Cook the asparagus and garlic scapes on the grill plate. Turning each asparagus spear and garlic scape over around 3 minutes per side. You want the asparagus and scapes to get soft but still have some bite. When done, place the vegetables on a tray. Lightly sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat.
If you are grilling the fennel add the fennel slices when there is room on the grill pan and cook 3 minutes per side, or until soft but still firm. Place on a tray when done. Sprinkle on Kosher salt and black pepper and toss to coat.
Add the sliced French bread, if using, on the grill and toast until the bread is golden brown. How long it will take will depend on how hot your fire is at this time.
When all the vegetables are cooked, remove the skins off the bell peppers by rubbing your hands over the charred skin and pulling off the skin until it is all clear. Do not run the bell pepper under water, or you will wash away all that delicious flavor you worked so hard to make. Clean hands and remove the core from each pepper and slice into slices.
Remove the garlic peels off each clove. Take 1-2 grilled garlic cloves and rub it over the toasted French bread. Add any remaining cloves to the vegetable platter.
Arrange all the vegetables on a platter in piles. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, and torn basil. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Grilled garlic scapes taste great minced and placed on top of ricotta cheese toasts. Or, mince and add to the olive oil and fresh basil, then sprinkle over the grilled vegetables.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I feel like I am jumping the gun today by writing a post and recipe for succotash. It is March, almost April, and without a doubt corn and baby lima beans are summer vegetables. Yet, I have delicious memories enjoying succotash with my Easter dinner. This vegetable dish is one I could eat in any season in a year. Fortunately, good quality frozen vegetables are available making it possible to eat this light but hearty side dish whenever I please. I happen to love succotash, especially paired with ham.
My first introduction to succotash was after getting married and living in New York. Succotash was a regular vegetable dish at my in-laws Thanksgiving and Easter dinners. I clearly remember how my sister-in-law made it with corn, lima beans, green bell pepper and plenty of fresh ground black pepper. Green beans are sneaking into my memory recipe as well but not as clearly as the other ingredients. It was love at first bite. When I went for seconds, I usually came back with another helping of succotash.
There is just something about succotash that sings to me. Maybe because this meal has a simple nature implying ease and comfort. Or, because each vegetable compliments the other for a harmonious vegetable medley. The flavors taste fresh, sweet and light, even when made with frozen vegetables.
Also, what’s not to love about saying “Succotash” with its fun and jazzy rhythm. As it happens, Herbie Hancock believes succotash has a jazzy rhythm as well and wrote a song titled, “Succotash” on his Inventions and Dimensions album.
History of Succotash
Succotash dates back to New England Native Americans from the word, msíckquatash, meaning boiled cut corn kernels. Back in the 17th century succotash mostly consisted of corn and native beans like cranberry beans. The English settlers soon adopted this hearty and nutritious stew and made it throughout the year from dried corn and beans.
Succotash grew in popularity throughout the US during the great depression and other eras of economic hardship. The ingredients were readily available and inexpensive and made a meal with a lot of sustenance. Over time, succotash evolved from a stew into a lighter side dish made with additional vegetables added to the corn and beans. Any succotash variation is acceptable, as long as corn and beans feature prominently in the ingredients.
With the invention of refrigeration and frozen foods, we can enjoy succotash year-round. However, make this with fresh corn during the summer months when corn is sweet and beans are fresh and just harvested. You will need to soak and cook the beans ahead, but the corn will quickly cook with the other vegetables after the fresh kernels are cut right off the cob.
Serve succotash with a grain like brown rice or farro for a plant-based main entrée meal. When legumes and grains combine they create a complete protein with all the essential amino acids accounted for.
During the winter months, substitute the zucchini with winter squash.
Make succotash with corn, cranberry beans and green beans with a splash of cream and choice of a fresh herb.
Use succotash for the filling of a pot pie, either with grains or other proteins like chicken or turkey.
Make succotash into a vegetable soup just by adding vegetable or chicken stock with some aromatics. Or, turn it into a crab and succotash chowder with fresh crab and cream.
Succotash is a vegetable dish traditionally made with corn, and cranberry beans. This recipe builds up from the traditional recipe by adding to the corn lima beans, zucchini, sweet bell pepper, onion and fresh herbs. Any fresh herb like sage, thyme, tarragon, chervil or basil will nicely compliment the corn and vegetables.
For a plant-based main entrée, serve succotash with a grain such as farro or brown rice.
- 1 lb (16 oz / 454 g) frozen corn 4 ears of fresh corn
- 10 oz (285 g) frozen baby lima beans
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large Vidalia onion about 10 oz (300 g)
- 1 red or green bell pepper 7-8 oz (219 g)
- 1 tsp Kosher salt, divided
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 zucchini about 1 lb (454 g)
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 oz (87 g) grape tomatoes
- Several rounds Freshly ground black pepper
- 5-6 leaves fresh sage tarragon, basil, chervil, lemon thyme
Prep the Vegetables
Defrost the frozen corn and lima beans. If using fresh corn on the cob, slice the corn kernels off the cob and set aside. Peel and dice the onions. Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and white pith. Cut into long 1/2-inch (1.5 cm) strips then dice into 1/2-inch (1.5 cm) pieces. Peel, remove the green germ and mince the garlic. Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise, then each half into quarters, lengthwise. Cut across each wedge into pieces about a half-inch wide (1.5 cm). Slice the grape tomatoes in half. Set each vegetable aside in separate piles.
Sauté the Succotash
Place a large sauté pan or skillet, about 12-inches (30 cm) or larger, over medium-high heat. Add the extra virgin olive oil and heat up. Before the olive oil gets hot and smoky, add the diced onions and bell pepper. Stir to coat the vegetables with olive oil, and add ¼ teaspoon of Kosher salt. Sauté until the onions are translucent but not browned, and the vegetables have softened, about 4-5 minutes
Add the minced garlic. Stir and cook until the garlic releases its aroma, about a minute.
Add the zucchini and stir to mix the vegetables together. Add the thyme sprigs, another ¼ teaspoon of Kosher salt and several rounds of fresh black pepper, and stir. Continue to sauté the vegetables until the zucchini starts to soften, about 4 minutes, but is not cooked all the way through.
While the zucchini is cooking, slice the fresh sage leaves, chiffonade cut, and set aside.
Add the corn, lima beans and tomatoes. Stir, taste and correct the seasoning with more salt. Sauté the vegetables until they are cooked through and the corn and lima beans are warm, about 4 minutes. Add the sage and stir. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, sage, or black pepper if necessary. Turn off the heat.
For another version of succotash, make it with corn, lima beans, green beans with a splash of cream. Season with herbs like tarragon, chervil or basil.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
During the month of March, despite modern farming and trade making fresh produce available 365 days of the year, there is clear evidence that the remnants of winter produce are coming to an end. In the northeast, as we eagerly anticipate the arrival of spring with its’ young seasonal produce, there is a “I’m tired of winter,” expression on many faces. Unfortunately, our winter blues is made more pronounced with the slim pickings at the farmers market. Fortunately, some winter produce, like cauliflower, is easily dressed up with a vibrant sauce made with available winter greens and seasonings. Seared cauliflower with kale parsley sauce is a spring alarm clock for the winter weary.
Throughout the winter I particularly enjoyed roasted broccoli and cauliflower. The charred flowerettes and roasted flavor comforted me on many cold winter nights. Yet, I get antsy in March and seek out clues for an awakening spring. The blustery days still have me craving comfort food like slow braises and stews, but something more vibrant and less rich is dawning. As a result, I decided to add a zesty sauce with my usual seared and roasted cauliflower to waken up the senses after a long winters nap.
Kale Parsley Sauce for Cauliflower Steaks
Kale parsley sauce is a hybrid similar to pesto and chimichurri, but not quite a true member of either one. The heft of the sauce comes from blanched lacinato kale and puréed with assertive ingredients to soften the bitterness of this hearty winter green. To counter the bitterness I added anchovies and lots of garlic. The acid from the capers and vinegar give the sauce a bright and semi-sweet flavor to counter the bitterness as well. Even though this sauce resembles a South American chimichurri sauce, it has a distinct Italian personality.
The most important thing to remember when cooking with kale, no matter what variety, is to remove the whole stem running up the middle of the leaf. The stems are very fibrous and unpleasant to eat and as a polite gesture to your dinning companions remove the stem before cooking. If you want your kids to eat kale, get rid of the stem. Kale leaves have a naturally dry and chewy texture that does not appeal to everyone. Served with the sharp and fibrous stem your children will cross their arms and turn up their nose. Harrumph. You won’t win this battle.
To remove the stem from the kale leaf, simply run a sharp paring knife along the length of both sides of the stem and slice it out. Or, fold the leaf in half like a book with the stem as the binder. While holding tight at the base of the seam (where the stem meets the leaf), yank upwards on the stem and tear it away from the leaf.
How to Slice Cauliflower Steaks
It is easy to slice cauliflower into “steaks” at the center of the cauliflower head. Unfortunately, you may only get two to three intact steaks. First trim off any leaves at the base of the head then trim the stem even to the bottom of the cauliflower head. Then, slice right down the middle of the cauliflower from pole to pole. Beginning at the cut side, slice the cauliflower into half-inch (1.5 cm) wide steaks then repeat with the other half. Cauliflower naturally wants to break into flowerettes the farther away from the core so do not despair if they start to come apart.
If it is important for appearance and presentation that you have as many intact cauliflower steaks as you have guests, then buy a couple heads of cauliflower for some insurance. Chop up and roast the remainder flowerettes and add it to toasted farro with mushrooms, or in risotto, or roast in a 400°F (200°C /Gas Mark 6) oven with olive oil and Romano cheese for a side dish for another meal.
What to pair with Seared Cauliflower with Kale Parsley Sauce
Seared and roasted cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that is perfect as a vegetarian meal or a side dish with grilled or roasted meats. The prominent bite of the kale parsley sauce comes from the vinegar (like chimichurri sauce) and requires a hearty food like grains, pasta or steaks to pair alongside. This recipe will make more kale parsley sauce than you need, so use the remainder as a sauce for pasta with cauliflower, peas, chickpeas and grape tomatoes for an easy weeknight dinner.
Seared Cauliflower with Vibrant Kale Parsley Sauce
Cauliflower naturally wants to break into flowerettes, but in the center through the stem you can slice the cauliflower sections with the stem and flowerettes intact. You will get anywhere from 2-4 intact steaks depending on the size of the cauliflower. Don’t despair if they break apart, it will still taste delicious. Buy a couple of cauliflower heads for backup if the cauliflower steaks break apart or if you want your guest to have similar looking pieces.
The kale parsley sauce is a vibrant hybrid of a chimichurri sauce and a pesto. The acid brightens the sauce while the anchovies, capers garlic and hot pepper flakes give it depth. It is a delicious sauce to add some pizzazz to roasted vegetables and meats.
If you have some leftover cauliflower it is delicious stirred into penne or fusilli pasta with some chickpeas and sliced cherry tomatoes, coated with the kale parsley sauce.
See notes for a vegan alternative.
- 4 oz (125 g) lacinato kale
- ¼ cup (34 g) pine nuts, more for garnish
- Shy ounce (26 g) Italian parsley
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2-3 anchovy fillets 1 tsp white miso paste for a vegan substitute, optional
- 2 TB capers rinsed and dried
- 2 TB red wine vinegar
- ¼ - ½ tsp red pepper flakes (Depending on how hot you want the sauce)
- ¼ tsp Kosher salt
- A couple of rounds of fresh black pepper
- ½ cup (125 ml) 125 ml extra virgin olive oil plus more for the cauliflower
- 1 large head of cauliflower
Make the kale parsley sauce
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
Bring a large stock pot half full of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of Kosher salt to the pot. While the water is combing to a boil, clean and remove the stems from the lacinato kale. Chop the leaves into thirds. When the water reaches a brisk boil, add the kale and blanch for 2 minutes. Remove the kale from the boiling water with a spider or tongs and add to the ice water bath. Once the kale is cool to touch, drain from the water and spread out over a clean lint free kitchen towel. Gently pat dry. Set aside.
Toast the pine nuts. Heat a small skillet over medium high heat for 4 minutes. Add the pine nuts. Keep the pine nuts in constant motion so they do not burn. Shake the pan and move it back and forth on the burner, or stir with a wooden spoon. The pine nuts are toasted when you start to smell a warm nutty scent and the pine nuts are slightly browned in parts, about 1 minute. Quickly pour the pine nuts onto a plate to cool. Set aside.
Trim off most of the parsley stems and rough chop the parsley leaves.
In a bowl of a food processor or blender, add the blanched kale and give it a few pulses to break it up and start to make a purée. Add the parsley and pulse to blend.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil and pulse to create slightly textured purée. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Pour out the kale sauce into a small bowl and add the olive oil. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside on the counter.
Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C / Gas Mark 5
Trim away any leaves from the base of the cauliflower head. Rest the cauliflower head on its bottom, stem end down, and cut the cauliflower head in half vertically. Push one half aside and cut ½ inch (1.5 cm) width slices making cauliflower steaks. You might only get two intact cauliflower steaks per side, and the remaining cauliflower may fall into pieces. Repeat with the other half.
Spread the cauliflower steaks on a rimmed baking sheet and gently brush with olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and black pepper.
Heat a griddle pan or large skillet to medium high heat. I set my griddle to 325°F (160°C). When hot add the cauliflower steaks to the griddle or skillet and sear for about 5-6 minutes a side. Check after 4 minutes to see the progress. You want a nice brown sear along the flat surface of the cauliflower. Carefully turn the cauliflower steaks over and sear the opposite side.
Place the cauliflower steaks on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven until the cauliflower is tender in the middle, about 10-12 minutes.
Plate the cauliflower steaks on a serving platter or individual plates, and drizzle with the kale parsley sauce. Garnish with pine nuts and chopped parsley and sliced grape tomatoes.
Serve with grains or grilled or roasted meats and chicken.
If you want to make this a vegan meal, omit the anchovies and add white miso paste. Start with a teaspoon of miso paste and taste. It will give the kale parsley sauce some body similar to the anchovies, but you lose some of the Tuscan vibe in the sauce. Another alternative is just omit the anchovies and add more capers to your liking.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.