Wednesday, 8 July 2009
breaking into it
The first time I remember eating cauliflower I was somewhere around five years old. It was summer, and I was at Linda's house. Linda took care of my sister and me, along with a slew of other neighborhood kids (as much as you can call the woods a neighborhood). She was a redhead who wore a lot of bright pink, and her partner, John, used to be a ballet dancer. There were posters of them together on the wall, young and dancing. I remember thinking it was so strange that people could have lived in any other way than they were right in that moment. How could they not always have lived in this house, taking care of these children?
I remember John would sit in a sunny nook and devour entire pints of Haagen Daz. As kids, we were so jealous. The only explanation we were even given was that he was a grownup: perhaps this is where stems my perpetual delight in eating as much ice cream as I want or can, straight from the carton - it's become the official stamp that I've met adulthood.
Instead of ice cream, Linda fed us endless rice crackers, Little Soldier chocolate cookies, and almonds; but most importantly, she let us run wild in her garden.
Looking back, I'm not sure I would have wanted ten hungry children running rampant through a fruit and vegetable garden; we were hippie kids after all, we liked vegetables, and didn't leave much in our wake.
Her cauliflower patch was huge that summer. The snap peas and raspberries had been polished off, but us kids were wary of the large, bulbous creatures wrapped in green leaves like garden bouquets.
And then Linda broke into one. She snapped it off at the stem, shaking off the dark dirt that clung to the lower leaves. One by one, she broke off little florets and passed them around to everyone. And that was it, the patch was no longer huge, it was demolished. Perhaps one of my first binge moments, I ate so much cauliflower I was literally sick of it for years. From love to quick boredom (after eating a quantitiy bordering somewhere around four heads), I was ruined for years.
Thankfully, I'm no longer five years old. And although I may still have my food bingeing moments, cauliflower has come full circle for me.
This weekend I found a head of purple cauliflower that had my name on it. Cut up, browned with olive oil and anchovies, and then tossed with pasta and cheese, the cauliflower was a world apart from fresh and raw straight from the garden. The anchovy fillets brought a salty richness to the dish, elevating the humble cruficer to something a bit more adult than a plain pasta and cheese combination.
It wouldn't call this dish elegant or fancy, just a few ingredients brought together through heat and time to create something finished and satisfying in its simplicity. Something rich and warm, yet as simple as a quick stir-fry and the boiling of pasta, I love finding dishes like this: full of memory and flavor.
Pasta with Cauliflower
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (I chose purple cauliflower merely for looks, any color would work here)
4 or 5 anchovy fillets, packed in olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 pound pasta of your choice
dry jack cheese, grated, a good handful per person
salt and pepper
1) Heat the pasta water. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
2) Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Add anchovy fillets (they will sizzle), breaking them up with a spoon. Throw in the cauliflower, tossing to coat with oil mixture. Cook about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is softened and browned in places.
3) Drain pasta, add to cauliflower. Stir everything together, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing the grated cheese, adding generous amounts to each plate.
Serves two generously