[cliccare il link per andare alla versione in italiano]
When I walk or ride my bike around Berkeley, I stop at some of the Little Free Libraries on my way. In one of them I found The Cost of Living: Early and Uncollected Stories1 by Mavis Gallant2. I didn't know the author, but the blurb on the back cover made me curious, so I put the book in my backpack. The short stories have a common characteristic: tension, sometimes quite high, runs just under the surface and reveals itself in geysers of emotion. I enjoyed the stories in varying degrees, finding some more accomplished than others.
The story "Acceptance of Their Ways," set in a boarding house (pensione) on the Italian Riviera, opens on three women at the dinner table: they dislike and at the same time need each other to prop up their rather empty lives. Gallant describes in telling details objects, movements, expressions. The story wavers a bit in the point-of-view, but kept my attention to the end. Lily Littel, the story's protagonist, with her double life — the dull one led on the Italian side of the border, the wild one led on the French side, in Nice (Nizza) — gave me the idea of spicing up a cauliflower I had bought at the farmers' market.
There is something irresistible in a freshly harvested head of cauliflower. And why should I resist its appeal? It's much easier to lift it and put it in my shopping basket: I can always find a way to prepare it.
White cauliflower is by far the most common variety. Nowadays it is relatively easy to find also purple (viola), golden and green varieties; bicolor ones are rarer. Last fall I found one variety in which florets had purple stems and white tops, then most recently I found one blushing purple on its surface.
While I am perfectly happy with a plate of steamed cauliflower dressed with avocado and lemon juice, I prefer roasting it. When considering how to spice up cauliflower for Lily Littel, I reached for a recently purchased jar of za'atar. "Za'atar is an Arabic word used to describe both a specific herb and a tangy blend of herbs and spices."3 "Used in Levantine cuisine, both the herb and spice mixture are popular throughout the Middle East."4 Za'atar can be made at home, something I will try after I finish the jar I have.
I made the dish several times to get the balance of the three-ingredients right and below is the result.
- 1 1/2 pounds / 680 g cauliflower, preferably organic, to obtain 1 1/4 pounds / 570 g clean
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml + 2 tablespoons / 30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml za'atar spice mix
Preheat the oven to 400 F / 205 C.
Wash the cauliflower and cut it into bite-sized florets. If the leaves are present, discard the tough outer ones, but preserve the tender, inner ones. Peel the tough outer layer of the stalk and cut crosswise into coins.
Place cauliflower in a bowl, drizzle 1 tablespoon / 15 ml of extra-virgin olive oil on top and stir well to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat and place in the oven. Roast until tender. Check after 20 minutes and roast a few more minutes, as needed.
In the meantime, pour the remaining 2 tablespoons / 30 ml of extra-virgin olive oil in a serving bowl and add the za'atar. Stir to make a paste.
When the cauliflower is cooked, transfer to the bowl with the za'atar paste and stir well to coat. (Do not skimp on this step: you want the dressing to get into the cauliflower's crannies.)
I don't expect to get tired of eating this dish.
1 The Cost of Living: Early and Uncollected Stories (2009) on the publisher's website and on google books
2 Mavis Gallant (wikipedia)
3 Source: Chowhound
4 Source: wikipedia
5 The brand I use includes sumac berries, toasted sesame, salt, cumin, thyme, oregano and marjoram.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the cavolfiore arrosto con za'atar audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
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cavolfiore arrosto con za'atar
- 680 g di cavolfiore, possibilmente bio, 570 g pulito
- 1 cucchiaio / 15 ml + 2 cucchiai / 30 ml di olio extra-vergine di oliva
- 1 cucchiaio / 15 ml di za'atar1 (misto di spezie tipico della cucina medio-orientale2)
Riscaldare il forno a 205 C.
Lavate il cavolfiore e tagliatelo in cimette. Se ha le foglie, scartate quelle esterne, ma tenete quelle tenere interne. Pelate il gambo e tagliatelo a rondelle.
Mettete il cavolfiore in un'insalatiera, spruzzatelo con 1 cucchiaio / 15 ml di olio extra-vergine di oliva e mescolatelo bene. Distribuitelo su una placca da forno foderata con un tappetino da forno di silicone facendo un singolo strato e infornate. Cuocetelo fino a che sia morbido. Controllate la cottura dopo 20 minuti e cuocete alcuni altri minuti, come necessario.
Nel frattempo versate gli altri 2 cucchiai / 30 ml di di olio extra-vergine di oliva in un'insalatiera e aggiungere lo za'atar. Mescolate per fare una crema.
Quando il cavolfiore è pronto, trasferitelo nell'insalatiera col condimento e mescolatelo bene in modo che il condimento raggiunga bene gli spazi delle cimette.
Servite immediatamente (3-4 porzioni).