over easy

How to Pretend You’re a Fancy Giant

Little trees. Photo: Madeleine Aggeler; Getty Images

Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.

How did adults decide that the best way to get kids to eat broccoli and cauliflower was to tell them that they’re little trees? As someone who was a kid for a full 25 years, I can tell you that I never once looked at a tree — even the really alluring ones, like a cherry tree, or a Wisteria tree — and thought, Yum, I would like to eat that. And yet, when I was about 8, and decided real food was gross and that I would survive solely on Twix bars and soda, all my parents had to say was that broccoli and cauliflower were little trees. It was genius: I was like, Hell yeah, gimme it, look at me, a big giant devastating the Lilliputian countryside of our dinner table. I decided I loved eating these odd little trees, even though they tasted nothing like Twix bars.

As I got older, I became especially fond of cauliflower, because it was like broccoli’s cooler sister, who maybe wore ripped band tees and Doc Martens. While good old, reliable broccoli continued to appear in its standard floret form, standing shyly to the side of a flashy piece of meat, cauliflower experimented, mashing itself up like potatoes, flattening itself out into a gluten-free pizza crust, blending itself into rice. I was planning on making this last version (the rice) when a co-worker suggested I make cauliflower-shaped cauliflower instead. Specifically, chef Alon Shaya’s whole roasted cauliflower and whipped goat cheese.

Whole-roasting the cauliflower had the appeal of both looking ambitious and sounding easy. The full, singed cauliflower in the pictures on Food52 looked so much more impressive than a measly bowl of florets. I imagined serving it as a side at a dinner party and having people say things like, “Ooh,” and “Wow!” Plus, the whipped goat cheese sounded like a delicious dairy comforter in which I happily cocoon myself every night.

Shaya’s recipe is straightforward: The most involved portion, which isn’t really that involved because it’s just pouring ingredients into a pot, is preparing the seasoning liquid for poaching the cauliflower before it roasts. In addition to eight cups of water, you fill a large pot with 2 ½ cups of a dry, white wine, olive oil, salt, fresh lemon juice, red pepper flakes, sugar, butter, and a bay leaf (although I didn’t use the bay leaf because I couldn’t find any in the stores near me, and also I suspect they are a racket).

Per the recipe, I brought this mixture to a boil, and then carefully lowered in my whole cauliflower, only to find that the liquid didn’t cover it completely, and half of it poked up and out, looking like a bald person crouched in the bottom of the pan holding their breath. In order to poach both sides, after lowering the stove temperature to a simmer, I set my timer for eight minutes — about half of the recommended poaching time, and then flipped it, severing several florets in the process.

Eight minutes later, when the cauliflower had gotten soft enough to stick a knife easily in the middle (which is what the recipe told me to look for), I used a mesh strainer to fish it out of the pot. Then I transferred it onto a baking sheet, before sticking it in the 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes, flipping the baking sheet halfway through so both sides would cook evenly.

While the cauliflower roasted, I blended goat cheese, cream cheese, feta, heavy cream, olive oil, and salt in my food processor to make the goat cheese dip. It was, as I had predicted, heavenly. Unfortunately, I did not have enough to make a full-sized comforter, but I consoled myself by leaning against my sink and eating spoonfuls of it while I waited for the cauliflower to finish.

Then, the cauliflower was done. Too done. So done, that as soon as I pulled the head out of my oven, all of my fire alarms immediately wailed and I had to open my front door and run back and forth waving a dish towel in front of the two alarms until they quieted down. When my apartment was finally silent, I saw that some of the top had been burned to a crisp. Oh well, I figured I could mask it with my whipped goat cheese.

Shaya’s recipe says it serves “4 to 6” which, hahahahahahahaha. Sure, okay. Or, one blogger. At first I had planned to have a few bites and then break the cauliflower down, for what, I wasn’t sure yet (A salad? A snack? A party favor to hand out at bars?). I hadn’t eaten dinner yet though, so a couple of bites in, I decided to surrender and eat the whole thing, which felt indulgent even though it’s just a cooked dirt flower. A delicious cooked dirt flower. Even through the taste of the burnt florets (which I enjoyed) I could tell that the poaching liquid had infused the cauliflower with a delicate but strong flavor, and the remaining red pepper flakes made it pleasantly spicy. I cut off segments that I dipped into the whipped goat cheese while I rewatched the Sopranos for the third time, a solitary adult enjoying her delicious little tree.

My Report Card
Preparation: A-
Taste: A
Pretending I was a giant: A+

My Overall Performance: A

How to Pretend You’re a Fancy Giant