October 17, 2012

Roasting on a Rainy Afternoon (Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad with Golden Pinenut Pesto)

Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad
Fall has finally come to Seattle, and I am enjoying it like the autumn-loving freak that I am. Now that there's a chill in the air and rain has returned (after all-but-abandoning Seattle for months), I'm happily rocking my boots and sweaters, enjoying the smell of the leaves, and taking advantage of the final few weeks of farmers' market harvest. That last bit means I have a fridge full of awesome vegetables, which is great. But... my new job means I don't have a lot of time to cook them. So when I saw Tamar E. Adler's video on cooking a week's worth of vegetables in one afternoon, I decided to give it a go. Basically, you hit up the farmers' market and focus on veggies that roast well - root and cruciferous vegetables, squashes, and the like. Conclusion? Why in the world have I never done this before? It is freaking brilliant - you toss everything in a crazy-hot oven, let them go for 30-60 minutes, and prep vegetables that will be uncooked (greens, etc.) during the cooking time. If you want, you can use the time to make dressings or other meal components as well. Then you pack everything up into tupperware and toss it into the fridge for easy access the rest of the week.

This week's vegetables included a head of cauliflower, a bunch of beets, and half a butternut squash (left over from the Vegan Chopped Challenge), so I put on an episode of Chopped (What? I was still in the zone!) and got to work. The oven was preheated to 400 degrees and the cauliflower, beets, and squash were washed, cut, tossed with olive oil/salt/pepper, and placed in baking dishes.

Vegetables prepped for roasting
Then into the oven they went, sizzling away and developing the caramelization that makes roasting so great. The cauliflower was tender after 20 minutes, while the beets and squash stayed in for about an hour. Everything came out amazing, and while I only had time to complete one meal (the cauliflower salad), having the beets and squash pre-cooked is going to make finishing the beet salad and squash soup later this week a breeze.

Roasted Cauliflower

So, onto the cauliflower salad. The dish is inspired by my favorite appetizer at La Medusa, a "Sicilian Soul Food" restaurant in our neighborhood. They serve an amazing gratin with roasty cauliflower florets, golden raisins, and pinenuts smothered in un-holy amounts of spicy butter and parmesan. The flavors are phenomenal. So I stole them and put them in an equally phenomenal salad healthy enough for a week of lunches. The pinenuts and golden raisins turned into an unconventional pesto spiked with rosemary and red pepper flakes. Fluffy quinoa was tossed with the cauliflower for texture and protein, turning the salad into a hearty entree. I like it best warm or room temp, but by all means feel free to enjoy it straight out of the fridge. It's not the most beautiful food I've ever made - the paleness of the ingredients gives an impression of blandness that's far from accurate - but it is a perfect salad to enjoy on a chilly fall day.

Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad with Golden Pinenut Pesto

1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and black pepper

1/2 cup quinoa, well-rinsed
1 cup water
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt

Golden Pinenut Pesto:
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup pinenuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons mild white miso
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (or heaping 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

toasted bread crumbs for garnish (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a large rimmed baking dish, toss the cauliflower florets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast cauliflower for 20 or so minutes, flipping the florets about with a spatula half-way through to get even caramelization. Once cauliflower is done (tender all the way through, but not in any way soft), remove from oven and let cool. I suggest erring on the side of slightly underdone, as the cauliflower will continue cooking even after you take it out of the oven.

While the cauliflower is cooking, prepare your quinoa. Toast the rinsed quinoa in a dry saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes, until most of the residual rinsing water has evaporated and the grains have separated from each other and become a bit golden. Add the water, nutritional yeast, and salt, cover the pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer quinoa, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat, but keep covered and allow quinoa to steam for 5 minutes. Fluff grains with a fork and set aside.

While the quinoa is cooking, you'll have just enough time to make your pesto. Rehydrate the raisins in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until plump and soft, then drain. I recommend reserving the water when draining the raisins - you'll want this on hand in case your pesto needs a bit of thinning. In the meantime, toast the pinenuts in a dry pan over low heat until fragrant and lightly golden. Once the raisins and pinenuts are ready, toss them into a food processor or blender along with the olive oil, lemon juice, miso, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Pulse to combine until an evenly incorporated, but textured sauce forms - remember, you're making pesto, not puree. If the pesto is too thick, add water a teaspoon at a time to thin it out.

In a large bowl, combine the roasted cauliflower and cooked quinoa. Add the pesto and toss to coat the salad. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with toasted bread crumbs if desired.

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