Market Share – friends and countrymen, lend me your Romans
Impress your dining guests with a whole Romanesco cauliflower
Photos by Stacey DeWolfe
I am not a libertarian — at least not in the political sense. And though I can be stubborn at times, I am generally not a contrarian in my views, and, for the most part, I subscribe to the idea that conscious, and sometimes exaggerated, acts of agreeability are what allow (our) family gatherings to function as well as they (mostly) do. Still, I cannot help but bristle at being told what to do, cannot help but grow tense when something as benign as Thanksgiving dinner comes with moral obligations.
In fact, I have always hated the word “should,” and have spent much of my life trying to avoid the pull of its expectations. And because I am relatively unsentimental, I have never been able to fully empathize with the desire for culinary sameness at these important family gatherings.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was a vegetarian, and lobbied hard for years to have a holiday meal that didn’t involve me eating turkey dinner sans turkey. As someone who ranked sage quite low on the herb desirability scale, I saw no need for tofurky-esque substitutes. I was also opposed to all things mashed, all things gravy and all things pumpkin. In fact, I pretty much despised Thanksgiving dinner, and, not surprisingly, the meals of Christmas and Easter.
On one occasion — to humour me, or, more likely, to shut me up — my traditional (and mashed potato-loving) father agreed to a meal of curried chickpeas, rice and naan. I was overjoyed, until I came home the next night from school to the smell of sage and the discovery that we were sitting down, as a family, to turkey with all the fixings. He was indeed one step ahead of me.
This year, sensing that some degree of culinary experimentation would be welcome, I proffered my services in the categories of green vegetable and cranberry sauce. Playing with the ground cherry compote recipe from a few weeks ago, I roasted up some cranberries with apples and onions, then divided them into separate dishes: one tart, with only the sweetness of the fruit, and one more traditional, with several dollops of maple syrup.
But it was in the realm of the green vegetable that I really struck gold, presenting a dish that no one had seen before, and one that impressed with almost no effort on my part: a whole steamed Romanesco cauliflower with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Now, I call it Romanesco cauliflower because that’s what the elderly gentleman at the Jean-Talon Market called it when he sold it to me. But if you are looking for recipes, you will also find it under Romanesco broccoli or Roman cauliflower.
I have to be honest: in terms of taste, what you are getting is not much different than you would from a standard cauliflower, which for some people might mean that the extra cost (the head pictured here was $7) is hard to justify. It is described as more subtle in flavour and slightly nuttier than the regular model, and I concur, but what it has in spades over its cruciferous cousins is its ornate, alien beauty.
Though the fella at Jean-Talon suggested I steam it for no more than three minutes, he had obviously been thinking that I would break it into buds beforehand, which you could totally do. However, it makes quite the centerpiece when cooked whole. In the end, I simply placed it in a large pot, in about an inch of salted water. I put it on the stove over high heat, and once the water came to a boil, put the lid on and let it steam.
Depending on the size of the head, it could take anywhere from 10–15 minutes, and you really have to just stick a fork in it every now and then to determine where it is at. If the flesh gives easily, then it’s probably done. The dressing is a simple mix of two parts good olive oil to one part lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour it over when steaming and the flavours are absorbed into the vegetable.
The only hesitancy I noticed on the part of the diners stemmed from the desire to preserve its beauty and not hack it to death with knives and forks. Still, that was the only way to get the vegetable into one’s mouth, and so we dove in. It was fresh and crisp, provided a visual and gustatory contrast with its neighbours on the plate and allowed the culinary contrarian in me to be at peace with the otherwise traditional — and, I must confess, delicious — meal.
Romanesco cauliflowers are available at the Jean-Talon Market until mid-November. ■