Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cauliflower Salad

Sometimes it's the little things that make me so happy, like seeing a baby smile, smelling a soft yellow rose, or catching a tram the minute I get to the stop.

Or when I find a way to serve cauliflower that my children like.

Cauliflower has been a hitherto spurned vegetable in our house. I use it only every now and then, aiming for a very gradual sixteen presentations or however long it takes kids to like a vegetable. A year or so ago I did this with broccoli over the course of two weeks, but now I'm slower at these things.

I first made this cauliflower salad a month or so ago, much to my children's disgust. Yet my eight year old has learned that it is easier to eat the small portion required of her than to have a big argument and be made to eat the food anyway, so she looked at the cauliflower, sighed, picked up her fork, and et it – then looked up surprised and had a little more.

But her five year old sister has not yet learned that resistance is futile. As her father placed a small portion of cauliflower on her plate she, as usual, let out a big wail. It sounded like someone had just deliberately dropped an anvil on her foot – there was a clear note of betrayal amongst all the pain and anguish.

We offered our usual measured response ('hush now, just have a bite'), to which she responded with further wails at which point I, lovely mother that I am, snapped 'just eat the damn thing'. She gave one last sob, then took a tiny nibble, looked surprised, and et the lot. 'Delicious,' she said, serving herself some more; then she leapt from the table, ran to the kitchen, grabbed a small container and packed extra for her school lunch the next day while we all looked on speechless. Then she yelled at someone else for polishing the rest of the salad off.

At such a moment I am torn between exasperation and triumph. Why, I wonder, does she need to shriek like a steam train? – especially when it turns out she likes the food!

Anyway, I've made this cauliflower salad once or twice since then, just to consolidate, and each time it has been demolished at dinner, and extras taken for school lunch. It's the sort of salad that sits quite well in the fridge for a few days. You can always add a few more olives and capers, or a dash more vinegar, to sharpen the flavours.

While it's a bit late for cauliflower in Melbourne, there are still a few local ones floating around. See what you can find.

Cauliflower Salad

- 1 medium sized cauliflower
- 1 decent sized carrot
- 3 anchovies
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tbs red wine vinegar or to taste
- 1 tbs capers, drained and rinsed
- 1 handful kalamata olives (about 20)
- 5 or so stems continental parsley
- salt

Put the kettle on to boil.

Peel the carrot and slice it into rounds about the thickness of an English pound coin, that is about ⅓ cm thick. Break or chop the cauliflower into roughly even sized florets, whatever size feels natural.

Pour the boiling water into a saucepan fitted with a steamer. Drop in the cauliflower and the carrot and steam for 6 minutes. Check to see whether they are done: you should be able to slip a knife into the thick part of the vegetable. If not, give them another minute or two. Remove them from the heat.

While the vegetables are cooking, chop the anchovies very finely. Now, using the flat of your knife, smoosh those finely chopped anchovies against the board until they are paste. Scrape up the paste and put it into a bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar and a pinch of salt and mix very well; I use a small whisk.

Using the base of an espresso cup, press against each olive until it splits, then slip out the pit. Tear the olive into one or two pieces.

Chop the parsley.

Scrape the dressing into a shallow platter. Tumble the cauliflower and carrots on top of the dressing along with the olives, capers and parsley. Mix with your hands until the dressing has been well distributed and all is glistening.

Freely adapted from a recipe in Insalate: Authentic Italian Salads for All Seasons by Susan Simon.

(Local: cauliflower, parsley, olive oil. Not so local: carrot, olives, capers, anchovies, red wine vinegar, salt.)

Insalate: Authentic Italian Salads for All Seasons

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