Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Saffron roasted cauliflower with olives and sultanas

Saffron roasted cauliflower with olives and sultanas

For many years I thought I didn't like cauliflower, or to be more precise the most common white variety of cauliflower.
And the reason was that I usually had it boiled or steamed, like my grandmother used, and my mom still uses, to serve cauliflower most of the times, with plain extra virgin olive oil or a simple vinaigrette. But the cauliflower that my family usually eats is not - and never has been - the white one, but a green variety very common in the Italian region where I was born. Now my mom sometimes buys more "exotic" types like the Romanesco or the Sicilian (characterized by a purple head), but most of the times you will see her cooking, or better boiling, the green cauliflower and serving it as a side dish just with extra virgin olive oil.
When I started living, and cooking, on my own, far from my home town, I thought that cauliflowers were all pretty much the same.

But actually the several varieties available on the market - and in Italy the offer is pretty diversified - differ from each other not only in color, but also in shape and, most important of all, in taste (unfortunately their smell while boiling or steaming is pretty much the same unpleasant one, regardless the variety).
So, while RomanescoSicilian and some green varieties have a pleasant taste on their own, the white is not exciting at all (at least for me), mostly reminding of a hospital meal, healthy maybe but not really appetizing.
The taste of a boiled white cauliflower dramatically improves if you start adding other tasty ingredients, like bechamel, cheese, butter, savory crumble, and then cook it au gratin, or even if you cover in a thick layer of batter and deep fry.
But to be honest this is not my style of eating veggies. Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against this kind of recipes but for me they are more a complete meal (and on the heavy side also) than a side dish or a starter.
What I like is to enjoy the original flavor of food, especially if it's a vegetable, properly enhanced by the right cooking technique and a brilliant use of condiments, spices and flavors.
Unfortunately for many years I was not able to find the right way for preparing white cauliflower and making it particularly appetizing, And therefore I didn't eat for a long time.
But recently my curiosity towards this vegetable peaked, also encouraged by the wide availability of cauliflowers here in Dubai, including local organic produce from the Farmers Market that I regularly visit. 
Saffron roasted cauliflower with olives and sultanas

After reading and trying different recipes, I realized that cauliflower gives its best if oven roasted or grilled (like in this recipe for grilled cauliflower with tomato, dill and capers) and properly seasoned with herbs and /or spices. The addition of a sauce sometimes help to further improve the taste: it goes well with mustard, tahini, miso, and also with citrus based salsa, just to mention some combinations I like. 
In the recipe I'm going to share today, cauliflower is roasted with onion, green olives, sultanas and saffron, which combine and create a very enjoyable sweet - salty - aromatic dish. And a little tahini sauce, with its earthy taste, adds a pleasant layer of flavor to the dish. 
It can be served as a side dish for grilled meat or fish, but also as a vegetarian / vegan main course paired with bread and a grain or pulse based dish. 

Saffron roasted cauliflower with olives and sultanas

Saffron Roasted cauliflower with olives and sultanas
Serves 2 to 3
1 medium head cauliflower, divided into florets
1 large red onion, sliced
50 g sultanas
70 g green olives, pitted and cut in quarters (half if small) lengthways
½ tsp saffron strands, crushed and infused in 3 tbsp of boiling water
3 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
flat-leaf parsley, only leaves, roughly chopped
Tahini sauce
75 ml tahini paste
75 ml water
40 ml lemon juice
1 cloves garlic, crushed
Preheat the oven to 200° C (400°F).
In a large mixing bowl, toss together all the ingredients except the parsley.
Transfer the mix into a baking dish, on an even layer, cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven, carefully lift off the foil and stir. At this point you can cover again and finish off cooking for another 20 minutes or, if you like a more browned cauliflower return into the oven without the foil (in this case you have to check every 10 minutes and, if necessary, give the mixture a stir if you don't want it burns).
The cauliflower is ready when tender but not too soft.
Remove from the oven, if necessary lift off the foil covering, and leave to cool down a little before stirring in the chopped parsley.
Taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve warm or at room temperature.
I like to serve it with some tahini sauce: you can drizzle a little on top or serve it in a bowl so that your guests can help themselves according to their liking.
How to make the tahini sauce: in a bowl whisk together tahini paste, water, lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of salt. The mixture should be creamy, if too thick add more water. It is also possible to blend ingredients using a food processor. 


  1. Love it! Lovely lovejy recipe :)

    1. Thank you Elaine! You too have several inspiring recipes for cauliflower on your blog ...