Two of Chef Josh Hixson’s favorite farms—Dandelion Spring Farm in Newcastle, and Broken Acres Farm in Jefferson—grow an Italian heirloom variety of cauliflower called romanesco. This bright green cauliflower is sweeter and nuttier than its pale cousin, and it has a fantastic shape. Pointy and conical, its fractal florets look like medieval weapons. If you can’t find romanesco at the market, you can still make this dish with traditional (white) cauliflower.
The sauce is simple and delicious but relies heavily on the flavors of the ingredients used, so buy the best you can find. Use a high-quality sherry vinegar, and if local tomatoes aren’t in season, buy good Italian canned tomatoes. The sauce will keep very well for a week in the refrigerator—it actually gets better with age.
2 large heads of Romanesco cauliflower
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
For Romesco sauce
1 large red bell pepper
3 garlic cloves, peeled and placed on a metal skewer
1/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped and lightly toasted
1/3 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup ripe, fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon hot smoked paprika
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon chipotle chili or red pepper flakes
Position rack in the middle of your oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut cauliflower into golf-ball sized pieces, and toss with olive oil and salt. Arrange pieces on a baking sheet, flat side down. Roast until slightly tender and beginning to caramelize (about 35 minutes). Remove from oven, and gently toss with parmesan cheese. Return to oven for 10-12 minutes, until well-caramelized and tender.
For Romesco sauce
Roast the red bell pepper over a grill or gas burner, turning often, until its skin is evenly charred. As pepper chars, toast skewered garlic lightly over the same heat source. Set aside.
Place charred pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 minutes, until pepper has cooled slightly and skin has softened. Using a paper towel, gently remove and discard the charred skin. De-seed and coarsely chop the roasted pepper’s flesh.
Combine pepper, garlic, hazelnuts and almonds in a food processor, and purée until finely ground. Add oil, tomato, paprika, vinegar and chili flakes, puréeing until smooth. Taste the sauce, and add salt if necessary.
Serve the roasted Romanesco cauliflower warm, with a generous dollop of Romesco sauce.
Main Course The Romesco’s bold flavor would pair very nicely with a grilled, local beef t-bone, or perhaps a broiled swordfish steak. —Christine Burns Rudalevige
White Wine Vines on the Merry Crest Viognier, Paso Robles, CA 2012: With floral notes and stone fruit flavors on the palate, this wine will help to round out the earthiness of the Romesco, and the acid is just enough to cut through the nutty Romanesco sauce. —Chris Peterman
Red Wine Acorn Sangiovese, Russian River Valley, CA 2012: Sangiovese naturally carries a good amount of earth elements no matter where it is grown. It’s no different in California,
although the grape shows a bit more dark fruit characteristics when grown in the Russian River Valley. The smooth tannins, earth notes and hints of dark fruit make this wine perfect for such an hearty side dish. —Chris Peterman
Beer I’d go for Uinta’s Baba Black Lager from Utah. Its looks like a heavy stout and has dark malt notes that match nicely with roasted and grilled flavors, but the beer is actually light in body, with the smooth crispness of a traditional lager. —Tom Minervino