The cool part about cooking these vegetables whole is that there’s not a whole lot of effort involved. There’s very little chopping and no skillets to babysit on the stovetop. Roasting, by definition, is hands off: put it in the oven and let it cook. The other whole cooking method utilizes the microwave, which is an excellent tool for rapid steaming. Microwaves cause water molecules in the food to vibrate, producing heat that cooks it. Foods that are high in water content, like fresh vegetables, can be cooked more quickly than other foods. The microwave will cook a whole head of cauliflower or broccoli in under eight minutes!
This trio of whole vegetable recipes draws from the brassica family, an amazingly diverse group of vegetables that’s well known for containing cancer-fighting antioxidant nutrients that help boost the immune system. Commonly known as the mustard family, brassicas include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collards, kales and kohlrabi. They are all big and bold in flavor. Many of these vegetables form a dense head, and respond well to whole vegetable cooking. For those of you with terrible memories of mushy Brussels sprouts, stinky broccoli and waterlogged cauliflower, these recipes will transform how you look at this family of good and good-for-you vegetables.
My intrigue started with whole slow roast cauliflower, a trend that raced through professional kitchens in the last decade with great results. Being a curious cook, I wondered about similarly cooking a whole cabbage. It was a fairly quick courtship, in spite of the relatively long roast time. I fell in love with the technique and the resulting flavor.
Slow roasting transforms cabbage into a very complex flavor profile. It’s sweet, yet still mildly bitter, toothsome, yet buttery soft. And then, well, it’s an eye-popping whole head of cabbage, roasted until it’s burnished golden brown. I love that I can literally toss a whole head of cabbage in the oven with a modicum of effort and produce something so flavorful and rewarding.
The other two recipes are quicker, but no less unusual, and deliver big on both flavor and drama. For the cauliflower en croute, a French term that means “in a crust,” it’s like baking a present wrapped up, ready to open and eat. A crown of broccoli is vibrant, green and screams fresh! Salads don’t have to be lettuce-based. This broccoli Caesar is a fantastic salad, fun first course or super side dish for roast or grilled chicken. After years of roasting broccoli quickly at a high heat until charred and crispy, it’s refreshing to taste the more tender side of this superfood.
Cooking vegetables whole won’t work for all vegetables. The more watery ones such as zucchini and summer squash can fall apart and turn to mush. Others, like large whole winter squash, are so dense the outside would be overcooked by the time the inside is tender. The hearty brassica family seems to have an advantage. As we head into the cooler weather and these vegetables are in season, give these recipes a try.
The end of summer doesn’t mean the end of fresh vegetables. Cook these fall favorites whole for big, bold flavors with minimal effort.
Slow Roast Cabbage
Slow roast cabbage is an incredible fix-it-and-forget-about-it kind of recipe. It’s mind-boggling that one simple, humble cabbage is transformed into a very multifaceted, flavorful and downright stunning dish. Cabbage is an inexpensive vegetable, and if stored properly, will keep uncooked for four to six weeks in the refrigerator. Try this as a meatless main dish with a wedge of buttery cornbread on the side or as a side dish for baked chicken.
Cauliflower en Croute
This recipe was inspired by the famed multi-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse. His luxe version is studded with truffles and baked in brioche. I knew I could simplify it for home cooks. A perfume of garlic hits the air when you slice into it. This Cauliflower en Croute would be a great side dish for grilled sausages or garlicky roast pork.
Caesar salad is typically a green salad of chopped romaine with a flavorful and rich emulsified dressing made of egg, olive oil, pounded anchovies, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. I’ve simplified things by adding the aromatic elements to store-bought mayonnaise. The dressing can be made ahead and the broccoli is simple and quick, making this dish both a showstopper and timesaver.
1 pound broccoli crown or crowns
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