When I was about 9 years old I received as a gift a beautiful set of Nijinsky and Pavlova paper dolls which depicted all of their costumes from the Ballet Russe. I was so taken with these costumes that I did research about the life of Anna Pavlova at the library. I learned that she was not considered a technically good dancer but managed to rise to stardom because she was dedicated and a captivating performer. I also remember reading that she had been ill or injured and unable to dance for a time. According my memory, she spent all of her time in bed imagining that she was dancing. Her imagination was so powerful that when she was finally well enough to leave her bed, she was able to immediately resume dancing. To everyone’s astonishment, she was an even better dancer than she had been before her illness. Mind you, her Wikipedia page does not mention this story (I just checked) and it is possible that this story was a result of my own imagination and the fact that my mother raised me to “visualize my goals” like any good mother in the 1970’s. In any case, my admiration of Pavlova’s ballet costumes led to an early held belief that hard work and imagination were the keys to great success.
Why is she telling us this story?… You are surely wondering by now.
Well it’s a story that I think of often (particularly when I am performing and trying to learn a difficult role) and recently it came to mind for the first time in regards to food preparation, specifically this cauliflower salad.
Last spring I ate a lot of a very delicious salad, with toasted, crushed hazelnuts, celery seed and black peppercorns sprinkled on butter lettuce, crunchy celery, radishes and fennel. It was so good, but I kept on wanting to try it on top of roasted cauliflower. Cauliflower seemed like a ridiculous vegetable to be craving in the springtime, especially since I ate SO much of it last winter (seriously type cauliflower into the search bar and see how many recipes come up. It’s nuts). So, I have controlled myself for many, many months and waited patiently until it was time to buy cauliflower again. In the meanwhile I continued to imagine this roasted cauliflower salad and decided that it should include pickled celery. I made it today and it was perfect, just like I imagined. I am the Anna Pavlova of cauliflower preparation. I know I’m boasting, but I can’t help it. I am so proud of this recipe.
This recipe will work just fine with regular old white cauliflower. Isn’t this crazy Romanesco cauliflower pretty though? It was on sale and it was sooooo much more photogenic than white cauliflower. Also, I feel I should come clean and admit that I did not shell fresh hazelnuts for this recipe. But again… aren’t they pretty? I bought them by accident and I am not even sure how I am going to get them open. Okay now I feel like less of a fraud. Buy some white cauliflower and some already shelled hazelnuts and make this awesome cauliflower dish!
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH HAZELNUTS AND PICKLED CELERY
- 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal (or whatever shape you would like your pickles to be)
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar (you may need to add a splash more)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 1/4 cup olive oil (you may need a splash more if your cauliflower is large)
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts
- 1 teaspoon celery seeds
- teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- At least a few hours in advance (it could be days in advance) whisk together the white wine vinegar, water, sugar and 1 Tablespoon of salt. Add the celery. If the liquid does not cover the celery add a splash more vinegar.
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Trim the tough stem and core from cauliflower and save it for another use (such as Kofta, Handavo or Soup).
- Using a paring knife, cut cauliflower florets into smaller spears.
- Toss the cauliflower with the oil and spread it out on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast until edges start to brown, about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.
- Meanwhile, heat a small skillet and dry roast the hazelnuts until they are toasted, then remove them from the pan. Add the peppercorns and celery seeds to the pan and remove from the heat. Toss the spices until they are fragrant.
- Crush the toasted spices with the coarse salt until they are coarsely ground. Add the hazelnuts and crush them lightly to halve them.
- Toss the cauliflower with some of the nut and spice mixture (you may not want to use it all, depending on the amount of cauliflower. Garnish the salad with the pickled celery. Again you may not use all of it . If you are me, you will have eaten half of the celery by the time you compile the salad because you cannot be trusted with pickles. This dish is best served warm or at room temperature.