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Cauliflower continues its run as top floret

If it seems like cauliflower has taken over a majority of the nation’s trendier restaurants, you would not be mistaken. Indeed, the vegetable that Mark Twain called “cabbage with a college education,” was white-hot throughout 2015 and shows no sign of stepping aside for the next vegetable darling.

Take that kale!

It seems that you can’t pick up a menu without seeing it: roasted, fried, pickled, mashed, pureed, grilled, blackened or incorporated into a range of delectable starches from couscous and rice to potatoes and bread pudding.

My thought is it’s long overdue. I’ve always loved cauliflower. In fact, my favorite autumn-winter lunchtime fare is a chicken broth-based stew of cauliflower, onion and potato, simmered just until the potato chunks are fork tender, then consumed with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of shredded Parmesan, and a splash of pickled pepperoncini juice.

Part of cauliflower’s attraction is its versatility and the fact that its flavor profile can be adapted and changed with each dish. It can be sweet, spicy, caramelized or pickled, and it pairs well with all forms of meat, poultry and fish. Plus, its mild flavor can go undetected in such things as mashed potatoes and even meatloaf, where its role is to lighten a dish both texturally and calorically, while boosting the nutrient factor.

In the Italian kitchen, a classically comforting aroma is that of sizzling cauliflower florets and garlic in olive oil.

Sea Scallops with Caramelized Cauliflower with Caper-Raisin Sauce

Makes 4 servings.

1/3 cup capers, drained of all but 1 tablespoon liquid

1/3 cup golden raisins

8 to 12 cauliflower florets

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons canola, grapeseed or other neutral-flavored oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves

12 large sea scallops (at least 1 pound) cut in half through their equators

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus a little more

1 tablespoon sherry (or red wine) vinegar

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Combine the capers and raisins in a small saucepan and add 3/4 cup water; simmer gently until the raisins are plump, about 10 minutes. Do not cook rapidly; you don’t want to reduce the liquid. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, then puree in a blender. Return it to the saucepan.

Meanwhile, use a sharp knife or mandoline to cut the cauliflower florets into 1/4-inch thick slices; you will need 24 slices. Place 1 tablespoon each of butter and oil in a large skillet and saute the cauliflower over medium-high heat; do this in 2 or more batches to avoid crowding (add another tablespoon of butter or oil when necessary.). Season with salt and pepper as it cooks. Don’t turn too often; you want the cauliflower pieces to brown nicely. Total cooking time will be about 10 minutes, after which the cauliflower should be brown and crisp-tender. Remove and keep warm in a bowl in the oven.

Deglaze the pan by heating 1/4-cup water in it and stirring and scraping the bottom over high heat for a minute or two. Add the parsley and pour this juice over the cauliflower; gently stir and return the cauliflower to the oven while you cook the scallops.

Place 1 tablespoon each butter and oil in another large ovenproof skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. When the butter foams, add the scallops and cook on one side only until nicely browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Again, do this in batches to avoid crowding (Add another tablespoon of butter or oil when necessary.). Remove the scallops from the pan as they brown and season with salt and pepper; keep them warm in the oven.

Reheat the sauce, then add the nutmeg, vinegar, and pepper and salt, if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Spoon a little of the sauce onto each of 4 serving plates, and arrange an equal number of the cauiflower slices on top of the sauce (reserving 4 slices for garnish). Place 6 scallop pieces, browned side up, on each plate; top each scallop with a piece of the cauliflower. Finish with a tiny grating of nutmeg.

— Recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman for Epicurious.com.

Beer, Cheese and Cauliflower Soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings (8 servings as first course)

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 pound uncooked bacon, chopped (optional)

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 medium celery rib, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 potatoes, peeled and diced

1 average-sized head cauliflower (about 2-1/4 pounds), trimmed, cored and chopped

24 ounces (2 12-ounce bottles/cans) full-bodied craft beer, such as Ninkasi’s Total Domination IPA

3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

1 bay leaf

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard

6 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

6 ounces Jarlsberg, grated

3 tablespoons cornstarch

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the bacon (if using), and cook until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and some salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes, cauliflower, beer, broth, bay leaf and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potato is very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Stir in the mustard. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Other options are to semi-puree it with a potato masher, or puree in batches in a blender or food processor.

The soup may be prepared ahead to this point and reheated. While it’s reheating, toss together the cheeses and the cornstarch. Add the cheese mixture to the soup a handful at a time, stirring constantly, until it is well incorporated and the soup is smooth. Serve hot.

Venetian Cauliflower

Makes 6 servings

1 medium cauliflower (about 1-1/2 pounds)

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

Pinch of saffron, crumbled

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup currants

1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Cut the cauliflower in half from top to bottom, then remove the core. With a paring knife, cut into very small florets of equal size. Blanch florets in boiling water for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the saffron, cinnamon, fennel seeds, coriander seeds and red pepper. Season well with salt and pepper. If not serving immediately, remove from heat and set aside for up to several hours.

When ready to serve, reheat the pan and add the lemon zest, currants, raisins and cauliflower florets. Toss with wooden spoons to distribute. Cover with a lid and heat for 5 minutes or more, until the cauliflower is tender. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the pine nuts and parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

— Recipe from David Tanis for the New York Times.

Cauliflower Gratin

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1/4 cup butter

1 shallot, finely chopped

5 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

1/4 pound thinly sliced Prosciutto, cut into thin strips

Small florets of 1 large head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into 1/4-inch lengthwise slices

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups heavy or whipping cream

Pinch of cayenne

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (white pepper is preferred)

1-1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese

1 cup grated sharp Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 12-inch gratin or shallow baking dish.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and saute for about 3 minutes. Stir in the Prosciutto and saute another 2 minutes.

Add the cauliflower and cook just until it begins to lose its crispness, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the flour and then the cream. Blend well. Season with the cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Heat to boiling and then remove from the heat.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish, spreading it evenly to the edges. Layer on the Swiss and Cheddar cheeses and bake until the cheeses are golden brown and bubbly, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve.

A Mash of Potatoes, Cauliflower and Shallots

1-1/2 pounds of russet potatoes

About 1/2 pound trimmed cauliflower

1/2 cup chopped shallots

1/4 cup butter

2 beaten eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

1-1/2 cups grated Swiss or Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan

Simmer the potatoes and cauliflower in a large pot of salted, boiling water until very tender; drain well.

Meanwhile, saute onion in butter until softened.

Mash the potatoes and cauliflower until very smooth, then stir in the onion and the butter mixture, eggs, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings and stir in 1 cup of the grated Swiss or Cheddar cheese. Turn into a lightly greased 1-1/2 quart ovenproof dish and bake in 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, combined with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, return to oven and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.